Soil Management (Horticulture)

Horticultural Correspondence College Gardening Distance Education Recognised Certificate and Diploma Courses for horticultural careers; learning practical garden and horticulture skills either online, by correspondence study.

Course CodeBHT105
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

It's Easy to Enrol

Select a Learning Method

I am studying from...

Enable Javascript to automatically update prices.

All prices in Australian Dollars.

Payment plans available.

Courses can be started at any time from anywhere in the world!


Good soil conditions are critical to the healthy growth of most plants. Over eight lessons this course will develop an understanding of physical and chemical properties of soils, the ability to carry out simple tests and determine soil characteristics, and to decide ways of treating a soil to improve its ability to grow plants.

The course is specifically designed for ornamental gardens, landscaping, container growing, and turf situations.
“It may be obvious to most that healthy soils produce healthy plants, but what is a healthy soil when it comes to crop production? This course goes deep into the chemical and physical aspects of soil composition, testing, and management to provide the student with the necessary skills to manipulate soils for optimal crop yields.” - Gavin Cole B.Sc., Psych.Cert., Cert.Garden Design, MACA, ACS Tutor. 
  • 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 8 lessons in this course:

    1. Physical and Chemical Properties of Soils
      • How soils develop
      • The main rock forming minerals: silicates, carbonates, oxides and sulphates
      • Types of rock: igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic
      • Denitrification, immobilisation, mineralisation and ammonium fixation
      • Understanding soil function: plant nutrition, support, water and air supply
      • Naming a soil
      • Improving soils for plant culture
      • Organic matter
      • Plant nutrition
      • Nutrient availability and pH
      • Cation exchange capacity
      • Conductivity
      • Salinity build up
      • The nutrient elements
      • Major elements and minor elements
      • Total salts
      • Diagnosing nutrient problems
      • Fertilisers
      • Composting
    2. Soil and Plant Tissue Test Methods
      • Soil sampling
      • Common soil tests: pH, texture, structure, etc
      • Tissue analysis
      • Different methods od measuring pH
      • Water content of soil
      • Fertiliser solubility
      • Testing the effect of lime
      • Laboratory testing of soils
      • Measuring salinity
      • Colorimeters
      • Bulk density
      • Understanding soil analysis
      • Deciding when and how to test
    3. Soil Science and Health
      • Organic carbon
      • Available phosphorus
      • Soil colour
      • Texture and its affect on plant growth
      • Structure and its affect on plant growth
      • Consistence: affect on plant growth
      • Depth of profile, pH, porosity and other things affecting plant growth
      • Soil classification and description: different horizons
      • Factors affecting soil formation: parent material, climate, ecosystem, etc
      • Weathering processes in soil formation: physical, chemical, geochemical
      • Pedochemical weathering
    4. Container Growing
      • Introduction
      • What to grow
      • Problems with containers
      • Care of containers
      • Comparing materials: plastics, terracotta, fibreglass, etc
      • Aesthetics of containers
      • Potting up
      • Potting mixes
      • Ideas for container gardens
      • History of potting mxes
      • UC mixes
      • Soilless mixes
      • Testing for toxins in potting media
      • Propagating media
      • Problems with Organic materials in media
      • Coir
      • Rockwool
      • Components of potting media
      • Cleanliness with soils and potting media
      • Hydroponics
    5. Land Degradation and Other Soil Problems
      • Chemical damage to soil
      • Builders rubbish in soils
      • Salinity
      • Dogs or cats urinating
      • Growing plants in dry areas
      • Soil degradation
      • Erosion
      • Salinity
      • Acidification
      • Compaction
      • Chemical residues
    6. Soil Management Applications
      • Aims of soil management
      • Soil management in orchards
      • Fertilizer application
      • Soil covers
      • Soil management for Vegetables
    7. Organic Techniques and Soil Management
      • What is organic growing
      • Organic principles for overcoming soil problems
      • Natural plant nutrition
      • Trace elements
      • Earthworms
      • Types of mulch and its use
      • Nutrition managementin a plant nursery
      • Applying liquid fertilizers
      • Organic fertilizers
      • Natural fertilizers
      • Mineral rock fertilizers and soil conditioners
      • Apatite phosphate rock
      • Dolamite
      • Gypsum
      • Soil management in market gardens
      • Crop rotation
      • Determining kind and quantity of fertilizer to use
      • Cover crops
    8. Soils and Managing Earthworks
      • Eath forming
      • Machinery
      • Creating mounds
      • Sources of "fill"
      • Drainage
      • Improving drainage
      • Improving surface drainage after construction
      • Designing a drainage system
      • Improving permeability during construction
      • Layout of drains
      • Types of drains

    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.


    • To describe the significance of different physical and chemical properties of soil, in relation to the growing of plants.
    • To correctly extract samples of soil, appropriate to different situations; and then conduct a range of simple tests to determine varying characteristics of the sample taken.
    • To further explain the characteristics of a soil, scientifically; and relate those characteristics to the capacity of a soil to grow plants.
    • To recommend appropriate selection and management of potting and other alternative media for growing plants in containers.
    • To diagnose and recommend the treatment of a variety of soil degradation problemsUnderstanding of the principles of sustainable soil management
    • To determine appropriate management programs for different soils in horticultural situations.
    • To recommend soil management practices which are not going to cause a degradation of soil quality.
    • Explain the methods used in managing earthworks in a way which is sensitive to soil condition.

    What You Will Do

    • Identify evaluate soil structural problems in the field
    • Build a compost heap and monitor its decomposition process
    • Perform simple experiments to evaluate fertilisation rates and methods
    • Define and describe soil properties and processes
    • Perform simple tests and field analyses on soil
    • Identify nutrient deficiencies
    • Evaluate the attributes of various mulches
    • Analyse the impacts of earthworks and earth working machinery on soil and landscape
    • Analyse the effects of different soil management methods.
    • Identify soil and land degradation
    • Propagate and grow plants in containers
    • Identify and evaluate soil degradation minimisation programs and methods

    Why Study Soils?

    Soils are the foundation of all horticulture.
    Plants get nutrition and water from the soil, and the better the soil, the more able they are to grow.

    Soils are a mixture of components; different types of particles (eg. sand, clay, organic matter), air pockets, water and living organisms (eg.bacteria, earthworms). The roots of plants then grow in amongst all of these components. The world below the soil surface is a complex ecosystem, that sometimes helps plants grow at their very best; and at other times can inhibit plant growth, cause disease to flourish, and even cause the decline and death of plants.

    The more that you are able to understand all of this, the more you will be able to cultivate plants effectively. 

    Do You Understand the Terminology?


    soil improvers i.e. lime, dolomite, gypsum, trace elements etc

    Acid soil

    Soil with a reaction below pH7 (having more hydrogen ions over hydroxyl ions)


    When air in the soil is replaced by air from the atmosphere


    groups of particles of sand, silt clay and humus within the soil held in a single unit as a clod, crumb, block or prism


    The science of soil management and crop production


    When the soil is as dry as the surrounding air making it impervious to water

    Alkaline soil

    soil that has a pH value of greater then pH7

    Alluvial soils

    Soils of a recent geological age made up of sand, silt and mud that have been deposited by rivers or floods

    Clay soils

    Soil material containing more than 40% clay less than 45% sand and less than 40% silt

    Clay pan

    Compacted area which is slowly permeable to water can be of variable thickness with a sub-soil of vastly higher clay content then the soil above it; usually hard when dry and sticky when wet


    A compact, easily broken up mass of soil that has usually been created through the use of tillage on overly wet or dry soil


    soft, porous structures of soil that are naturally occurring and about 1 to 5mm in diameter


    a surface layer on soil that can vary in thickness from a few millimetres to several centimetres and is harder and more brittle when dry then the underlying soil.


    a limestone source having significant magnesium content


    the removal of the land surface by wind, water, corrosion or gravity


    refers to the a soil moisture consistency that crumbles when handled

    Green Manure

    a crop that is ploughed into the ground while still green to improve the soil.

    Heavy Soil

    A soil with a high content of clay or one that is difficult to cultivate without high powered equipment

    Light Soil

    Sandy soils which are easy to cultivate


    refers to a specific textural class of soils that have prescribed amounts of clay, silt and sand

    Organic soil

    a soil that contains a high (more than 20%) amount of organic matter


    a unit of soil structure such as a crumb, block, aggregate prism or granule that has been formed by natural processes.


    sand, silt, clay and humus are all individual particles within the soil


    the movement, downwards of water through the soil


    measure of alkalinity or acidity of the soil


    the amount of air passages (pores) in the soil

    Saline soils

    soil containing soluble salts in a concentration sufficient to weaken (or impair) plant growth.


    the top 3-7cm of soil held together by grass or legume roots

    Soil Structure

    the arrangement of primary soil particles into peds etc. within the soil, (the manner in which the smaller particles i.e. sand, silt, clay are aggregated.

    Soil Texture

    the relative percentages of sand, silt and clay in the soil


    that part of the soil that lies below the topsoil but above the bedrock

    Tension, soil moisture

    The attraction with which water is held to soil particles; negative pressure of water in soil

    This course will help you to understand  not only what these words mean, but also their relevance to plant growth.


    If you already work in farming, horticulture or land management; this course will have obvious advantages.

    For anyone new to these fields though, this course may prove to be one of the most useful studies you ever undertake. It can help you  make far better informed choices about land you buy (or lease); and better decisions about how that land is managed. If you seek employment in horticulture, it will enhance your value to employers, and if you encounter soil problems in the future, it will put you in a much better position to solve such problems before they get out of hand.


    ACS is an Organisational Member of the British Institute for Learning and Development
    ACS is an Organisational Member of the British Institute for Learning and Development

    Member of the Institute of Horticulture Careers Advisory Bureau
    Member of the Institute of Horticulture Careers Advisory Bureau

    Member of Study Gold Coast, Education Network
    Member of Study Gold Coast, Education Network

    ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
    ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.

    Member Nursery and Garden Industry Association
    Member Nursery and Garden Industry Association

    ACS is recognised by the International Accreditation and Recognition Council
    ACS is recognised by the International Accreditation and Recognition Council

    ACS is a Preferred Member Training Provider with the Australian Institute of Horticulture.  ACS students meeting AIH criteria can join AIH as a Category 2 student member.
    ACS is a Preferred Member Training Provider with the Australian Institute of Horticulture. ACS students meeting AIH criteria can join AIH as a Category 2 student member.

    Need assistance?

    Start Now!


    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
    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; author of more than 70 books and edito
    Gavin 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
    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
    Organic Gardening
    For decades farmers have relied upon chemicals to control pests and diseases in order to produce saleable crops. In the ornamental, vegetable and fruit gardens reliance on chemical controls has also been the mainstay for many gardeners.
    Profitable Farming
    Discover new ways to make money from your farm and broaden your perspective on the farming industry. A few things in life are certain; change is inevitable and people need to eat. Learn to embrace change as an opportunity and improve your ability to forge
    Starting a Garden or Landscape Business
    Expert advice on how to get started in your own garden or landscape business! Packed with valuable business advice, horticultural and landscaping knowledge, and practical ideas - this book is a must have for garden lovers. It is great for anyone thinking
    What to Plant Where
    A great guide for choosing the right plant for a particular position in the garden. Thirteen chapters cover: plant selection, establishment, problems, and plants for wet areas. Shade, hedges and screens, dry gardens, coastal areas, small gardens, trees an