Horticulture grounds management distance education certificate. Develop the skills and knowledge required to maintain a variety of horticultural sites from gardens to turf areas.

Course Code: VHT002
Fee Code: CT
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 700 hours
Qualification Certificate
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Prepare for a Career as a Grounds Manager

Grounds managers play a pivotal role in the care and maintenance of all grounds associated with different organisations, businesses, colleges, or other enterprises. They may also be required to oversee the maintenance of private grounds owned by wealthy individuals. The types of grounds under their care can include sports fields, sports facilities, playgrounds, gardens, parks, woodlands, and other areas which may require attention such as boundaries, entrances, and outdoor structures. 

Therefore, to be competent in grounds management requires various skills. These can include caring for and renovating turf, designing planting schemes and replanting garden beds, ensuring pruning is done properly and in a timely way, maintaining trees, overseeing weed control programs, implementing works schedules, and liaising with staff and management to organise work.  

The Certificate in Horticulture (Grounds Management) is a vocational oriented course comprising core studies (general horticulture) and stream studies in the maintenance of golf courses, parks and other large scale gardens.

The objective of the course is to:

  • develop general and broad based skills in horticultural practices and plant identification.
  • develop skills and knowledge in diagnosis and treatment of pest, disease and weed control problems.
  • develop knowledge and skills in turf selection and maintenance to a required standard.
  • develop skills and knowledge in the establishment and maintenance of ornamental trees and shrubs.
  • develop skills and knowledge in the management and improvement of soils for growing plants.
  • develop knowledge and skills about the selection and operation of a variety of watering systems suitable for the irrigation of    plants and turf in amenity horticulture.

Certificate in Horticulture involves the areas of work:

  • CORE STUDIES - involves at least 350 hours, divided into 15 lessons, approx. half of the course.
  • STREAM STUDIES - a further 350 hours of study specific to irrigation, soils, plant care, pest, disease and weed control and turf care.




Through these specialised stream studies, the student will attempt to achieve the following objectives:

  • Design a plant assessment sheet to be used in the field to record information about plant health problems.
  • Diagnose nutrient, pest, disease and environmental problems of plants.
  • Dissect, draw and label a range of pest/disease problems.
  • Explain ten alternative weed control methods including chemical and non chemical treatments.
  • Collect, press, label and mount a weed collection and a pest/disease collection.
  • Explain aeration, spiking, coring, dethatching and topdressing.
  • Describe selective weed control in turf.
  • Select turf species suitable for a range of different situations (eg: for shade, wet and windy sites).
  • Describe the steps in preparing an area for turf.
  • Demonstrate the ability to prepare for, and sow a new lawn.
  • Explain how to establish turf on a steep slope.
  • Prepare labelled sketches of three gardens created using different growing methods.
  • Review and select plants suitable for use in each situation.
  • Describe the importance of trees to humans.
  • Describe the correct procedures for the proper and safe removal of a limb from a tree.
  • Describe simply the processes of photosynthesis, respiration & transpiration.
  • List the environmental factors which affect photosynthesis, respiration and transpiration.
  • Explain compartmentalisation, and it's effect on the spread of diseases in trees.
  • Develop contact with local people involved in garden maintenance.
  • Describe maintenance procedures for a variety of different ornamental garden situations.
  • Explain soil (seedbed) preparation treatments for a range of soil types.
  • Explain soil degradation problems in terms of soil chemistry and structure, and how to deal with them.
  • Explain different ways of preparing virgin or farmland soil for tree planting.
  • Explain different ways of treating a soil using soil ameliorants.
  • Collect samples of or literature describing products which can be used to assist with the improvement of soils.
  • Explain situations where cultivation can be used to improve a soil.
  • Explain a situation where cultivation can be detrimental to a soil.
  • Classify different soils using simple hand feel tests.
  • Explain pH and conductivity (EC) and their affect on plant growth.
  • List the comparative advantages and disadvantages of different types of irrigation systems.
  • Explain the operation of different sprinkler heads, different micro-jets and different drippers.
  • Explain the way water moves through soil and the mechanisms which affect the soils water holding capacity.
  • Select an appropriate irrigation system for a selected garden, and explain the reasons why it is preferred.
  • Explain the operation of a timer used in irrigation systems.
  • Design a micro-irrigation system.


1.  Introduction to Plants

Nomenclature and taxonomy, the plant kingdom, genus, species, hybrids.

2.  Parts of the Plant

How plants grow, plant structure, parts of the flower and leaf, modification of stems and roots.

3.  Plant Culture - Planting

How to plant and protect newly planted specimens, terms like: annuals, biennials, perennials, deciduous, evergreen and herbaceous plants.

4.  Plant Culture - Pruning

Purpose for pruning, rules for pruning, how to prune.

5.  Plant Culture - Irrigation and Machinery

Different irrigation systems, components of an irrigation system, designing an irrigation system, maintenance in the garden and for tools.

6.  Soils & Media

Soil classifications, testing soil, potting mixes, the U.C. System, ingredients of potting mixes.

7.  Soils & Nutrition

Fertilisers - deficiencies and toxicities, N:P:K ratios, salting, fertiliser programming, compost.

8.  Propagation - Seeds & Cuttings

How to propagate plants by seed or cuttings, propagating mixes, cold frame construction, after care for young plants. 

9.  Propagation - Other Techniques

Other methods to increase plant numbers - budding, grafting, layering, division and tissue culture.

10. Identification and Use of Plants

How are plants used in the landscape, how to choose and purchase plants, selecting plants suitable for the climate and site.

11. Identification and Use of Plants

Problems with plants and choosing plants for problem sites.

12. Identification and Use of Plants

Indoor and tropical plants, flowers, herbs, bulbs, ferns.

13. Pests

Identifying and controlling pests, chemical and natural methods for control, chemical safety precautions.

14. Diseases

Identifying and controlling diseases, plant pathology, fungi, viruses, non-pathogenic problems, interactions with the host and the environment.

15. Weeds

Identifying and controlling weeds, chemical terminology.

Grounds Management Involves Many Different Things

Grounds can include gardens, sports grounds, paths, roadways, fences, lakes or any other features in an outside landscape.

Grounds managers find employment looking after places as diverse as school grounds, retirement villages, commercial properties, sporting facilities and parks.

The work typically includes routine garden maintenance tasks such as mowing, pruning and weed control; but it can also involve many other tasks that are not strictly horticultural, such as repairing paths or damaged fences; painting outdoor furniture or moving equipment in and out of storage for use at events.


Managing Lawns

Lawns require fairly regular maintenance particularly in growing seasons, when they may require mowing every week or two, or even more regularly for high quality lawns.
Lawns may be less expensive to create than shrubberies or paving (per square metre), but can be more costly to maintain. If in ground sprinklers are installed, the costs of construction may go quite high from the start though. This will however help reduce watering time, and keep the lawn in good condition.
Turf grasses fall into two main groups:
    • Tussock grasses grow tall and look good, but alone they rarely make a good lawn.
    • Creeping grass varieties is often needed to bind a lawn together; otherwise soil may erode between tussocks over time (with the effect of wind or rain). This can create a "bumpy" uneven lawn surface
    A lawn can consist of either a single variety or be a mixture of different varieties. The advantage of a single grass variety lawn is that it is easier to cater for it's needs. If you know the ideal conditions for growing that variety, you only need to create those conditions and the lawn should grow well. When you use a mixture of several different varieties the picture becomes more complicated. Each variety has different requirements, and you need to find a compromise between the needs of each.
    Most lawns grown use a mixture of varieties, although single variety lawns are sometimes more appropriate particularly where uniformity of growth is necessary, such as on a bowling green or lawn tennis court.


    There are a variety of ways to approach pruning, each with a different purpose.

    Cleaning Out Dead Wood

    It is important to remove dead tissue from your plants regularly. This will improve both their appearance and health. Infections (e.g. bacteria, fungal diseases and even insects) attack and gain a foothold in dead or weakened plant tissues with relative ease. Once established, they are able to multiply and spread much more easily into the healthy parts of the plants. Regular pruning can thus be a major way of controlling diseases in plants.

    Any dead or rotting plant material still attached to a plant acts as a possible source of infection because it offers a weak point for entry of diseases. As such, it should be removed from the plant and removed form your garden.


    Stopping (also known as tip-pruning or pinching) is a system of pruning that encourages bushy growth. As we've already seen, when a plant produces apical growth (known as apical dominance) it is because energy is concentrated in a single tip bud and the buds along the stem remain dormant. If the apical tip is removed the buds lower down will start to produce side-shoots. Some plants such as bedding plants usually only need to be tip pruned once whereas shrubby plants will produce very bushy growth and prolific blooms by repeated stopping. Stopping is also a way of diverting energy into fruit crops in plants such as grapes.  When doing this, you must think about how much growth you will be stimulating at the end of the branch.  You must not leave too much bare stem that will not only look unsightly, but which will not be able to support the flush of new growth.  


    This method of pruning involves removing the side or lateral buds as soon as they appear. This serves to focus energy in the terminal (top) bud. It reduces the amount of blooms allowing the remaining blooms to become larger and is a method that is particularly used for roses and camellias.

    This method is also used to prevent crowding of stems in plants such as chrysanthemums and to direct extra energy to root development.  You may also be doing it if you are growing tomatoes in a glasshouse.


    Some plants drop their flowers while they’re still fresh whereas others hold on to the spent flowers for weeks, or even months. Deadheading, the action of cutting off dead flowers, is beneficial for garden plants for the following reasons:

    • When you cut off the dead flowers, you are cutting off dead tissue which could be harbouring diseases or attract pathogens.
    • The pruning cuts encourage side shoots to grow so the plant will produce more flowers.
    • You are removing unsightly withered flowers and improving the plant’s appearance.
    • By removing the flowers you are preventing seeds (and fruits) developing - so the plant has more energy for growth and further flower production.

    Most flowering plants will benefit from deadheading including: annuals, herbaceous perennials, many flowering bulbs, roses, daisies (including their relatives such as dahlias and chrysanthemums), hydrangeas (leave the final flower heads through the winter months), azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. The more frequent the deadheading the better because it encourages more flowers and can reduce the risk of disease.



    Pollarding is a means of managing trees from an early age. It is carried out to obtain a short ornamental stem and maintain a small crown. The initial crown reduction forms a permanent framework. This is followed by regular (often annual) pruning. The main branches are cut back almost to the main trunk using secateurs or a sharp saw. Growth of thin, new branches is encouraged. Pollarding is commonly used in Europe to maintain the shape of street trees such as lime trees (Tilia species).

    When pollarding a tree all of the previous season’s growth is removed, resulting in new growth of slender roots and branches. The new growth is often very dense and upright, and the ground underneath may be heavily shaded. Trees that have been pollarded over a number of years develop large, swollen woody knobs, from which the new growth arises each year before being cut back.

    Pollarding alters the natural shape of the tree so this technique is only used in certain circumstances. It is most commonly used as a specialised ornamental pruning technique but is also useful for strengthening weak trees. Or more usually today as a means of restricting growth preventing them from: casting shade, obstructing electric wires and street lights, obstructing view of road traffic and blocking gutters. Many trees will not tolerate pollarding. The most appropriate species are deciduous as they are accustomed to periodical defoliation - it is not recommended for most evergreen species. The most commonly pollarded trees are Tilia (linden) and Platanus (plane trees). Other trees that can withstand pollarding are: Acer campestre (field maple), Alnus (alder), Carpinus (hornbeam), Fagus (beech), Fraxinus (ash), Ilex (holly), Liriodendron (tulip tree), Morus (mulberry) Quercus (oak),  Salix (willow), and Ulmus (elm).

    WILL THIS COURSE GET get me a job or further my career?

    No course will guarantee you a job - but choosing the right one will certainly help!

    Not all courses are equal - some tend to focus on just getting you to the end, rather than helping you to learn.

    The fundamental aim of a 'good education' depends very much on three processes:

    1. Gathering knowledge - what you learn.
    2. Retaining knowledge - how you learn and store it.
    3. Recalling knowledge – recollecting what you have learned, even years later.

    Choosing what you learn

    Education should be broad as this develops your knowledge and skills. When choosing an industry such as horticulture it is always best to learn the basic fundamentals first i.e. the core skills needed to work in the industry in general, that way you can move across inter-industry sectors if needed. The core units for a Certificate in Horticulture (for example) will give you good basic industry skills that can equally apply to nursery work, crop growing, gardening or other inter-industry sectors. Once you have these skills, your future prospects for employment are far brighter as you are a value to the industry in general, rather than to just a single industry sector e.g. crop growing.

    Retaining knowledge

    There are keys to retaining knowledge – most of us will only store knowledge in short term memory the ‘if you don’t use it you will lose it scenario’. As educators we have found at ACS that the best system for storing knowledge is to really know your subject. This may sound obvious but many courses just teach the facts. When students are set problems to solve and practical set tasks, like we do at ACS, rather than just reading and regurgitating facts and figures from text books, they are much more likely to gather pertinent knowledge and retain that knowledge.

    Recalling what you have learned:

    THere is a difference between retaining what you have learned to short term memory and recalling what you have learned years later. Undertaking problem solving tasks and projects are much more likely way to commit information to long term memory. We consider that, along with a passion for what they are studying, to be the key reason our students do so well in their courses, our courses are based on a Problem Based Learning system. Problem based assignments and practical set tasks mean that students have to work at finding solutions and developing skills. These may come from various sources - in the process they gather knowledge through experiential learning, which is more likely to be retained in long term memory.  

    So although a course and qualification won’t necessarily get you a job – choosing the right course and learning the right things will certainly help.

    What Else Could Help?

    It is great to be knowledgeable and to have a qualification but when employers look for workers they take many things into consideration, it is worth thinking about these things and working on them so you have the best possible chance of not only getting a job but forwarding your career over the years:

    • Good communication skills: verbal, written and also the ability to use a computer.
    • Problem solving skills: thinking on your feet and working through problems in an orderly way.
    • Efficiency: doing things in a logical order without compromising accuracy improves efficiency.
    • Knowledge and skills demanded of the job.
    • A passion for the work and willingness to learn. Those that are passionate about their work and are also open to learning new things do well.
    • Presentation and grooming - people who present as being well organised and well-groomed will impress.
    • Keep learning – doing a course isn’t the end of the road, today we all have to keep learning over our working life in order to keep up with ever-changing needs and technology.




    Course Contributors

    The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

    Bob James (Horticulturist)

    Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
    He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

    Adriana Fraser (Horticulturist)

    Adriana has worked in horticulture since the 1980's. She has lived what she preaches - developing large gardens and growing her own fruit, vegetables and herbs and making her own preserves.
    In 1992 she formalised her training by graduating with a certif

    Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

    Rosemary trained in Horticulture at Melbourne Universities Burnley campus; studying all aspects of horticulture -vegetable and fruit production, landscaping, amenity, turf, aboriculture and the horticultural sciences.
    Initially she worked with the Depart

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