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Beyond Gardening: Advancing Your Education

Have you been thinking of taking your gardening/horticulture knowledge to a higher level, or learing related topics? This article presents a variety of programs and certifications available in the Valley, Tucson and online. Links and contact information are included.

In addition to horticulture, there are many options available to learn from experts and educators on topics such as irrigation, arboriculture, apiculture, permaculture, landscape design, sustainable systems, and water, soil and plant science.

Here are some of the options:

Complete a Permaculture Design Course (PDC), or delve into urban farming

Greg Peterson’s Urban Farm in Phoenix has tours, workshops, online courses and podcasts. Greg teaches a popular annual Permaculture Design course. Greg has been urban farming and gardening for over 40 years.

The Permaculture Design Course or PDC is an in-depth 72-hour certification course will include: Improving the quality and productivity of our individual lives, our communities, and the environment; eating healthy food and live in a nourishing, flourishing environment; increase yields, while eliminating pollution and reducing energy consumption; use our energy and creativity to design sustainable, life-giving systems as opposed to the harmful systems dominating our planet today, and; transform our ecological impact from a negative to a regenerative positive.

The Urban Farm also offers short courses. For more information, visit:

Earn a Landscape Certification

Arizona Landscape Contractors Association.

If you are interested in landscape certification, check out the Arizona Certified Landscape Professional program. This program certifies landscapers and is managed by the Arizona Landscape Contractors Association. Certification requires completion of a 12-month training in 16 different content areas and passing a written and practical exam.

Contact information: (602) 258-0126 or (877) 616-2486,

Desert Landscape School.

The Desert Landscape School is a signature credentialing program at Desert Botanical Garden, offering professionals, homeowners and gardeners an opportunity to learn from experts about all aspects of desert landscaping and earn a credential upon completion.

You can earn the Certified Desert Landscaper credential by completing 30 workshops over a 10-month period which includes basic training, hands-on experience and a final comprehensive landscaping project.

Contact: Desert Botanical Garden, 602- 941-1225,

The Arizona Smartscape Certification

Smartscape is a water conservation training program. A range of students enroll in Smartscape courses, including landscape designers, supervisors, and crew members from professional landscaping companies, municipal employees, and HOA committee members. Classes cover essential topics and important skills for planning, planting, and caring for low-water-use landscapes in the Sonoran Desert. The program is a collaboration between UA, the Arizona Municipal Water User’s Association and the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Advanced Smartscape Certification.

Irrigation training builds upon the Smartscape 101 series with 15 hours of in-depth instruction on the design, installation, and maintenance of drip and sprinkler irrigation systems. Attendees should have completed the Smartscape 101 series or have a basic knowledge of irrigation systems design, installation, operation, and maintenance.

Smartscape courses are reasonably priced and offered at the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension office. For more information, visit:

Study Greenhouse Horticulture at the UA Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC)

The CEAC facility is part of the UA Campus Agriculture Center. Facilities are in Tucson, Arizona, 3 miles north of The University of Arizona campus. The CEAC includes advanced technology greenhouses and growth chambers, as well as office, laboratory and teaching facilities. CEAS offers short courses, seminars and intensive courses. Short courses and intensives are typically 40 hours.

Example of Intensive Course: 5-Day Tomato Workshop, January 2-6, 2019

Example of Short Course: 18th Annual Greenhouse Crop Production & Engineering Design Short Course, March 11-15, 2019

For more information, visit:

Become a Certified Arborist

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certification is a voluntary program that tests and certifies your achievement of a professional level of knowledge and skill in the field of arboriculture. ISA Certified Arborists® are recognized by peers and the public as tree care professionals who have attained a generally-accepted level of knowledge in areas such as tree biology, diagnosis, maintenance practices, safety, and other subject and practice areas within the tree care profession as identified through periodic job task analyses.

The ISA Credentialing Council requires a candidate to have a minimum of three years of full-time experience in arboriculture or a combination of education and practical arboricultural experience Acceptable experience includes the practical use of knowledge regarding pruning, fertilization, installation and establishment, diagnosis and treatment of tree problems, cabling and bracing, climbing, or other services that directly relate to arboriculture. Examples of experience sources include but are not limited to: tree care companies; nurseries; landscape companies; Municipalities; State forestry agencies; utility companies; academic arboriculture/horticulture departments (for instructors); horticulture/extension programs (for advisors); consultancies; pest control providers (for advisors and applicators).

Christopher, a certified arborist, removing a storm-damaged tree

Beginning Farmer and Specialty Crops Program

Thinking of doing some market gardening for profit, or starting a small farm? UA offers a Specialty Crops & Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

This program emphasizes basic specialty crop farming practices for small scale operations addressing: entrepreneurship and business training, financial and risk management training, record keeping practices, crop selection, diversification and marketing strategies, advanced training for soils and irrigation, hoop house operations, and safe food production and handling practices.

Author’s Note: I personally attended this course at the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension (MCCE) in 2015 and found it one of the most useful and interesting courses I have ever taken. If you have considered selling your produce or developing a market-gardening operation, I highly recommend the course. Part of the course is in the field visiting local successful small farmers. This program has been offered at MCCE in the past, but not for the last several years. From my discussion with agents at the Extension, it appears the departure of Assistant Extension Agent Kelly Young may have delayed the establishment of new course sessions. I am following up with the extension regarding whether MCCE will reinstitute this training. If so, I will also provide information in an update.

Pinal County began a course December 11, which I will follow and report on in a future article.

For more information, visit, or contact (520) 621-6258.

The program has recorded past lectures that were conducted as part of the course. These are available on YouTube at

To be added to the Beginning Farmer’s Email Distribution List, which publishes many events and workshops, send a request to Karen Maria Salem,

College Programs

Obtain a degree or certificate in horticulture or a related field from a college or university. A few local programs are:

Mesa Community College offers certificates in Landscape Aide, Landscape Specialist and Sustainable Agriculture. Associates in Applied Science are offered in Landscape Horticulture and Sustainable Agriculture.

ASU offers a bachelor’s degree in Applied Biological Sciences (Sustainable Horticulture).

UA offers a bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Built Environments (sustainable landscape emphasis). Students obtain a comprehensive understanding of sustainability principles and are prepared with the skills to make our communities, buildings, and landscapes more sustainable.

Both UA and ASU offer other horticulture, agriculture, landscape architecture, plant, soil and water science, and natural sciences degrees at the graduate and undergraduate level.

Obtain an Irrigation Certification

The Irrigation Association offers a variety of certification programs, including Certified Irrigation Specialist, Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor (CLIA), Certified Irrigation Contractor (CIC), and Certified Irrigation Designer (CID). Most of the certification programs have a recommended level of experience prior to taking the exam. The irrigation association also offers online training courses and practice exams.

The Irrigation Association:

Outside the Box

Apiculture! Have you considered becoming a beekeeper? Beekeeping is fun and adds a boost to your garden pollination.

You have many options. Take a local short course to determine if you would like to pursue beekeeping further. Honey Hive Farms in Peoria offers short courses of several hours that introduces beekeeping. For more information:

ASU offers a one-day beekeeping course, at the Polytechnic campus. Participants will have a hands-on practice and learn how to manage bees and how to start beekeeping. The goal of the course is to teach basic biology of honeybees, how to start beekeeping and maintain gentle European colonies in Arizona to prevent Africanization, how to increase colonies, diagnose bee diseases and parasites, remove swarms and produce local honey. Each participant will work on the colonies, identifying eggs, larvae, pupae, honey, and pollen on the combs, learn seasonal management of the colonies, and hands-on beekeeping. For more information, visit

Become a Certified Beekeeper. The University of Montana has an online certification program for beekeepers. If you already have experience, you can proceed directly to the certification exams. Online courses are also offered if you need to learn the skills before testing. The program begins with the basics of handling honey bees, takes students through diagnosing pests and diseases, managing hives for optimal honey bee health, as well as honey production and marketing, and concludes with the business of beekeeping. There are three levels of certification: apprentice, journeyman and master.

If you would like to learn in a hands-on mode from local beekeepers, consider joining the Arizona Backyard Beekeeper’s Facebook Group, which has events and workshops.

More Permaculture Topics

Sonoran Permaculture Guild

This organization teaches workshops, classes, and courses on Permaculture and sustainable landscape design, as well bee-keeping, natural building, water harvesting, and growing food. They offer the Permaculture Design certification course each Spring in February and March in Tucson, as well as often in another Southwest city in the Fall.

The Sonoran Permaculture Guild partners with The Bean Tree Farm to offer additional courses. The schedule for 2019 is not yet available as of this writing but has included courses on building with earth and desert materials, harvesting and culinary uses of desert plants, preparing fermented foods, and more.

Bean Tree Farm: Scroll down the main page to "Workshops, Events, Collaborations"

If you know of any other courses of interest to gardeners, horticulturists, and market farmers, please forward the information to me and I will write an update in the future. Thank you.

Laura Ward

Owner/Farmer, Tenth Generation Farm

Arizona Master Gardener

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