Nursery Industry Careers06/05/2015 13:31:31

Careers in the Nursery Industry

There are two main types of plant nurseries; production nurseries that produce plants and retail nurseries that sell them to the general public - these nurseries may or may not be garden centres as well.

Nurseries that do both are usually specialist businesses (eg. A conifer nursery, bonsai nursery or indigenous plant nursery).


Many nurseries are relatively small family businesses, employing only a small number of people other than the family members. Larger nurseries do exist though, and some can employ dozens of staff from managers to supervisors and general nursery hands.

Career opportunities exist in three broad areas:


  • Operating your own nursery
  • Employment in a nursery owned by someone else
  • Working for a nursery supplier (ie. one of the many companies that supply goods or services to nurseries).


Typical jobs



Typical Work Tasks May Include

General Nursery Hand

moving plants, pest and weed control, potting up, pruning, watering


Propagating plants by cuttings, seed, budding, grafting, division, etc.; maintaining propagation area, potting up propagated plants

Tissue Culture Technician

Propagating plants in a laboratory by micropropagation


Works with a small group, overseeing their work

Nursery Manager

Plans and manages day to day work for either a section within a large nursery; or the entire nursery.

Marketing Manager

Oversees all marketing –more than just a sales person: manages advertising, promotions, customer service, sales and more

Retail Sales person

Sells plants and garden products, gives advice to the public; may also be responsible for care and maintenance of plant stock (ie. watering, fertilising, pest control etc).

Plant Breeder

Develops new plant cultivars for the nursery market.

Sales Representative

Visits and sells services and/or products used by nurseries –production nurseries buy potting soil, pots, labels, pesticides, fertiliser etc; -retail nurseries buy all these things and also products to resell (for profit) to the public.


Remuneration and Advancement Opportunities

A production nursery can be started with relatively little investment. Some large and successful nurseries have commenced with one person propagating and growing on plants from home, then selling them at a weekend market, by mail order, or to a garden centre or landscaper.

Some nurseries start with a much more serious initial investment in land, equipment, materials and manpower; and as a result, have the potential to grow bigger and faster (but also have the potential to lose money faster).

Retail nurseries, which also offer garden products (garden centres), often make more money from selling plants than anything else; and the way to sell plants is to have staff who can talk with confidence about the plants that are offered for sale. The ability to identify and talk about a lot of different plants (at least several hundred), will impress a nurseryman, and more often than not, the applicant with the best plant knowledge will get a job in preference to applicants who cannot name plants at an interview.

Nurseries value people who can do the job far more than those with a formal qualification. Formal qualifications may help get you an interview; but if you are not a good plantsman or woman, you probably won’t go very far after that.


Risks & Stresses

The nursery industry is susceptible to the weather, fashions, seasons and economic conditions.

  • When people are more affluent, they will spend more on plants.
  • When a country is in drought, people may buy fewer plants.
  • When a major sporting or news event occurs, nursery sales can drop.
  • When the days are clear, and the temperature mild, people may be more inclined to buy plants.
  • The types of plants which people buy most will vary from year to year, but over the span of decades, trends do keep repeating themselves, and all types of plants do continue to sell (eg. Cacti may sell well for a few years, then be difficult to sell for a while; but eventually they will again sell well).

Nurseries can also suffer from the impact of pests and diseases, or environmental conditions, on plant health. Diseases and pests can infect a nursery and cause serious losses from time to time. A nurseryman must be able to identify problems before they become serious and act to prevent serious loss.

Nursery owners face the same stresses that any businessman faces. Maintaining cash flow, dealing with fluctuations in workloads, and getting away for a holiday, can all be a problem at times; but for many, these negatives are outweighed by the advantage of being your own boss.


How to Distinguish Yourself from the Competition.

Nurseries differentiate themselves from each other by the quality of plants, the type of plants and range of plants they sell; and the staff who work in those nurseries are differentiated on a similar basis.

Some specialize in propagation, others in supplying advanced plants.

Some deal with trees & shrubs, herbs, fruit plants or annual flower seedlings.

If you think about any type of plant, there is probably a nursery that specializes in that.

There are certain key skills that are highly prized by nurserymen; and people who develop those skills can be in high demand, and able to command higher remuneration, either as a permanent employee, or as a temporary contractor or consultant (eg. Ability to graft plants fast with a high success rate; marketing or sales skills; ability to identify and remedy plant health problems, soil or water expertise, etc)


Professional Bodies

Most developed countries have nursery industry associations, which can be well worth joining for two reasons:

a/ To be kept informed of industry trends and developments

b/ to network and do business with other nurserymen

The International Plant Propagators Society is another excellent organisation to join. Though not commercially oriented, it is in very practical terms, a peak international body for meeting and sharing knowledge with other nurserymen.

We would encourage any student or aspiring nurseryman to join IPPS.



Consider Professional Indemnity Insurance if you are advising people about plants. Also seriously consider Public Liability insurance; and discuss other possible needs with an insurance expert.


Recommended Courses

Research has shown that long term career success is more likely if initial training is more broad based, with a strong experiential and problem solving basis. The following fit these criteria: