Foundation Certificate in Plant Growth for Horticulture Level 2

A fast track entry level certificate to start a career. Learn the fundamentals - plant identification, soils & nutrition, pests & diseases, weed management and plant propagation.

Course CodeVHT040
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)150 hours

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This course covers 4 units:

  • The Plant Kingdom (Unit 1)
  • Plant Nutrition, The Root Environment (Unit 2)
  • Pests, Diseases and Weeds (Unit 3)
  • Sexual and Asexual Propagation (Unit 4)


Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Classification of Plants and the Plant Naming System
    • Botanical and Horticultural Nomenclature: common names, scientific names
    • The Binomial System
    • Botanical Classification levels
    • Horticultural Groups
    • Plant Families and their distinguishing characteristics
    • Species, Hybrids, Varieties, Cultivars
    • Review of significant Dicotyledon and Monocotyledon families
    • Plant Lifecycles
    • Stages in Plant Development
    • Plant Collection Reviews
  2. The Internal Structure of Higher Plants
    • Plant Cell Structure
    • Cell Components
    • Cell Division; mitosis and meiosis
    • Types of Plant Cells; Parenchyma, Collechyma,Sclerenchyma, Xylem, Phloem, Epidermal
    • Internal Structure of Dicotyledon Stems: Epidermis, endodermis, cortex, vascular bundles, etc
    • Structure of Monocotyledon Stems
    • External Differences between Monocotyledons and Dicotyledons
    • Anatomica features of leaves and stems in cross section
    • Plant Tissues
    • Primary and Secondary Growth
    • Terminology
    • Botanical Keys and their use
  3. The External Structure of Higher Plants, Roots, Leaves, Stems and Buds
    • Stems; the framework, functions of the stem
    • Stem modifications
    • Leaves
    • Functions of leaves
    • Respiration, transpiration and photosynthesis
    • Leaf shapes
    • Compound leaves
    • Leaf modifications
    • Buds: adventitious, apical, flower, vegetative
    • Root Structure
    • Types of Root Systems
    • Root Modifications
    • Morphological Changes due to Maturation
  4. Identification and Function of the Reproductive Parts of the Plant
    • Parts of a flower: Sepals, Petals Staemens, Carpel
    • The Inflorescence
    • Flower Structure
    • Types of Fruits
    • Fruit and Seed Terminology
    • Modification of Fruits -dry fruits, succulent fruits, composite fruits, false fruits
    • Key to Main Fruit Types
  5. Pollination and Fertilisation in Higher Plants
    • Pollination Processes
    • Self Pollination, Cross pollination
    • Pollination Mechanisms
    • Compatibility
    • Fertilisation, Embryo and Seed Formation
    • Post Fertilisation
    • F1 Hybrids
    • Genotype versus Phenotype
    • Male Sterility
    • Parthenocarpy
    • Hybrid Seed Production
    • Terminology
    • Seed and Fruit Development
    • Seed Structure
    • Seed Germination
    • Fruit Set, Growth and Development
  6. The Fundamental Physiological Processes in Plants, Plant Growth and Developmental Relationships
    • Importance of Photosynthesis
    • The Light Reactions
    • The Dark Reactions
    • Chloplasts in Photosynthesis
    • C3, C4 and CAM Plants
    • Rate of Photosynthesis
    • Chemistry of Respiration
    • Rate of Respiration
    • Stages of Respiration
    • Aerobic versus Anaerobic Respiration
    • Transpiration and Translocation of Water
    • Osmosis
    • Diffusion
    • Mechanisms of Nutrient Uptake
    • How Water, ions and metabolites move through a plant
    • Tropisms; Phototropism, Geotropism, Thigmotropism, etc
    • Chemical Growth Modification; Auxins, Gibberellins, AA, Ethylene, Cytokinin, etc
    • Effects of Chemical hormones
    • Light factors in plant growth
    • Artificial Light
  7. Soils and the Root Environment
    • Soil Profile
    • Importance of Soil
    • Soil Composition
    • Texture
    • Structure and soil types
    • Soil Horizons (A, B, C and R)
    • Naming the Soil
    • Improving Soil Structure
    • Soil Sampling
    • Improving Fertility
    • Organic Matter
    • Benefits of adding Organic Matter
    • Soil Water and it's Value to Plants
    • Water Loss from Soils
    • Improving Water Retention
    • Hygroscopic Water, Gravitational Water, Field Capacity and other terminology
    • Saturation
    • Rate of Watering
    • Plant Health and Drainage
    • Symptoms of Poor DrainageImproving surface and sub surface Drainage
    • Tensiometer
    • Soil pH
    • Nutrient Availability and pH
    • Calcifuges and Calcicoles
    • Adding Lime
    • Adding Acidic Materials to Lower pH
    • Conservation Issues: Peat
    • Terminology
  8. Plant Nutrition
    • Soil Life: Earthworms, Mycorrhyzae, Nitrogen Fixing
    • Nitrogen Cycle; Ammonification,Nitrification, Detritrification, Nitrogen Loss
    • Forms of Nitrogen
    • The Nitrogen Cycle
    • The Carbon Cycle
    • The Nutrient Elements
    • The Major Elements
    • The Minor Elements (Trace Elements)
    • Total Salts
    • Diagnosis of Nutrient Problems
    • Fertilisers
    • Types of Fertilisers
    • Applying Fertilisers
    • Natural Fertilisers
    • Manures, Rock Dusts, Seaweed
    • Composting Methods: sheet composting, Indore method, 14 day method, compost bins, trench composting, etc
    • Green Manures
    • Mulch and Mulching
    • Cultivation Techniues
    • Cultivation Tools and Equipment
    • Improving Water Infiltration into Soil
    • Non Dig Growing Method
    • Soil Problems
    • Soil Rehabilitation
    • Properties of Growing Media
    • Potting Media: Components and mixes
    • Choosing Growing Media
    • Air Filled Porosity
    • Hydroponics defined
  9. Plant Health Problems
    • Factors Affecting Plant Health and Growth
    • Types of Problems
    • Conducting an Inspection
    • Determining and Recommending Treatments
    • Responding to Difficult to Diagnose Problems
    • Plant Pests -major groups
    • Pest Treatments - Sanitation, Physical control methods, Resistant varieties, Biological controls, Chemical controls, Soil drenches
    • Insect Biology; structure, lifecycles, etc
    • Review of Major Pests and their Treatments
    • Review of Major Diseases and their Treatments
    • Review of Environmental Problems and their Control
    • Types of Weeds
    • Identifying Weeds
    • Weed Control Methods; suffocation, burning, cultivation, grazing, mowing, solarisation, chemicals, etc
  10. Plant Propagation Principles and Practice
    • Sexual Propagation
    • When to Sow Seed
    • Why Some Seeds Don't Germinate
    • Dormancy Factors in Seed -Hard Seed Coat, Chemical Inhibitors, Undeveloped Embryos etc
    • Difficult to Germinate Seeds
    • Treatments to Break Seed Dormancy
    • Seed Sources
    • Seed Saving; Seed Storage
    • Sowing Seed Indoors
    • Seed Sowing: Germination, Temperature Control Hygeine
    • Seed Propagating Media
    • Sowing Seed Outside
    • Handling and caring for Seedlings
    • Potting Up
    • Propagation after care
    • Propagation from Cuttings
    • Succeeding with Cuttings
    • Types of Cuttings
    • Softwood, Semi Hardwood and Hard wood Cuttings
    • Variations on Cuttings: nodal, heel, tip, etc
    • Leaf Cuttings, Leaf bud cuttings, Root Cuttings, Bulb Cuttings, etc
    • Stock Plants for Cuttings
    • Layering
    • Propagation from Specialised Stems and Roots; Offsets, Division, etc
    • Propagating Tools: Secateurs, How to Cut, Knives
    • Grafting
    • Propagating Plants in a Greenhouse
    • Cold Frames
    • Heated Propagators

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Describe the classification of higher plants
  • Describe the internal structure of higher plants
  • Describe the structure and functions of roots, leaves, stems and buds.
  • Describe the functions of the reproductive parts of the plant
  • Describe the process of pollination and fertilisation in higher plants.
  • Describe the processes photosynthesis, respiration, the movement of water in plants and plant growth and development.
  • Develop an understanding of the constituents, properties and management of soils and growing media.
  • Describe the nutrient elements and plant nutrition in relation to soil and growing media.
  • Describe the uses of organic matter and the importance of living organisms in the soil
  • Develop an understanding of pest, diseases and weeds that affect horticultural plants, and the cultural, biological, chemical and integrated systems used to control those problems.
  • Develop an understanding of the principles and main practices of plant propagation in horticulture.


Good planting techniques will help ensure your plants get a good start in life, and reduce the likelihood of problems, such as curled roots occurring.

Basic Planting Procedure

Plant most container plants as follows: 

1. Thoroughly soak the plant in the pot (to help the plant come out of the pot easier), then allow it to drain.

2. Dig a hole one and a half times the depth of the pot.

3. Place fertiliser (blood and bone or slow release) in the hole.

4. Fill in one third of the hole and mix fertiliser with the back filled soil.

5. Carefully take the plant out of the pot.

6. Loosen any exposed roots. (i.e. If most of the roots are inside the soil ball, you might not need to do much. If there is a tight mass of roots on the outside of the soil ball you may need to break a centimetre or so into the ball all over). Free any roots circling the bottom.

7. Place the plant in the hole and cover with soil. Firm down, but do not compact it.

8. Make a lip of soil around the base of the plant to hold water.

9. Soak thoroughly with water. 


You can get concentrated, fast acting fertilisers (which will feed more nutrients to the plant, very quickly); or slower acting, long term fertilisers. There are many possibilities in between these two extremes. Avoid direct contact between the young roots and stronger fertilisers. Usually a slower acting fertiliser is more appropriate with planting; particularly in sandy soils. Blood & bone, Osmocote (3 month formulation), or something similar is ideal for planting most plants.

Established plants can be treated with either slower acting fertilisers in larger doses once a year; or fast acting fertilisers in small doses more often. Always read and follow instructions on the packet. 


Staking is not always necessary (It can in some cases do more harm than good).

Plants SHOULD be staked if they are likely to be blown over by strong winds, knocked or ripped over.

When you tie a plant to a stake, the tie should be loose allowing the plant to move about in the wind. If movement is restricted, the tree may never develop proper strength in it's join between the roots and trunk.

Time of Planting

Avoid planting on hot or windy days. Plants are more likely to dry out in these conditions. Deciduous trees are usually planted in early winter (as are all bare rooted plants), because it is at this time of the year that these trees are released to the nurseries for sale. This is because these plants are generally dormant at this stage, and transplant shock will usually be only minimal. Also they are easier to transport and handle without their leaves. 

If plants are likely to get a lot of attention, they can be planted successfully at almost any time of year.

If they are likely to be neglected they are best planted prior to the cooler months; or wetter time of the year (ie: In the cooler climates planting is best in autumn or winter, allowing plants to establish before the harsher months). If planting in warm areas where the wetter months are over summer, such as the northern parts of Australia, you can plant almost any time of the year as long as you provide sufficient moisture during dry periods, and good drainage during wet periods.  

The time of planting might also be determined by availability of plants. The nursery industry produces different types of plants to become available for sale at particular times of the year.

Australian natives and most hardy evergreen plants are best planted after the hottest part of autumn (in most parts of Australia)... this establishes the root system before the rapid growth of spring and the harshness of the next summer. Frost tender plants (if planted in areas exposed to frost) are best not planted until spring, after frosts have finished. This allows them to establish before facing the harshness of the next year's frost. Very hardy plants can be planted with the same chance of success at any time. Deciduous plants are best planted in winter because they are dormant at this time. This means the risk of disturbing the plant in minimised.

Some particular varieties might prefer planting at one particular time of the year more than others. Planting times might also be restricted more in harsh environments

High rainfall areas with good rich soils can be planted at most times of the year.

Areas prone to strong winds should not be planted until after the windy time of year is over. This gives plants a chance to establish before the next windy season.

Exposed, hot areas are best planted after the hottest time of year allowing time for establishment before the next hot season. Areas prone to flooding (even if planting flood tolerant plants) are best planted after the wet season so that the young root system can get a firm hold on the soil before the plants face their first wet season. This means the young plants will have a better chance of holding in the soil when they face their first flood. 


Most plants do better if mulched, but not all.

Mulching has several advantages as follows:

  • It helps control weeds.
  • It conserves soil moisture (helps prevent drying out).
  • Organic mulches can help improve soil structure, drainage & water holding capacity by providing organic matter as they decompose.
  •  Organic mulches can put nutrients into the soil.
  • They help reduce fluctuations in soil temperature.
  • Organic mulches can promote earthworm activity.
  • They can reduce soil erosion.
  • They can reduce frost damage. 

Almost anything organic (that is coming from plant or animal material) can be used for mulch. Here are just a few examples: wood shavings, saw dust, tan bark, pine bark, leaf mould, paper, old rags, straw, prunings, lawn clippings, leather, cardboard etc. There are even some inorganic materials which are useful as mulches (eg: gravel, scoria, blue metal, coarse sand, river pebbles etc), however, inorganic mulches don't have all of the same advantages which organic mulches do.

Mulching is for most plants, best applied at the beginning of the growing season, which is usually spring. Excessive mulch over winter may make the roots of some plants too wet, and raise humidity around the base of the plant. When growth is slow, and conditions are moist; the plant becomes more susceptible to disease, particularly rots.

Always avoid placing any thickness of mulch up against the base of a plant. If the base of a trunk is covered, the likelihood of disease is often high.


Why Study with ACS Distance Education?

  • Teaching Horticulture courses in Australia since the 1979
  • These are world class courses
  • Very strong tutor support -you actually get to communicate one on one with professional horticulturists, each with degree level qualifications in addition to at least a decade of industry experience
  • Course notes developed by ACS staff and backed up by a data base of millions of words of original and unique horticultural resources.


How Can This Course Help You?

This is a highly detailed course which covers all elements of plant growth from biological, physiological and chemical processes to the roles of water, light, nutrients and environmental factors. Graduates also learn some botany and basic propagation techniques. The course is ideal for people who like to pay close attention to detail and who want to get the most out of their learning experience.
People who take this course include those working in, or who would like to work in:

Propagation & nurseries
Crop growing
Horticulture consultancies
Horticultural science
Horticulture research

It is also suited to avid gardeners and enthusiastic novices who have a keen interest in horticulture and gardening generally.  

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Jacinda Cole

Former operations manager for highly reputable Landscape firm, The Chelsea Gardener, before starting his own firm. Gavin has over 20 years of industry experience in Psychology, Landscaping, Publishing, Writing and Education. Gavin has a B.Sc., Psych.Cert.
Diana Cole

B.A. (Hons), Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector), P.D.C. In addition to the qualifications listed above, Diana holds City & Guild
Rosemary Davies

Leading horticultural expert in Australia. Rosemary trained in Horticultural Applied Science at Melbourne University. Initially she worked with Agriculture Victoria as an extension officer, taught horticulture students, worked on radio with ABC radio (c
Yvonne Sharpe

RHS Cert.Hort, Dip.Hort, M.Hort, Cert.Ed., Dip.Mgt. Over 30 years experience in business, education, management and horticulture. Former department head at a UK government vocational college. Yvonne has traveled widely within and beyond Europe, and has