Updated Volunteer Code of Conduct

Please note the Master Gardener Code of Conduct has been updated to include a provision prohibiting workplace violence. This statement has been reviewed and approved by OSU General Counsel and OSU Risk.

Workplace violence prohibited

The safety and wellbeing of OSU Extension employees, clients, volunteers, students and visitors is of utmost importance. Threatening behavior, both verbal and physical, and acts of violence at OSU Extension offices, at OSU Extension events, or by electronic means will not be tolerated. Any person who engages in this behavior may be removed from the premises and may be dismissed from the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program.

If you experience workplace violence while serving as an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer, please communicate with your Extension Master Gardener Coordinator as quickly as possible so the matter can be addressed.

This addition to our code of conduct is meant to clearly spell out that behavior including but not limited to, yelling/screaming, grabbing, pushing, or other violent and threatening behaviors that occur while someone is serving as a Master Gardener volunteer is grounds for dismissal from the program. In the past, we have always relied upon the first bullet point of our code of conduct to lay out what types of behaviors are expected:

  • Represent OSU Extension, the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program and my individual county or local program with professionalism, dignity and pride, and be responsible for conducting myself with courtesy and appropriate behavior.

The statement prohibiting workplace violence is meant to clearly spell out what types of behaviors will not be tolerated.

You can access the updated Code of Conduct on the FORMS page of this website.

Plant Clinic Procedures for Master Gardeners

Master Gardeners provide research-based recommendations for the home gardeners, community gardeners and others who grow for fun, relaxation or other non-commercial reasons.

Plant Clinic Procedures:

In most counties, Master Gardeners staff Plant Clinic phone lines and desks at county Extension offices.  Many counties also offer Plant Clinics in their communities, (i.e. at farmers’ markets, fairs or garden retail outlets).  Plant Clinics are a valuable service to the community, where Oregonians can ask questions about their home or community garden.  Those who utilize the services of a Master Gardener Plant Clinic are often referred to as our ‘clients’.  To ensure high quality answers to questions received at Master Gardener Plant Clinics, it is important that volunteers are trained to recognize and utilize appropriate resources and to consult with OSU Extension faculty and/or expert Master Gardeners, as needed.

Appropriate resources include the Pacific Northwest Weed, Insect and Disease Management Handbooks; peer-reviewed journal articles, OSU Extension publications, brochures and hand-outs; eXtension and/or university Extension websites; online materials produces by eXtension and/or university Extension Services; and other resources that contain validated, research-based content.  In addition, to utilizing county Extension faculty and expert Master Gardeners, on campus resources (e.g. OSU Plant Clinic; OSU Herbarium, Oregon State Arthropod Collection), Extension specialists, and other OSU faculty should be consulted when needed.

Master Gardener volunteers should utilize these resources to provide research-based information to those seeking information or advice on home and/or community gardening.  Master Gardener volunteers are not permitted to answer questions for commercial growers, or questions related to commercial production.

Master Gardener Plant Clinics accept plant (live, dead or preserved), arthropod (dead or preserved) and soil specimens for assessment.  Safety of the volunteers is paramount.  For this reason, the Master Gardener Plant Clinics will not accept swabs, tissues, hair or other specimens of human or animal origin; articles of clothing, bedding or towels; personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes, hairbrushes or any other items that may be contaminated with human or animal pathogens, parasites or secretions.  Clients with questions about possible human or animal health need to direct those inquiries to the appropriate public health or veterinary experts in the community.

Occasionally, a client may submit a sample to or seek advice from the Master Gardener Plant Clinic that could have implications for human health.  Examples include:  bed bugs, spiders, suspected arthropod-caused skin lesions, pesticide poisoning, poisonous plants, etc.  If this is the case, it is important to remember that Master Gardener volunteers are not permitted to offer medical evaluations, diagnoses or advice on treatment.  Instead, the client should be referred to a trained professional for these services.  Master Gardener volunteers are permitted to utilize appropriate resources to identify a plant or arthropod sample (e.g. bed bugs, poison ivy) – but not lesions, rashes or other symptoms that may have been caused by a plant or an arthropod (e.g. the bite marks or rash that could be caused by bed bugs or poison ivy).  OSU Extension faculty staff and volunteers should refer all clients seeking advice on managing any potential life/safety situations to medical or other trained professionals.

Often, the samples that are submitted to Plant Clinic make it difficult to confidently arrive at an accurate identification.  For example, the client may submit only a small portion plant foliage, or may submit a crushed arthropod sample between two pieces of tape.  If this is the case, and especially for those cases where the identity of the plant or arthropod could have implications to human health (i.e. a doctor would treat a patient who ingested a non-poisonous plant different than they would a patient who ingested a poisonous plant), it is important to use appropriate language when communicating findings to a client.  An example of appropriate language is:  “Based upon the information provided to OSU Extension and from the research conducted, it appears that this plant is a XXXXXX plant, which is listed as not poisonous.”

Master Gardener volunteers working in the Plant Clinic should be provided with continuing education and support, to ensure that they are current on information, understand appropriate resource use, recognize when they should seek additional help or support, and know that it is more important to accurately say ‘we can’t answer that question’ (for whatever reason – not enough plant material, sample to crushed to identify, no research based resources on the topic) than to provide an incorrect answer.


OSU policy for Master Gardener recommendations to clients:

  • Use appropriate research-based resources when providing recommendations.  Examples of research-based resources include the PNW Handbooks, OSU Extension Publications, other Extension publications, peer-reviewed journal articles.
  • MGs are not allowed to suggest homemade pesticides to clients. In addition to poor efficacy and potential plant injury, many homemade pesticides violate federal law. There are two laws that address this issue, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) Section 408. More information on this issue can be found here:
  • Master Gardeners are objective in their recommendations, and thus inform the client of all research-supported options:  Cultural, biological, and chemical (synthetic and organic).  Even if you do not use synthetic chemicals in your own garden, you should not exclude this option – so long as it is research-based – when making recommendations to the client.
  • Refer commercial clients to an appropriate extension agent


OSU Extension Master Gardener Program Stance on Select Gardening Topics:

As research on sustainable gardening practices continues to grow, we are learning more and more about those practices that methodologies that are backed by objective research.  Below you will find links to topics that have been reviewed by OSU faculty against the current published literature on the topic, and our current stance on what constitutes a research-based recommendation for that topic.

  • Compost Tea Policy: Research suggests that compost teas are equivalent to composts and inorganic fertilizers, as a source of plant nutrients and in their effect on plant growth. However, we are not able to make a clear recommendation on the use of compost teas as a disease suppressant.
  • Marijuana Policy:  Oregon State University and the Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener program are recipients of federal funding.  Oregon State University and the Oregon State University Extension Master Gardener program are also governed by the federal Controlled Substances Act, the Drug-Free Workplace Act and the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act.  Thus, to guard against risk of losing Federal funding and to adhere to the federal laws that govern our activities, OSU Extension Faculty, Staff and Volunteers do not provide advice or referrals on the culture, care and/or use of marijuana.

How Long Should OSU Retain Volunteer Records

Hi Folks,

Lincoln County is cleaning up files, and wanted to know how long volunteer records should be retained. When I looked up the rule on the Oregon Secretary of State Website, I noticed that the length of record retention has DECREASED. In the past, it was 7 years for individual records and 9 years for program records. Now, you only have to retain individual records and program records for 5 years.

I have copied relevant text, below.

(20) Volunteer Program Records Records document the activities and administration of volunteer programs in an agency. Records may include but are not limited to volunteer applications, emergency notification forms, volunteer hour statistics, volunteer program publicity records, insurance requirement information, and related documentation. SEE ALSO Criminal Background Check Records in this section. (Retention: (a) Retain individual volunteer records: 5 years after volunteer separation, destroy; (b) Retain all other volunteer program records: 5 years, destroy).

Guidance for Master Gardener Plant Sales

As we head into Master Gardener plant sale season, it is a good time to remind Master Gardener Associations of the requirements to host a Master Gardener Plant Sale.

1) Master Gardener Associations need to fill out and file the temporary nursery license with the ODA. This will provide the ODA an opportunity to contact plant sale organizers (if needed), for sales in areas of concern.

2) Master Gardener plant sales can not include sale or distribution of (click on the link for more details):

3) Best practices dictate that Master Gardeners DO NOT MOVE SOIL. If plant sale plants are coming from personal gardens, remove the soil, wash the roots, and repot in commercial potting mix. We recognize this may be inconvenient but there are several exotic horticulture pests (snake worm, European chafer ~ see page 18) that currently have limited distribution in Oregon, and that can be moved through soil.

The Master Gardener teaches sustainable gardening. Modeling best practices in invasive species prevention is part of our work.

Volunteer Injured? What to Do?

Over the years, we have had very few instances of volunteer injuries over the years. Due diligence when planning events and working in demonstration gardens can greatly help cut down on accidents and injuries. Due diligence includes:

  • Forming a safety committee, for Master Gardener demonstration gardens. The safety committee could write short articles for Master Gardener newsletters or host short learning opportunities in the the garden. Topics could include: safe tool use and storage, chemical use and storage, ergonomics.
  • Doing a safety and risk tour of all sites where programs will be held, such as for tours, public lectures, plant sales. Note potential safety hazards (irregular walkways, decks that have missing boards, etc.), and take corrective action (i.e. drop that site from the tour, cordon off areas where the public should not go, etc.).

In the instance where a volunteer has injured themselves while in the act of volunteering, their supervisor should complete the HR Advocate Public Incident Reporting form, which is available online at http://risk.oregonstate.edu/workerscomp/forms. This form is to be completed by the person supervising/coordinating the volunteer activities to identify what occurred.

In order for this reporting system to be used, the volunteer should have completed the forms required to serve as an OSU Volunteer. These include:

  • Conditions of Volunteer Service Form (must be filled out and signed, annually)
  • Master Gardener Position Description
  • Master Gardener Code of Conduct

More information on the volunteer process and links to the forms for volunteer service from an OSU Risk perspective, can be found online at http://risk.oregonstate.edu/insurance/volunteer.

You can access the required Master Gardener forms at: http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/mgcoordinators/forms/