Become a Professional Gardener: Education and Career Roadmap

Aug 13, 2018

Research the requirements to become a professional gardener. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a professional gardener. View article »

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Video Transcript

Professional Gardeners

Professional gardeners work in private and public landscapes to create, design, maintain and manage gardens. They are often employed by botanical gardens, parks, landscaping firms, garden centers, estates and private residences, and some will go into private business as a gardener for several clients. Professional gardeners are responsible for all aspects of plant care for annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. Working outdoors in all types of weather conditions is often required, as well as physically strenuous labor. Safety protocol and protective gear must be used when working with certain types of tools or with pesticides.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Varies from high school diploma to bachelor's degree
Degree Field Horticulture, landscape design, or related field
Experience Preferred but not required
Licensure and Certification Pesticide applicators license often required; voluntary certification
Key Skills Critical thinking, communication, design, plant identification, plant care, weed control, and word processing skills; self-motivation; familiarity with gardening tools and irrigation systems; physical stamina
Salary $25,030 (2015 median for all landscaping and groundskeeping workers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, National Center for Education Statistics, College Navigator

A high school diploma, associate's degree, bachelor's degree or certificate may be required for some jobs. Fields of study include horticulture, landscape design or a related field. Experience is preferred but not required. A pesticide applicator's license is often required, and certification is available but not required. These professionals should be skilled in critical thinking, communication and self-motivation. They should have physical stamina and be familiar with word processing, design, plant identification, plant care, weed control, gardening tools and irrigation systems. According to 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, landscaping and groundskeeping workers earned a median salary of $25,030.

Steps to Be a Professional Gardener

Step 1: Consider Earning a Degree

A degree program in horticulture or landscape design provides the scientific and methodological foundation required in the professional gardening field. Schools across the U.S. offer horticulture and landscaping programs at all levels of study. An associate's degree includes courses in plant culture, use of plants, pests and weeds and plant nutrition. Bachelor's and master's degree programs delve further into the study of gardening, horticulture and landscaping and usually include courses on plant physiology, plant diseases and plant maintenance.

Step 2: Explore Certifications or Master Gardener Status

Professional gardeners may benefit from the classes and certification programs offered through local gardening organizations, botanical gardens and state university extension offices. Master Gardener programs, which give aspiring gardeners training and experience in the field, are also offered by state universities and extension offices throughout the country. Students complete a series of classes that cover soils, landscape design, vegetables, greenhouse management and composting. These programs offer hands-on experiences in demonstration gardens or other community green spaces.

To earn and maintain the Master Gardener certification, one is required to complete a set number of volunteer hours in the community. Master Gardeners often speak to community groups or spearhead efforts to create or improve green spaces in a community. They also take advantage of continuing education opportunities to expand their own understanding of gardening.

Step 3: Gain Experience

In order to gain work experience, it is helpful to work with an established professional gardener. The Association of Professional Gardeners recommends both professional and volunteer involvement. Community gardening clubs offer opportunities for networking through work parties, special events, community service projects and community education.

Step 4: Advance Your Career

Professional gardeners with work experience and certifications can advance their career by moving up in their company from an assistant position to a managerial position. They may become the head of the department for local parks or the director of a botanical garden. Those who pursue a master's or bachelor's degree in horticulture can open their own business as a gardener or detail gardener, providing consultation and design services to residential clients and overseeing garden laborers.

In summary, professional gardeners might have a high school diploma up to a master's degree, with relevant fields of study including horticulture or landscape design.

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