Nursery Hands Course

Learn to manage plants in a florist, garden centre or production nursery -100 hour training for nursery assistants, nurserymen or gardeners

Course CodeVHT102
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Work in a Garden Centre

  • Learn skills that garden centres look for in their employees
  • Improve your chances of getting your first job, or advancing in a job you already have
  • Lay the foundation for advancing in a horticultural career
“Those who seek to enter the nursery industry or who are currently employed in a nursery will find this course invaluable. From plant identification to propagation, nursery structures to irrigation, this course has it all. Graduates will be accomplished in all aspects of nursery work from the ground up to marketing.”
- Gavin Cole B.Sc., Psych.Cert., Cert.Garden Design, MACA, ACS Tutor.

Who is this course for?

  • Anyone starting out in gardening or horticulture, with a strong desire to work in a plant nursery
  • Anyone who works as a general labourer in a nursery, who desires an opportunity to advance their career or business prospects.


Lesson Structure

There are 11 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to the Nursery Industry: production systems, transport regulations, PVR
  2. Plant Identification and Taxonomy: systematic botany, plant families, leaf and flower parts
  3. Nursery Structures and Buildings: greenhouse management, structures for nurseries
  4. Potting Mixes: U.C. soil mixes, understanding soils, growing media
  5. Seed Propagation: quality, sources, storage, germination treatments
  6. Cutting Propagation: stock plants, hormones
  7. Other Propagation Techniques: tissue culture, division, separation, layering, grafting
  8. Plant Nutrition in the Nursery: nutrition management,
  9. Pests and Diseases Control: hygeine
  10. Other Nursery Tasks: nursery irrigation, modifying plant growth
  11. Marketing and Sales: sales methods

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.


  • Understand plant propagation techniques and efficiency and quality control measures for the nursery.
  • Understand means of identifying and naming plants through International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.
  • Describe pros and cons of different nursery structures and understand effective management techniques.
  • Describe different types of potting mix, their uses and pros and cons.
  • Discuss different sources, maintenance of genetic identity, hybridisation techniques, storage and germination; of seeds.
  • Understand different means of propagating cuttings.
  • Understand alternative methods of propagation and their appropriate uses.
  • Discuss the importance of major and minor elements to plant health and the effect of their deficiencies upon plant nutrition.
  • Understand the effects of pests and diseases on the livelihood of the nursery and the importance of good hygiene standards in their control.
  • Understand different methods of controlling plant growth.

What You Will Do

  • Collect, dissect and observe flowers and leaves from six different plant species belonging to two plant families.
  • Speak to some of the nurserypeople you have contacted throughout the course to date.
  • Find out what you can about their preferences for different types of greenhouses and different shade houses.
  • Prepare two different types of propagating media; a soil-less potting media for general use in container growing of plants and a general potting mix containing some soil.
  • Contact and collect catalogues from at least six different seed suppliers.
  • Collect seed from at least three different plants growing in gardens or bushland and sow this seed.
  • Contact (by phone) at least six different nurseries to research seed sourcing.
  • Prepare a pot of cuttings and estimate the cost of production for each cutting produced.
  • Obtain some pieces of wood and practice preparation of grafts and buds. Prepare three other grafts on a living plant.
  • Visit or contact a nursery or stock agent who supplies fertilisers.
  • Research the various types of fertilisers available and their appropriate applications.
  • Obtain a soil-less growing medium (such as vermiculite, perlite, sand and so on or a mixture), which has had no fertilizers added to it at all.Fill 4 pots with this medium and plant 4 seedling plants into the pot.
  • Obtain some different types of fertilizers and feed three of the pots, each with a different not feed the fourth pot at all.Grow for 2‑3 weeks and then observe the differences in growth between each pot.
  • Identify as many pest or disease problems as you are able to for a given set of plants.
  • Contact three irrigation companies to find out what types of irrigation equipment are available for nursery irrigation.
  • Try to get a comparison on prices between the cheaper systems and the more expensive systems which are available.
  • Visit two different nurseries to research the techniques which are used in modifying plant growth.


Selling plants starts with having a good quality product that a customer desires.
If the plants in a nursery are unhealthy, and no more appealing than what a person can dig out of a neighbours garden; it will be an uphill battle to sell anything.

As such, the job of a nursery hand is in large part, caring for plants so they remain healthy. This involves watering, controlling pests and diseases, feeding and moving plants to isolate sick ones, and move others into places where the environmental conditions are more appropriate (something that is needed for some varieties, at certain times of the year).

How To Feed Plants in the Nursery

Consider the following factors when planning the apply fertilisers:
  • Different plants will use fertilisers at different rates. Slow growing plants should be fed at lower rates than faster growing plants.
  • Fertiliser will wash through more sandy, better draining, soils much faster than clay soils, and therefore should be applied more often and in smaller quantities on such soils.
  • The pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the soil affects the availability of different nutrients in different soils or mixes. If the pH is very acidic (e.g. pH 4) certain nutrients such as iron are more readily available to plants. However, other nutrients such as nitrogen are not able to be taken up as easily as they are at a higher pH. Every nutrient has its own ideal pH. Different plants require different amounts of different nutrients and this fact makes it preferable to have the soil pH at different levels to achieve the optimum nutrient take up with different types of plants. Some things grow better at pH 5, others are better at pH 7; most prefer a pH of around 5.5 to 6.0.
Methods of Applying Fertilisers

1. Mix straight, organic or inorganic, fertilisers into potting soil before plants are potted, and follow up with applications of liquid fertilisers at regular intervals. Soil or other media which has such fertiliser incorporated into it must be used quickly within a week or two of adding fertiliser. The fertiliser can leach out or change form if left for any period.

2. Mix fertilisers into the soil before potting, then add additional fertiliser by topdressing on top of pots or the ground at the base of the plants. Frequency of topdressing will depend upon the type of fertiliser being used and upon the characteristics of the potting mix or soil to leach out or retain nutrients applied.

3. Mix slow-release fertilisers such as Osmocote into the soil from the beginning before plants are potted or planted in open ground. The slow-release fertiliser might or might not be sufficient to feed the plant for its entire life in the nursery. Temperature and moisture can affect how quickly or slowly the fertiliser is depleted. Some fertilisers do not work at all in cooler climates during the winter months, and should normally be used only in sub tropical or tropical regions. Any fertiliser mixed into a soil must be mixed thoroughly and evenly. Some nurseries do this by using a cement mixer, adding the fertiliser as they use it whilst others have the soil supplier mix the fertiliser for them.

4. Apply slow release fertiliser to base of the plant after planting or potting. This method is preferred by some because it allows flexibility to apply different types of fertilisers to different plants and because it avoids the problem of having to ensure a thorough mixing of fertiliser in the soil/potting mix. It is important that the person doing this job does not overfeed or underfeed. A pinch is not enough. Variations in the rate of feeding can cause variations in the growth habit and growth rate between plants. A set measure per plant is required.

5. Use liquid fertilisers, normally applied through either sprays or through the normal watering system, sometimes called ‘fertigation’. Liquid feeding can vary from daily to only once every 5 or 6 weeks. There are arguments for both methods. The danger is that overfeeding can burn plants and underfeeding will not achieve the growth required. The rate of feeding must be calculated carefully, and the application of liquid feeds should be very precise.



You may or may not work in a nursery before starting or finishing this course; but by completing these studies, your understanding and awareness of how to care for nursery stock will have grown in ways that will increase your value to any plant nursery, retail or production.

This course may:

  • Help you get a job, or advance in a job you already have.
  • Help you start your own nursery business
  • Indulge a passion for growing plants at home; particularly collections of container plants.
  • Improve the operation of a nursery business you own or manage

  • Use our Free Advisory Service
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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.
Robert James

B.App. Sc. (Horticulture), Dip.Ag., M.Sc., Grad Dip.Mgt. Over 50 years experience that includes, Nursery Manager Brisbane City Councoil, Grounds Manager (University of Qld), Lecturer Qld Agricultural College, Propagator/Nurseryman at Aspley Nursery, Hort
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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