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 in the community centered around education, horticulture, and working outside. We bring important skills and knowledge into communities regarding the domesticated plants we grow in our gardens, but what about those wild plants and animals that we encounter in the flower beds?

Sometimes nature is bound to stump us. At times like these, we need to look towards our growing network to help us solve problems and develop practical solutions. When you’re faced with a natural resource project or have a question about one of the wild creatures that creep into the garden, it’s time to talk to a Master Naturalist.

What are Virginia Master Naturalists?

Much like Extension Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists are volunteer educators based out of Extension that are dedicated to helping the community. In addition to providing educational and outreach opportunities, Master Naturalists are citizen scientists and stewards dedicated to helping conserve and manage natural resources and public lands.

The Master Naturalists have 30 chapters across the state that work on projects within their communities to help promote healthy ecosystems and engage people in interacting with and protecting our natural resources. In addition to running their own programs, the Master Naturalists often partner with other organizations to lend a helping hand with existing projects.

Some of their recent projects have included:

  • Monitoring Stream Quality with Save Our Streams
  • Creating Wildlife Habitat Gardens
  • Land Restoration Initiatives
  • Installing Nesting Boxes for Birds
  • Bat Acoustic Monitoring
  • Bee Research
  • Spotted Skunk Surveys
  • Participation in the Virginia Amphibian Monitoring Program

How Do You Become a Master Naturalist?

To become a Master Naturalist, there is a training program similar to that of the Master Gardeners. Master Naturalist training entails a 40-hour basic training module that covers concepts of ecology, geology, resource management practices, and the biogeography of Virginia along with other practical skills such as species identification and how to use a field guide.

After completing basic training, participants have one year to complete a mandatory 40-hour service requirement and an additional 8 hours of continuing training in any area of natural resources. In order to maintain certification as a Master Naturalist, participants must complete 40 hours of service and 8 hours of continuing education each year.

To learn more about the Virginia Master Naturalists and their training program visit the Virginia Master Naturalist Website here.

Collaborative Opportunities for Master Gardeners & Master Naturalists

Master Gardeners have a lot of specialized knowledge about horticulture and best practices for integrating plant propagation with conservation, so why not join that knowledge with the ecosystem and natural resource knowledge of the Master Naturalists?

Michelle Prysby, Master Naturalist Program Director, has a lot of positive things to say about collaboration between these two programs:

“Extension Master Gardeners bring some skills to projects that most Master Naturalists don’t have.  For example, Extension Master Gardeners are trained on how to use the Pest Management Guide and how to give appropriate recommendations for pesticide use.  This could be pertinent to joint projects, particularly those that involve advising clients on control of invasive species.

Likewise, Extension Master Gardeners bring a lot of skills on how to understand and answer clients’ questions about home horticulture, which is not a specific part of Virginia Master Naturalist training.

Virginia Master Naturalists bring to the partnership knowledge about natural systems, ecology, identification of native species, and natural resource management.  They also work on a greater diversity of volunteer activities, not only education, but also citizen science and stewardship, so that a collaborative project could be multi-faceted.

While our two programs do have different missions and structures, there is certainly overlap and much to be gained from working together when appropriate.”

We’re looking to increase collaborative efforts between these two amazing programs within Extension. Luckily, there are a lot of possible projects for Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners to work on together.

Here are a few project ideas for Master Gardener and Master Naturalist collaboration:

  • Pollinator Gardens
  • Wildlife Habitat Gardens
  • Storm Water Projects
  • Help Desk Initiatives

How to Collaborate with Master Naturalists

You’ve learned all about the Master Naturalists and found an opportunity for collaboration, now what? Now it’s time to reach out to your friendly Master Naturalists!

Who to Contact

There are 30 regional chapters of the Master Naturalists, so the first step is to get in touch with your local chapter. The Virginia Master Naturalist website has a tab titled “Who We Are” at the top of the page with links to contact information for the Chapter Advisor of each region.

This is a great place to start looking for people to get in touch with.

Proposing Collaboration

Once you find the appropriate person to contact, reach out and say hello. When you are introducing the project, don’t forget to include what Master Gardeners have already done, or intend to do, and pitch how you think Master Naturalists can contribute to the success of the project.

Then it’s time to get the team together and get to work!


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