As spring flowers give way to summer blooms, it's not too early to think about next year's gardening season.

The Penn State Cooperative Extension is offering free training for a master gardener program in Chester County, which involves more than 36 hours of training in the latest in horticulture research.

Students are then certified as master gardeners and are expected to teach what they've learned to the local gardening community.

"We're looking for people who not only have an interest in gardening but also in sharing" their knowledge, said Vicki Stone, Chester County's master gardener volunteer coordinator for Penn State's Cooperative Extension. "Our mission is to teach horticulture," she added.

If you're interested, don't hesitate. Applications are due by June 1, although classes don't start until Aug. 22. After applications are submitted, candidates will undergo an orientation meeting and interview.

The courses run every Wednesday from noon to 3 p.m. The classes will alternate between the Government Services Center in West Chester and Smedley Park in Springfield.

After candidates complete the extensive training, they're asked to volunteer at least 50 hours with Penn State Cooperative Extension's horticulture department.

After the first year, master gardeners are eligible to receive eight hours of training updated with the newest information in horticultural developments. They are also asked to volunteer for an additional 20 hours that year.

Some of the topics that will be covered include plant disease, insect problems and turf maintenance. The training is supplemented with the latest in horticultural research from the Pennsylvania State University.

Stone said they're looking for people who have a "broad base of knowledge" and the educational program is intended to fill in the gaps.

Master gardener volunteers try to advise community members on gardening solutions with the least toxic effect, said Stone. However, the staff at the Cooperative Extension is knowledgeable in offering organic methods or quick-fix solutions from the local home-maintenance store, added Stone.

The master gardener training is offered every other year. Due to space constraints, only 25 people will be able to undergo the training.

Currently, there are 48 master gardeners in Chester County. Their age range is from 30 to 85 years. Last year, the band of volunteers reached out to 6,848 people through various activities such as giving workshops at local schools or answering the phones for the horticulture hotline.

The first master gardener program in Chester County started in 1988. The idea began in Seattle in 1972 as part of the cooperative extension program there.

The program is free, although there is a fee for the class materials.