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How Do I Become a Professional Gardener?

Research what it takes to become a professional gardener. Learn about job outlook, salary and training requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Professional Gardener?

Professional gardeners balance the art and science of managing and caring for various plants in residential and commercial settings. They need to know about landscaping, soil, chemicals, climate and plant types. This knowledge base helps a professional gardener ensure that the grounds they care for are both attractive and healthy. On a day-to-day basis, a gardener's job could entail mowing or edging, trimming shrubbery, planting, or weeding and mulching beds. The work takes place outdoors, and often in all weather conditions. Anyone considering a careers as a gardener should therefore be ready for a fairly physically-strenuous job. The work is often seasonal as well, with the most work available in spring, summer, and autumn.

The following table lists key skills, potential earnings and employment projection.

Training Required On-the-job training; postsecondary programs are optional
Key Skills Problem-solving, physical stamina, attention to detail
Certification Certification is optional
Job Growth (2018-2028) 9% (for all landscaping and groundskeeping workers)*
Average Salary (2018) $30,940 (for all landscaping and groundskeeping workers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education is Required to Become a Professional Gardener?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), on-the-job training is generally enough for entry-level work as a professional groundskeeper, (www.bls.gov). However, acquiring a college degree in a major such as landscape design or horticulture can increase an applicant's job prospects. If you want to become a specialist in the field, a 4-year bachelor's degree is recommended. Depending on state laws, licensing may be required if you intend to use pesticides in your work.

Your certificate or degree training program may consist of classes in greenhouse culture, plant and pest diseases, maintenance and identification of plants, among other courses. Pesticide safety and management, entomology, botany, fertilizing and composting are other topics you might study.

Is Certification an Option?

Voluntary certification is possible for groundskeepers through organizations such the Professional Grounds Management Society. This organization offers the Certified Ground Technician and Certified Ground Manager designations. The former requires a high school diploma and two years of experience, while the latter requires four years of experience, with 2 years in a supervisory role, from one with a bachelor's degree.

One can also apply with an associate's degree combined with six years of experience, including three as a supervisor, or with no degree and eight years of ground maintenance experience, half of it or more in a supervisory role. The two required ground manager examinations will test your knowledge in areas such as irrigation, turf management, soils, shrubs and trees, as well as finances. Technicians will answer questions related to the ground maintenance field and to your region. In addition to training, you will need good communication skills and the ability to drive a vehicle, preferably a truck.

Where Do These Professionals Work?

Gardeners may work in public parks or botanical gardens. Some groundskeepers are responsible for the care and maintenance of cemetery lawns and gravesites. Athletic fields, golf courses and college campuses all utilize the skills of gardeners to keep their lawns well-manicured. Private homeowners may also hire gardeners to enhance their yards and grounds.

What Will My Job Duties Consist Of?

You can generally expect to use tools such as lawn mowers, electric clippers or leaf blowers in this line of work and be responsible for their care and maintenance. Job duties will vary, depending on the type of grounds you are asked to maintain. For example, athletic fields require aerating, mowing and watering, and you also may need to paint sports team names and logos directly onto the turf.

Gardeners and groundskeepers of parks or outdoor recreational facilities may be asked to maintain public picnic areas, including sidewalks and fences, and even swimming pools. Other duties may include laying sod, installing sprinklers and litter removal. Cemetery work involves applying fertilizer, mowing grass and planting flowers, as well as keeping gravesites free of debris.

What Salary Can I Expect to Earn?

According to the BLS, as of May 2018, a professional groundskeeper who worked in the amusement and recreation industry earned an average of $27,490 annually. Those who worked for local government earned $34,020 and professionals who served buildings and private dwellings earned $30,860.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you would like to work outdoors, but aren't sure if being a gardener is quite the right career choice, you could become an agricultural worker or a forest and conservation worker. Both are possible with no formal education beyond a high school diploma. An agricultural worker does manual labor or operates machinery on a farm, to help maintain livestock or crops. A forest and conservation worker is an assistant to a forester, and is responsible for creating, maintaining, and protecting forest spaces.