Master Gardener Program

Master gardener education table
Newport News Extension Master Gardeners help the public at an educational information desk.

Extension Master Gardeners are trained volunteer educators. They work within their local communities to encourage and promote environmentally sound horticulture practices through sustainable landscape management education and training. As an educational outreach component of Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Master Gardener program brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities – Virginia Tech and Virginia State University – to the people of the commonwealth. All volunteers are trained and have at least 50 hours of horticultural classes and return at least 50 hours of volunteer community service through their local Extension office.

Since 1979, Virginia Extension Master Gardeners have served communities throughout the Commonwealth by providing unbiased and research-based horticultural information to home gardeners.

Master Gardeners provide a resource for all Extension program areas and for professionals from many other agencies. They provide communities with locally identified programs, including answers to individual questions via hotlines and plant clinics; radio, newspaper, and computer links; educational programs to meet targeted needs; education for the preservation of historic landscapes; urban tree planting programs; and guidance in making the natural environment accessible to all residents regardless of disabilities, incomes, or where they live.

Mission: Sharing knowledge. Empowering Communities.

Vision: To be the Virginia Cooperative Extension volunteer organization extending horticulture and environmental outreach across the Commonwealth.

Core Values:

  • Respect - The environment, each other, and those we serve.
  • Accountability - Wise stewardship of resources. To our organization, our community, and each other.
  • Collaboration - Willing to work with a diverse group to reach a common goal. Actively seeking out partners.

Virginia Extension Master Gardeners are volunteer educators. 

Extension Master Gardeners do not provide free gardening labor--they work to provide research-based horticultural information to Virginia home gardeners.

Want to learn about the projects Master Gardeners do? Check out these spotlighted projects:

  • Strasburg Community Garden Project - Extension Master Gardeners from the Northern Shenandoah unit worked with community stakeholders to help create a community garden in a food desert.
  • Historical Trees & Gardens of Virginia Symposium - Extension Master Gardeners of the Central Rappahannock hosted an educational event highlighting Virginia's historic trees and gardens 
  • Food For Thought - Master Gardeners and Master Food Volunteers work to help middle school students grow and prepare healthy foods

Dave Close

State Master Gardener Coordinator


M.S. Southern Illinois University, 1996

B.S. Cumberland College, 1993

Background: Urban Forestry and Forest Ecology

Extension Areas: Dave has worked with the Extension Master Gardener program for more than 11 years. Prior to coming to Virginia, he was the Community Forestry Coordinator for the southern 36 counties in Illinois, a role he filled for nearly seven years. He was also an instructor in the Department of Forestry at Southern Illinois University where he taught classes in tree identification, forest ecology, forest ecosystems, and urban forestry. After leaving Illinois and taking on his role as the State Coordinator for the Extension Master Gardener Program, his interests have evolved into volunteer management and leadership development of volunteers. He also works closely with Extension Agents statewide and the Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association.

john freeborn

John Freeborn

Assistant State Master Gardener Coordinator


M.S. Virginia Tech, 2000

B.S. Virginia Tech, 1998

Background: Turf, Greenhouse Production, and Soil Science

Extension Areas: John has worked with Extension in West Virginia and Virgina for more than 10 years. After serving as Extension Agent for Agriculture in West Virginia, John joined the research side of things on the Virginia Tech Campus. He managed several research greenhouses for Dr. Joyce Latimer and Dr. Holly Scoggins, investigating floriculture topics such as plant growth regulators, overwintering survival, and nutrient deficiencies in a number of herbaceous perennials. John then joined the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) Program and serves as the first line resource for Agents, Coordinators, and Extension Master Gardeners across the state. His focus is on customer service and updating EMG materials statewide. He sees the State Office as a resource for all, and looks forward to sharing information about EMG projects from across the Commonwealth!

devon johnson headshot

Devon Johnson

Communications Project Coordinator

Contact: dvj@vt.ed

M.A. Virginia Tech, 2017

M.A. Virginia Tech, 2017

B.A. Virginia Tech, 2014

Background: Professional and technical writing, digital communication

Extension Areas:  As the EMG Communications Project Manager, Devon is responsible for managing the publication process for program-related publications in support of the Extension Master Gardener program in Virginia. She is also responsible for developing and implementing a marketing strategy in support of the EMG program and provides administrative support in the office on an as-needed basis.

sue edwards

Sue Edwards

Additional Staff

Contact: sueedward@vt.edi

M.S. UNC-Wilmington, 2001

B.S. Penn State University, 1998

Background: Water Quality, Turf, Soil Science, Nutrient Management, Local Master Gardener Program Coordination

Extension Areas: Before joining the State EMG Office, Sue worked for 10 years at the local level with Virginia Cooperative Extension. As an ANR Technician and local EMG Coordinator, Sue became very familiar with the daily ins and outs of the Master Gardener program.  Sue is also a DCR certified nutrient management planner and wrote over 350 nutrient management reports annually for the local VCE turf nutrient management program.  In her current role as Master Gardener Program Developer, Sue works in collaboration with agents across the state and other State EMG staff to create and edit documents and training materials for the Master Gardener program. She also creates and maintains pages for the State EMG website and assists with Master Gardener College preparation.

Gabby Sanderson

Gabrielle Sanderson

Additional Staff

Student at Virginia Tech

Background: English Pre-Law / Environmental Policies and Planning

Extension Areas: Gabrielle has been volunteering with the Extension Master Gardener program in Henrico County since 2008. She participated in various volunteer opportunities that include the Junior Master Gardener booth at the State Fair of Virginia, the Junior Master Gardener Booth at other events, helped to prepare for 4H camp, and assisted with nutrition food programs in elementary schools around Henrico County. She was also a judge for the 4H Regional Talent Show in North Carolina and started working at the Virginia State Extension Master Gardener Office in 2015. As the Program Support and Implementation Assistant, Gabrielle is responsible for completing edits on projects, sending out certificates and pins to counties, and updating the social media networks.

Need Gardening Help?

Do you have questions about your garden? The Extension Master Gardener program can help beginning or seasoned gardeners with a variety of problems and offers a number of educational materials helpful to home gardeners in Virginia.

Interested in Becoming an Extension Master Gardener?

hands holding tomatoes

Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners contribute to their communities through volunteer service, for example, by holding educational events, staffing help desks, or working to build community gardens.

Master Gardeners bring the research and resources of Virginia’s Land Grants to the people of the Commonwealth.

Even after completing their initial training, Virginia EMGs also have many opportunities for continuing their education. Advanced certifications related to water resources, trees, and land stewardship are offered. The EMG State Office also organizes educational monthly webinars, a quarterly newsletter, and an annual Master Gardener College conference.

Extension Master Gardener State Office Blog

  • Buffer Landscaping in Action: Master Gardeners & Master Naturalists Collaborate at Smith Mountain Lake When Smith Mountain Lake experienced an increase in runoff of fertilizers and sediments due to a housing boom in the 80’s, the Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) recognized the importance of landscaping to prevent harmful runoff and erosion of the lake’s shoreline. In addition to promoting Phosphorous-free fertilizer, the SMLA manages a Buffer Landscape Advisory 12/10/2018
  • When it Rains, it Pours: An Introduction to Stormwater Management The autumn weather can be unpredictable. When storms come to visit, they often lead to messy runoff that carries away your garden’s dirt and form large puddles in the most inconvenient places. But where does all that water go once the storm passes? This water, known as stormwater, often runs into storm drains that lead 12/03/2018
  • From the Cookbook to the Community: Who are Master Food Volunteers? By: Gabrielle Sanderson The famous red and white cookbook Joy of Cooking is a timeless classic for any kitchen, and it’s referenced throughout the training manual for the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Food Volunteer program. Just as Joy of Cooking educates its readers about the food they are preparing, Master Food Volunteers (MFV) are able 11/26/2018
  • 2019 Master Gardener College Preview For the first time in 31 years, Master Gardener College will be held in a new location. The Extension Master Gardener State Coordinator’s Office is proud to announce that next year (2019), Master Gardener College will be held at Hilton Norfolk The Main, a conference center and hotel located in downtown Norfolk. “We’re very excited 11/05/2018
  • Cultivating Collaboration: Master Naturalists in the Garden Extension Master Gardeners love to grow. We grow plants in our gardens, cultivate knowledge through continuing education, but most of all, Master Gardeners love developing friendships and connections within the community. As part of Virginia Cooperative Extension, we’re always looking to strengthen our networks through collaboration. Extension Master Gardeners do a lot of important work 10/15/2018
  • Growing Our Program: Introduction to EMG Recruitment By Maeghan Klinker It’s that time of the year again. The summer is ending, the leaves are just starting to blush with the first thoughts of autumn, and it’s time to start thinking about the future. With all the work still to be had in the garden, surely we could use a few more helping 10/03/2018
  • Parasitic Plants Offer Insight Into Plant Communication You might be familiar with carnivorous plants (like the Venus fly trap) that feed on insects, but have you heard of parasitic plants that feed on other plants? Parasitic plants aren’t much of a problem for home gardeners in Virginia, but they do have very important lessons to teach us about the ways that plants 07/26/2018
  • 2018 Master Gardener Milestones (based on hours as of 2017) Congratulations to all Extension Master Gardeners who reached important milestones for their volunteer service and thank you to all Master Gardeners who volunteer time in their communities! You are all AMAZING! Albemarle Barbara Templeton | 250 | Albemarle Camille Wilson | 250 | Albemarle Cate Whittington | 250 | Albemarle Dee Cady | 250 | Albemarle Diane 07/11/2018
  • Diplopoda: The Not-So Creepy Crawlies By Jackson Means ( and Derek Hennen ( Millipedes (Fig. 1) are one of those insect-like creatures that you’re likely to encounter in your garden on a regular basis, and toss aside as just another natural oddity you would rather not look at too closely. One could not be blamed for this reaction; millipedes do frequently 06/21/2018
  • Boxwood Blight: Frequently Asked Questions Boxwoods are a useful and popular element of many Virginia gardens, but boxwood blight, a serious fungal disease first discovered in the United States in 2011, poses a threat to Virginia’s boxwoods. Mary Ann Hansen, manager of the VT Plant Disease Clinic, recently visited the Extension Master Gardener State Office to share information on boxwood 05/15/2018