Garden Maintenance

Be a professional gardener: Learn how to operate an efficient garden maintenance business: lawn mowing, lawn repair, renovation, pruning, spraying pesticides, soil care, fertilising, replacing plants, tree Care. Study with trained professionals.

Course CodeVHT100
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Maintaining gardens isn't just about mowing lawns - Gardeners with skills that place them beyond lawn mowing are in ever increasing demand. Understand the needs of plants throughout the garden: learn how to prune correctly, to see signs of stress in plants and to be able to rectify problems and to prevent them. Understand what it takes to maintain healthy beautiful gardens and run your business efficiently.

We usually think of garden maintenance as a summer priority when lawns, weeds and plants grow vigorously but even in winter a garden may deteriorate without regular maintenance.   Proper maintenance however costs both time and money. Fortunately, there are shortcuts but these require knowledge and the right materials and equipment.


  • Learn from an international team or renowned horticultural experts led by John Mason, Fellow Institute of Horticulture (UK), Fellow Australian Institute of Horticulture, Fellow Parks and Leisure Australia.  John is also a former nurseryman, parks director, and is one of the most prolific gardening authors from Australia -many of his books being used by other schools and universities to teach horticulture across Australia and beyond.
  • A unique opportunity to connect and learn from our international faculty that includes Rosemary Davies (formerly Garden Advisory Service, and Age Garden Writer, Melbourne),  Maggi Brown (former Education officer for Garden Organic, UK), Gavin Cole (former Operations Manager for the Chelsea Gardener, London), and Dr Lyn Morgan (renowned Hydroponic expert from New Zealand); and a host of other equally qualified professionals. 
  • See profiles of our faculty at

    Lesson Structure

    There are 10 lessons in this course:

    1. Introduction Planning and managing a garden.
      • Cost of Maintenance
      • Expensive and Less Expensive areas of a garden
      • Planning
      • Garden Checklists
      • Analysing Maintenance of Parks and Gardens
      • Organising Garden Maintenance Staff
    2. Garden Furnishings and Machinery
      • What Tool for What Job
      • Overview of Machinery
      • Mowers and How to Mow
      • Aerators, Chippers, Mechanised Sprayers, Chain Saws, Brush Cutters, etc.
      • Tractors
      • Tool Maintenance
      • Engine Troubleshooting
      • Outdoor Furniture -plastic, timber, metal
      • Protecting Furnishings -paints, stains, preservatives
    3. Feeding Plants
      • Symptoms of Nutritional and other Problems
      • Conducting an Inspection of Plants
      • Soil Characteristics and identification of Soil Issues
      • Review of Plant Nutrition
      • Choosing the Right Fertiliser
      • Diagnosing Nutritional Problems
      • Improving soils
    4. Weed Control
      • Nature and Scope of Weed Problems
      • Natural Ways to Control Weeds -suffocation, burning, cultivation, etc
      • Common groups of weeds and options for treating and recognising different weed varieties.
    5. Weedicides
      • How Weeds Spread
      • Types of chemicals found in weedicides and suitable weedicide
      • Which chemical would control the weed.
      • Chemicals and the Law
    6. Natural Pest Control
      • Scope and Nature of Natural Controls
      • Cultural Controls
      • Mechanical Control Methods
      • Physical Control Methods
      • Methods for controlling selected insects
      • Companion Planting
      • Common Environmental Problems
      • Tolerance Levels in different plants
      • Biological Controls
      • Natural Sprays
      • Buffer Zones
      • Mulching
    7. Chemical Pest Control
      • Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
      • Ways of Applying Chemicals
      • Safety with Chemicals
      • Understanding Pesticides -toxicity, LD50, Persistence, etc.
      • Specific chemical treatments and a summary of pesticides.
    8. Turf Management
      • Common Turf Problems
      • Turf Pests
      • Chemical Damage
      • Establishment and Maintence of Lawns
      • Mowing, Fertilizing, Aeration, etc
      • Turf varieties, appropriate turf for specific areas, low and high maintenance turf.
    9. Irrigation
      • Importance of Water
      • Water Loss from different soils & Improving Water retention
      • Understanding Water Dynamics in soil
      • Irrigation -types of systems
      • Planning an irrigation system
      • Using an irrigation system
      • Controlling slippery surfaces
    10. Maintenance of Plants
      • Why Prune
      • Before Pruning
      • Time of Pruning: Does it matter?
      • What to consider when pruning
      • Removing Dead Wood
      • Controlling shape and size
      • How to prune different types of plants

    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.


    • Evaluate the maintenance needs and develop a plan for maintaining a garden.
    • Select and maintain tools and equipment appropriately for use in garden maintenance.
    • Describe maintenance requirements for garden structures such as furniture, gates and fencing.
    • Maintain appropriate nutrition requirements for healthy plant growth.
    • Control weeds in a garden.
    • Use weedicides in a safe and effective way.
    • Control pests using non chemical methods.
    • Use chemical pesticides safely and efficiently.
    • Maintain lawns in a healthy and well maintained condition.
    • Describe options for managing water in a garden.
    • Determine actions that should be taken to maintain a variety of different plants.

    Following is an article by our Principal, John Mason an expert horticulturist and Fellow of the AIH.



    A garden maintenance business provides services that help to maintain the general health or condition, and the presentation of a garden. These services might include such things as lawn mowing, lawn repair and renovation, pruning, spraying pesticides, fertilising or soil care, replacing old or sick plants, maintaining indoor plants, tree lopping or tree surgery.

    There was a time when anyone could start this type of business and as long as they were prepared to do physical work, and sweat a little, they would have a reasonable chance of success. Garden maintenance today is however increasingly sophisticated, and increasingly mechanised. If you are to do jobs as well as your competition, you must have some basic knowledge. Very often you also need the right machinery or you will simply take longer to do a job, and sooner or later the clients will discover that they can get more for their money by employing a better equipped gardener.

    Many home and business owners will contact their local nursery to obtain gardening services, or pay extra to have plants installed rather than digging and planting themselves. Contracting your services through a nursery is a good starting point for a new garden maintenance business, or can be an opportunity for an existing business.



    The key to any successful gardening business is to understand plant care.

    Healthy plants grow stronger, live longer and look better. Everyone wants their plants to be healthy, and with the right plants and the appropriate treatment, there is no reason why all of your plants can't look just as good as anything you would buy from a nursery.

    When a plant becomes unhealthy, it's usually because the environment is unkind to it. The temperature may be too hot or cold, it might be too wet or dry, it may have too much or too little fertilizer, or perhaps something else is affecting it. Often a sick plant is found to be suffering from attack by a pest or disease problem; but those problems are far more likely to occur on plants which are already suffering because environmental conditions are not suitable.

    The first step towards having healthy plants in a garden is to only keep healthy plants in the garden. If you are designing a garden for someone, or advising a client on what to plant in their garden consider the following:

    • Be careful to choose plants which are best suited to the particular soil and environment. This might mean some "terrific" varieties should not be grown; but why grow such plants if they are never going to perform to their peak in that particular environment.
    • If the client is determined to grow particular plants that are not suited to the local environmental conditions then consider ways in which those environmental conditions can be modified to suit such plants. For example, provide extra shade for shade loving plants using shade-cloth.
    • ‑Be ruthless and get rid of sick plants (or branches) before they become diseased and affect other plants.


    Plants can get sick just as easily as people. The problems they encounter can include:

    *PESTS...Animals of various sizes and forms (from microscopic worms to dogs, birds, grazing animals, even humans). Insects are just one of many groups of animals which can cause damage to plants, although they are perhaps the most significant group of plant pests.

    *DISEASES...These are problems caused by living organisms other than animals. Fungi, bacteria and virus are the most common.

    *ENVIRONMENTAL DISORDERS....Troubles caused by soils, nutritional problems, bad weather conditions such as frost, wind, cold, heat, or poor drainage.

    *WEEDS...Plants growing where you don't want them. It is the location of a plant which makes it a weed, NOT the species of the plant. A weed will compete with your desired plants for nutrients, water and space, which can be harmful to your desired plants.

    They may also act as hosts to pests and diseases which can affect your desired plants.


    The best way to be sure that problems like those outlined above do not occur in gardens you are maintaining is to prevent problems from ever starting.

    This is best done by following the standard procedures listed below:


    Does it have any particular problems which should be treated?

    • Hard clay soils...need to be loosened up by cultivation, or by adding soil conditioners such as lime or gypsum, or by incorporating organic matter, such as well rotted manures and compost.
    • Sandy soils can sometimes dry out too easily or be low in nutrients. To overcome these problems add well rotted manures or compost.
    • Winds...provide wind breaks or channel winds with fences or plantings, or provide suitable staking or support until plants are well established.
    • Shade...large existing trees, or buildings, can create very shady areas. In such areas select plants to grow that will tolerate or even prefer periods of shade.
    • Frost pockets...on sloping sites remove a frost pocket by planting or fencing in a way that allows air movement to continue unimpeded down the slope.
    • Other soil problems, such as low nutrient levels, or diseases may have built up, particularly where the same type of plant has been grown in a particular spot year after year, or the soil may be full of a mat of dead roots. Consider cultivating and building up the soil, and replanting with different types of plants that are not susceptible to any particular diseases that may be present.


    Before you even start a new garden, make sure the soil is in top condition. Make sure drainage, nutrition and the structure (crumbly and easily worked) of the soil is suitable for the plants you wish to grow. This may involve laying drainage pipes, applying fertilizers, gypsum (to help improve structure in heavy soils) or lime, or digging in manure and compost (to improve structure and nutrients). Kill existing soil pests or weeds first if you have any particularly serious problems.


    Healthy plants are more likely to resist damage from pests and diseases, and more likely to recover if they are attacked. When choosing plants the roots and top growth of the plant should be well developed. There should be no deformed growths (eg: twisted, distorted leaves, swellings on roots). Avoid plants with badly marked leaves. Don't use plants contaminated with insects. Seeds and bulbs should be fresh, free of abnormal markings or any rots. Don't compromise on quality. Trying to save a little money by buying plants that are not in top condition will cost you a lot more in the long term, through plant losses, higher maintenance requirements, and to your reputation.

    Varieties which are resistant to diseases/pests are better. Use varieties known to be successful in the locality of your clients property. Look around local gardens and see what grows best.


    • Remove any diseased fruit, flowers, leaves,or other plant parts, and burn them. Do not compost them or let them lay on the ground!
    • Wash soil off paths and concrete areas. Soil tracked from one area to another may spread diseases.
    • Sit plants in containers on stones or paving, or on top of a couple of bricks (not directly on top of soil). This minimises movement of disease from the soil up into the pot.
    • Be careful not to wear dirty boots into a propagation area...this can carry diseases from the general garden into the propagation area.
    • Hoses and their fittings should be neatly stored above ground so that they are not in contact with the ground, otherwise they can pick up diseases easily and spread them rapidly when used.
    • All tools should be regularly cleaned of soil and other debris. Tools used for cutting plant tissue should be regularly disinfected (e.g. dipped in "metho" or a disinfectant such as Detol).


    Do not over water or underwater...both are as bad as each other! Over watering (water logging) is indicated by yellowing of the lower leaves, sometimes wilting and eventually dropping of the lower leaves. Under watering is indicated by browning of the tips and foliage generally, and at times by severe wilting and leaf drop. Lack of nutrients is indicated by a slow rate of growth, and in severe cases, by discolouration patterns on leaves.


    Look at tips first. The young growth will indicate general vigor (or lack of it). Look for die‑back, discolouration of leaves or wood, distortion of growth, rots, eaten or broken tissue.

    Why Study This Course?

    Garden maintenance probably accounts for more than half of most landscape gardeners work, but it can also be a business in itself. Although much can be learned hands-on, people working in garden maintenance may not be exposed to all the different possible areas which can be involved in this type of work. You can also only learn what your supervisors or co-workers are able to pass on to you. This course covers a wide range of knowledge so that graduates are equipped to deal with all sorts of different gardening problems.

    This course is ideally suited to people working in, or hoping to work in:

    • Garden maintenance
    • Landscape gardening
    • Garden renovation & restoration
    • General horticulture
    • Parks and gardens
    • Garden tourism

    Need assistance?

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    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
    John Mason

    Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant. Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK. He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world.
    Jacinda Cole

    B.Sc., Cert.Garden Design. Landscape Designer, Operations Manager, Consultant, Garden Writer. He was operations manager for a highly reputable British Landscape firm (The Chelsea Gardener) before starting up his own landscaping firm. He spent three year
    Adriana Fraser

    Over 30 years working in horticulture, as a gardener, propagator, landscape designer , teacher and consultant. Adriana has spent much of her life living on large properties, developing and maintaining her own gardens, and living a semi self sufficient li
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