ELIZABETH, NJ - For those who have always fancied being referred to a 'Master Gardener' there exists a program that will now enable those green thumbers to make that lofty title official.

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County will train and certify individuals as part of their "Master Gardener Program." Nearly 900 Union County residents have become certified "Master Gardener" volunteers since the program began 30 years ago.

The deadline to apply for this program is August 31.

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"Master Gardener" volunteers plan and run community service projects throughout Union County, the centerpiece of which is the Union County Demonstration Garden, an elaborate complex that provides a platform for the group’s educational programs, summer camp visits and many other projects and services. The Union County Demonstration Garden includes a large vegetable garden that yields thousands of pounds of fresh produce for donation to local food pantries.

Once accepted into the Master Gardener program, trainees commit to attending class every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. beginning in early October and ending next May.

The training course is taught by Rutgers University faculty. It includes basic botany, entomology, flower gardening, integrated pest management, pesticide safety, plant pathology, soil testing and fertilizers, tree maintenance, turf management, vegetable gardening and wildlife management.

As part of the training requirement, participants provide 60 hours of volunteer service working in with one of the "Master Gardeners" gardening committees. Successful graduates become Certified Rutgers Master Gardeners upon completion of their volunteer commitment, which may be fulfilled within a 12-18 month period.

The "Master Gardner" classroom session will be held at the Extension offices at the Colleen Fraser Building in the county services complex, located at 300 North Avenue East in Westfield.

The Freeholders Board supports the extension with funding for administrative support and office space, and for special projects. The Demonstration Garden is located on County property in the Watchung Reservation, by the Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside.

To become a Certified Rutgers Master Gardener and request an application, email Judi Laganga at jlaganga@ucnj.org or call the Extension at 908-654-9854, ext. 2. A materials fee of $200 is payable upon acceptance into the program.