How do I advance my career in the wholesale nursery trade?

Nursery owners look for experienced workers that are also highly  trained and have qualifications to back up their experience - when they look for staff to run their businesses.
For people who work, or hope to work, as a supervisor, manager or owner operator of a wholesale or production nursery; a qualification such as this combines management training with horticulture training, to give you the best possible chance at progressing in the wholesale industry.
This is a 900 hour covering both management and horticultural studies relating to running a wholesale nursery.
There are 7 units plus a workplace project in this course. These include the 4 core units common to all streams of the Advanced Certificate (C12CN001), and three specialist units of study relating to the operation and management of wholesale nurseries.
This course is internationally accredited through I.A.R.C.

Work in Nursery Management

Nursery owners look for experienced workers that are also highly  trained and have qualifications to back up their experience - when they look for staff to run their businesses.
For people who work, or hope to work, as a supervisor, manager or owner operator of a wholesale or production nursery; a qualification such as this combines management training with horticulture training, to give you the best possible chance at progressing in the wholesale industry.


This course is comprised of:

  • Core studies - Four units (400 hours) of compulsory subjects for all students.
  • Elective studies - Three stream units for the development of knowledge in a chosen industry sector.
  • Project - a workplace project of 200 hrs relevant to your field of study. The project specifically aims to provide the student with the opportunity to apply and integrate skills and knowledge developed through various areas of formal study. Contact the school for more information.



Totalling 400 hours. All four of these modules must be studied and passed.

1. Office practices

Develops basic office skills covering use of equipment, communication systems (telephone, fax, etc) and office procedures such as filing, security, workplace organisations, etc.

2. Business operations

Develops knowledge of basic business operations and procedures (eg. types of businesses, financial management, business analysis, staffing, productivity, etc) and the skills to develop a 12 month business plan.

3. Management

Develops knowledge of management structures, terminology, supervision, recruitment and workplace health and safety.

4. Marketing

Develops a broad understanding of marketing and specific skills in writing advertisements, undertaking market research, developing an appropriate marketing plan and selling.



The stream studies are as follows:



  • Explain the significance of property, marketing and contracts to site selection.
  • Estimate the cost of producing different plant varieties as specified marketable products.
  • Develop a nutritional program for plants in a wholesale nursery.
  • Explain the implementation of integrated pest management in a specified nursery situation.
  • Explain different chemical methods of controlling plant appearance.


This subject involves eight lessons as follows:

1.Nursery Site Organisation: Buying an established nursery or establishing a new site, site planning, estimating space requirements.

2. Management: Government and commercial nurseries, partnerships, companies, sole proprietorships, developing a management structure, labour relations and seasonal staff, work programs and production timing.

3. Nutrition and Pest Management: Field crops, container plants, principles of fertiliser use and plant nutrition.

4. Growing Media: Soils and soil-free mixes, rockwool, sterilisation, techniques.

5. Irrigation: Methods and equipment, estimation of water requirements and use of liquid fertilisers through irrigation.

6. Modifying Plant Growth: Modification techniques, flower forcing and quality control.

7. Marketing Strategies: Exploiting existing markets, developing new markets, advertising, product presentation, pricing, plant recycling.

8. Selection of Nursery Crops: Developing a stock list, operational flow charts, market surveys.




The course is divided into ten lessons as follows:

1. Introduction to Propagation - asexual and sexual propagation, plant life cycles, nursery production systems

2. Seed Propagation

3. Potting Media

4. Vegetative Propagation I - cuttings

5. Vegetative Propagation II - care of stock plants; layering, division and other techniques

6. Vegetative Propagation III - budding and grafting, tissue culture

7. Propagation Structures and Materials - greenhouses, propagating equipment

8. Risk Management - nursery hygiene, risk assessment and management

9. Nursery Management I - plant modification techniques, management policies

10. Nursery Management II - nursery standards, cost efficiencies, site planning and development


  • Develop the ability to source information on plant propagation, through an awareness of industry terminology and information sources.
  • Plan the propagation of different plant species from seeds, using different seed propagation methods.
  • Plan the propagation of different types of plants from cuttings, using different cutting propagation methods.
  • Plan the propagation of various types of plants using a range of propagation techniques, excluding cuttings and seed.
  • Determine the necessary facilities, including materials and equipment, required for propagation of different types of plants.
  • Determine a procedure to minimise plant losses during propagation.
  • Determine the management practices of significance to the commercial viability of a propagation nursery.
  • Design a propagation plan for the production of a plant.




The course is divided into eight lessons as follows:

1. Introduction. The principles of propagating plants by cuttings.:Importance of cuttings, Phenotype vs genotype, why choose cutting propagation, where to get cuttings from, basic cutting technique.

2. Stem cuttings. Ease with which tissue forms roots, types of stem cuttings (softwood, hardwood, semi hardwood, herbaceous, tip, heel, nodal, cane etc), treatments (eg. basal heat, mist, tent, etc), testing rooting, etc.

3. Non-stem cuttings. Leaf cuttings, root cuttings (natural suckering with or without division, Induced suckering, In situ whole root cuttings; ex situ detached root cuttings), bulb cuttings, scaling and twin scaling, sectioning, basal cuttage.

4. Materials and equipment. Selection and maintenance of stock plants; disinfecting cutting material;

5. Growing media. Propagation media; biological, chemical and physical characteristics of propagation and potting media, Testing for toxins, air filled porosity, potting up cuttings, soil-less mixes, rockwool, etc.

6. Factors affecting rooting. Juvenility, Cutting Treatments (hormones & their application, anti transparents, acid/base treatments, disinfectants etc), Callusing, Mycorrhizae, Carbon Dioxide enrichment, etc.

7. Setting up a propagation area. Creating and managing an appropriate cutting environment in terms of: Water; Disease; Temperature; Light and Air Quality. Greenhouses and other structures, watering methods (mist, fog, capillary etc), heating, etc.

8. Management of cutting crops. Estimating cost of production; Keeping records, etc.


  • To familiarise the studentwith the principles of propagating plants by cuttings
  • To develop an understanding of how to propagate plants from stem cuttings
  • To develop an understanding of how to propagate plants from non-stem cuttings
  • To develop an understanding of the materials and equipment used for propagating plants from stems
  • To understand the principles of growing media in relation to cutting propagation
  • To understand how and why cuttings form roots. To learn how to manipulate the formation of roots on cuttings
  • To understand the principles for establishing successful plant propagation areas
  • To understand the principles of nursery crop scheduling


What is required for Workplace Projects to be satisfied?

Essentially we will accept anything that constitutes "Learning in a real world relevant situation" -as distinct from our "normal way of delivering a distance education module.

The term "Workplace Project" is often used to embrace any type of "learning" experience. that is "real world" oriented. This includes:

A. Attending industry meetings (conferences, seminars, study tours, committee meetings, etc)

B. Work experience (paid or voluntary)

C. Attending workshops run by another institution; or supervised by a professional person working the student through our "workshop curriculum documents"

D. Undertaking any of the following modules: Workshop I, II, III or Research Project I, II, III or IV

E. Undertaking where appropriate other PBL based modules including Editing Practice I, or Journalism Practice I or II

We DO NOT organise and conduct workshops.

The student DOES NOT need to sit exams for any of the above....but they do need to show documentary proof (in the cases of a, b or c. Fees Apply for d & e but not a, b, or c (where the fee is incorporated into the qualification fee.

We have the following on some of the web sites for these things:



  • This is the final requirement that you must satisfy before receiving your award.
  • There are two options available to you to satisfy this requirement:


Alternative 1.

If you work in the industry that you have been studying; you may submit a reference from your employer, in an effort to satisfy this industry (ie. workplace project) requirement; on the basis of RPL (ie. recognition for prior learning), achieved through your current and past work experience.

The reference must indicate that you have skills and an awareness of your industry, which is sufficient for you to work in a position of responsibility.


Alternative 2.

If you do not work in the relevant industry, you need to undertake a project as follows.


Procedure for a Workplace Project

This project is a major part of the course involving the number of hours relevant to the course (see above). Although the course does not contain mandatory work requirements, work experience is seen as highly desirable.

This project is based on applications in the work place and specifically aims to provide the student with the opportunity to apply and integrate skills and knowledge developed through various areas of formal study.

Students will design this project in consultation with a tutor to involve industry based activities in the area of specialized study which they select to follow in the course. The project outcomes may take the form of a written report, folio, visuals or a mixture of forms. Participants with relevant, current or past work experience will be given exemption from this project if they can provide suitable references from employers that show they have already fulfilled the requirements of this project.

For courses that involve more than 100 hours, more than one workplace project topic may be selected. For example, 200 hours may be split into two projects each of 100 hours. This will offer the student better scope to fulfill the needs of their course and to meet the number of hours required. Alternatively, the student may wish to do one large project with a duration of 200 hours.

Students will be assessed on how well they achieve the goals and outcomes they originally set as part of their negotiations with their tutor. During each 100 hours of the project, the students will present three short progress reports. These progress reports will be taken into account when evaluating the final submission. The tutor must be satisfied that the work submitted is original.

If the student wishes to do one large 200 hour report, then only three progressive reports will be needed (however the length of each report will be longer).



Many aspects of nursery management have little to do with horticulture. Both wholesale and retail nurseries are often successfully managed by people with backgrounds in a variety of industries.

Managers must understand and appreciate their own role as being the person who controls what happens, not the person who actually does the work. A manager who spends a lot of time potting up, weeding plants or talking with customers may find that too little time is being spent managing the nursery, resulting in a loss of control. In a small nursery, however, where these jobs must be part of his or her routine, a delicate balance between the various tasks must be maintained.

Good management only occurs when the manager is well informed; hence the first task for any manager is to get to know the organisation for which they are responsible for.


To better understand the procedures involved in nursery production it is helpful to produce an operational flow chart which outlines the various steps undertaken in each of the four stages of production (propagation, transplanting, growing on, and marketing). Flow charts can assist in many facets of nursery management including production efficiency, quality control, budgets and production timelines. Flow charts can also assist staff in routine management and maintenance procedures.

An example flow chart for one method of propagation of a eucalypt (gum tree) grown from seed is presented below:

Operational flow chart for Eucalyptus Seed Propagation

Propagation Stage

  • Obtain seed
  • Mix propagating media
  • Sterilise propagating media (if applicable)
  • Fill seed tray
  • Water tray
  • Sow seed
  • Cover seed
  • Water seed trays
  • Place trays in propagation area (eg. glasshouse)
  • Germination takes place

Transplanting Stage

  • Mix growing media (soil mix) or purchase soil mix
  • Sterilise media.
  • Bring seedlings and soil mix to potting area
  • Transplant seedlings into pots or tubes
  • Move potted plants to protected or semi protected position for growing on (eg. shaded position)

Growing-on Stage

  • Mix and sterilise/or buy potting soil
  • Bring soil and plants together in potting area
  • Pot up into container which plant will be sold in
  • Allow growth to full size (apply fertiliser and water, prune etc. as needed)

Marketing Stage

  • Prepare and label for sales
  • Load into van
  • Call on retail nurseries canvassing sales
  • Unload plants as they sell

The above example is only one possible method by which eucalypts might be produced and marketed by a nursery. Regardless of the method you follow, producing a flow chart of operations can be beneficial because the flow chart highlights the steps within each stage of production and facilitates the analysis of these steps.


Flow charts for operational efficiency

By closely examining your procedures step by step you can make a critical evaluation of your efficiencies. You can identify areas where your operation is effective, and conversely areas where it can be streamlined.

For example, can you save time (or money) by doing anything differently to the way it is done now? Perhaps you can eliminate mixing of media by purchasing a media which is premixed, or perhaps potting up can be eliminated by direct seeding into the container which you will sell the plant in.

Utilising flow charts to assist in assessing operational efficiency allows you to focus your efforts on the areas that will show the greatest improvement. Such a flow chart can also be expanded to include a column that lists the hours taken on each task. This can be used to determine which tasks are the most time consuming, how much each task is costing you in terms of labour costs, and specific labour requirements for each task. This can help you make the most efficient use of your labour force (e.g. when to hire casual staff, planning tasks so that you don't have a lot of work one week and very little the next, allocating the most suitable employee to each task).

Flow charts for quality control

Flow charts are also beneficial in the control of product quality. The flow chart assists you to identify all inputs, and evaluate all methods used in the production system. The more detailed the flow chart, the more detailed the quality control procedures that are possible.

Some large nurseries record very detailed specifications, for example the volume of nutrients supplied within fertilisers or the intensity of light received by plants. Flow charts assist in monitoring these factors as well as identifying the source of and rectifying any problems. Utilising flow charts in such a way involves not only listing the steps in production, but also itemising specifications of inputs and the like for each step. The flow chart format is useful for this because it allows specific quality control procedures to be implemented - and traced - to each step of production.




Finding and then retaining good staff can be a problem for any nursery. Many nurseries never go looking for staff, relying instead upon people who come to them looking for work. Staff can be recruited via the following channels:

  • Universities and colleges - most horticultural courses require students to undertake several weeks of industry work placement, so nursery managers may be able to utilise such students as employees.
  • Advertising - Poor advertising for positions can cause enormous problems. For example, advertising with Employment Services is unlikely to result in skilled staff applying for a position. Trade magazines, however, are invaluable in that they will reach qualified and experienced people. Weekend newspapers will return a much wider variety of people.
  • Professional Associations - Often such associations are aware of members who are between jobs or looking to move to a new job. They may also be willing to notify members through association newsletters of employment opportunities.



From the point of view of any organisation, the success of the worker depends upon:

  • Their skill in the job assigned.
  • Their ability to adjust to the organisation's hierarchy (i.e. fit into their place amongst superiors, subordinates and equals).
  • Their ability to adjust to variations, or lack of variations in the work situation.

The above particulars should be determined through an interview. Obviously the interviewer can only ask about hypothetical situations, and it is not possible to reproduce real emotional stresses which could occur in the workplace (although different types of stresses can occur in an interview).

Three rules should be followed when interviewing:

  • keep the appointment time
  • avoid interruptions
  • make applicants feel at ease

An interview is different to a conversation. The interviewer's task is to elicit sufficient information from the interviewee, in order to make required ratings. In order to ensure information elicited is appropriate and fair, the interview needs to be conducted for different people in a uniform and unbiased manner. This requires a schedule and a degree of structure.

The interview schedule may consist of specific questions to be asked, and often a range of sub questions which may be asked, depending on answers received for the main questions. The interviewee should be allowed to reply freely to questions.

The following are suggested questions to be discussed during an interview:

  • Reactions to those in authority. How would the person react to their superiors?
  • Reactions to peers. How would they react to others working at their own level?
  • Reactions to subordinates. Would they be capable of maintaining a correct boss/worker relationship?
  • Reactions to one's self. Would they be able to maintain a decision they made? In other words, would they develop uncertainties and waiver about decisions, or stand firm?
  • Reactions to work conditions. Would they accept and follow written or established procedures? Are the jobs or tasks appropriate to the person's personality?

Interviewing can be time consuming and costly. In large organisations three interviews often take place:

  • Preliminary meeting to weed out unqualified applicants.
  • Employment office interview to select several candidates for the position.
  • Final interview by the prospective supervisor.

In smaller nurseries time can be saved by posting a job application form or questionnaire for applicants to fill out. This can allow many of the applicants to be weeded out without needing to go to the trouble of preliminary interviews. Remember though that the applicants are people in the industry and you should try to leave them with a positive impression of your business. Be courteous and encouraging in your replies, even when informing applicants they were unsuccessful.


Staff Induction/orientation

Responsibilities for all employees should be clearly defined and in writing. A copy of an employee's job description should be given to each employee when they commence work. It is important for a manager to read through the job description, point by point with the employee to clarify and reinforce their understanding of what is expected. Managers should evaluate each person's responsibilities on a regular basis, and make adjustments where necessary. Ask the employee for feedback, and encourage them to make any suggestions they feel will make his or her work more efficient or enjoyable.

If there are changes to what is expected from an employee, be sure to inform the person concerned. The employee should be made aware that such adjustments to their job description can be made before they commence work.



"Nursery manager - qualifications and experience required"

Essential Criteria:

  • At least 10 years experience in horticulture, with a minimum of 5 years in a production nursery.
  • Experience in management, supported by positive references from previous employers or business associates.
  • Success in operating their own business, preferably a nursery, even if small scale or part time.
  • The ability to identify a large number of native and non-native trees and shrubs.
  • A leadership style which is flexible but strong, providing firm decisions but at the same time seeking and incorporating input from the workers.

Preferred Criteria:

  • Experience in managing a successful nursery.
  • Membership of professional or trade organisations such as the Australian Institute of Horticulture or the International Plant Propagators Society.
  • Formal training in horticulture.
  • Have attended conferences or seminars in the horticulture industry.
  • Marketing experience.



  • Responsible to the Directors of the nursery.
  • In charge of all day to day on-site operations.
  • Directions to workers to be given via section heads (ie. foremen).



  • Prepare work schedules (at least one week in advance in consultation with the director), for daily work to be carried out in the nursery.
  • At the beginning of each day, instruct each person in what they should do that day, in accordance with prepared work schedules.
  • If necessary, adjust what is planned on the work schedule.
  • Observe what each person is doing on the site at least twice each day, and correct their work methods/techniques if necessary.
  • In conjunction with the director, attend to record keeping, purchasing (ie. reordering stock, order materials), paying bills, promotion and marketing.
  • Be responsible for ensuring legal requirements in operating the nursery and market garden are adhered to (e.g. occupational safety regulations, employee awards).



  • Position will be reviewed after initial 12 months.
  • Two weeks notice to be given in writing to terminate employment.
  • Hours 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
  • Four weeks annual leave not to be taken before 11 months have passed.
  • Sick pay, etc as are required by law.
  • Salary negotiable according to experience and qualifications.

Number of positions:

One person for one year. Term may be extended.

"Foreman propagator/tuber"


  • Responsible to the nursery manager.
  • In charge of all routine work in the potting shed.



  • Sign in a daily record, the number of hours worked.
  • Collect cutting material for propagation.
  • Oversee the propagation and potting up of plants, under direction from the manager.
  • Responsible for monitoring and ordering nursery supplies (eg. pots, seed, fertilisery) to be purchased with ample time prior to being needed.



  • Financial remuneration will be determined in accordance with the hours worked.


Number of positions

  • Initially two full time


"Nursery hand"


  • Takes instructions from the Propagator, or when the Propagator is absent, from the Manager.



  • Propagate plants.
  • Pot up plants.
  • Weed, pest and disease control.
  • Making up and processing orders.
  • Developing and maintaining stock/display gardens.
  • Other nursery work as required.
  • Working in the garden.



Financial remuneration will be determined by in accordance with hours worked, and will be subject to industry award conditions.


Number of positions

Initially one full-time or two-half time positions; as production increases, the number of nursery hands would increase.


"Administration/clerical officer"


  • Responsible to the Director and Nursery Manager.
  • Responsible for all routine office/clerical work.



  • Maintain filing systems.
  • Take phone calls.
  • Assist with handling correspondence, book keeping, record keeping, taking orders, and general assistance where required.
  • Work with and ideally have experience with computerised office systems.



Position could be full or part-time


Number of positions

Initially full time position.



Nursery work can be divided into several different types of activities, such as office work, propagation, potting up, and plant maintenance. It is important to allocate adequate man-hours to each area each week. If there are several people working in a nursery, each can be given specific responsibilities. However, in smaller nurseries, where there may be just one or two workers, roles are usually less defined.

Planning a work schedule should involve a number of steps:

  • Define objectives, goals, and tasks to be achieved.
  • Put forward several alternative courses of action.
  • Analyse the alternatives and select the most appropriate course of action.
  • Decide upon the materials, equipment and supplies needed to complete the tasks.
  • Determine which staff are best suited to each task, and how many staff will be needed to realistically complete the tasks in a timely manner
  • Put the chosen plan into action.

When developing a work schedule, consideration should be given to the following:

  • Interrelated work. Many jobs are interrelated, so planning when something is done should consider the effects on other tasks. For example, although extra plants can be propagated during wet weather, the extra stock could end up being a waste of time and resources if the money and manpower isn't available to maintain and pot up plants later on.
  • Area of discretion. Employees must know terms, policies, and limitations set down by management. For example, if there are strict safety procedures to be followed, these must be accounted for when allocating time and resources to a certain job.
  • Routines. Wherever possible, clear procedures should be developed for routine tasks. Different staff can then be allocated certain times to carry out such tasks.
  • Commitment. Courses of action must be consistent with current and future commitments. Resources cannot be used if they have been allocated elsewhere.
  • Cost benefit. Generally speaking, if the benefit from each alternative being considered would be similar, the least costly course of action should be chosen. However, if one course returns a greater benefit than the others, then this is the preferred choice.
  • Credibility. The course of action selected must be acceptable to both your superiors and subordinates. If it lacks credibility it should be discarded.
  • Uncertainty. There should be minimum risk in the selected course of action. If it includes factors which you cannot be sure about, such as whether certain materials will be available on time, then a different alternative should be selected.





Just go to the top of this page for pricing and enrolment options. If you have any questions you can contact us now, by:
Phone (UK) 01384 44272, (International) +44 (0) 1384 442752, or

Email us at [email protected]