Horticulture Certificate: foundation studies, specialist study you choose: Landacaping, turf, propagation, ornamental, crops, arboriculture, viticulture, or something else

Course Code: VHT002
Fee Code: CT
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 700 hours
Qualification Certificate
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Set Yourself Up for a Career in Horticulture

Our Certificate in Horticulture is one of the most sought-after courses we offer. As a qualification, it provides students with a solid foundation in horticulture that is relevant to all horticulture industry sectors. Employers see the type of knowledge and skills gained in this sort of qualification as fundamental to success in the industry.

Whether your longer-term interests are geared more towards nursery and propagation, crops or market gardening, landscaping and garden design, grounds and garden maintenance, or another area of horticulture, this course will stand you in good stead for pursuing those interests. 

Take this course to equip yourself with the ultimate foundation in horticulture.    



This is a vocationally-oriented course comprising core studies in general horticulture plus specialised stream studies in an area of your own choice. The course is designed to lay a foundation for a long-term career in horticulture by developing your ability to identify a large range of plants, your knowledge of essential horticultural principles and practices, your practical skills in plant propagation, growth and care, and your ability to adapt to changing situations.


This certificate involves the following:

Core studies - half of the course involving approximately 350hrs over 15 lessons. Every student must complete these studies.

Elective studies – another 350 hours, involving stream studies specific to any one of the following areas:

  • Organic Plant Growing
  • Permaculture
  • Ornamental Horticulture
  • Grounds Management
  • Turf
  • Nature Park Management
  • Arboriculture
  • Plant Protection
  • Propagation
  • Landscaping & Garden Design
  • Crops
  • Viticulture
  • CutFlower Growing 
  • Horticultural Technology
  • Herbs                        

Note: Brief outlines of some streams are included below.

(NOTE: Only some streams may be studied on line or on CD) 


Students must complete and pass all of these core units.

1. Introduction to plants           Minimum 40 hours instruction

The purpose of this study area is to explain the binomial system of plant classification and demonstrate identification of plant species through the ability of using botanical descriptions for leaf shapes and flowers.


*Describe the relevant identifying physical features of flowering ornamental plants.

*Demonstrate how to use prescribed reference books and other resources to gain relevant information.

*Dissect, draw and label two different flowers.

*Collect and identify the shapes of different leaves.

*Demonstrate how to identify between family, genus, species, variety and cultivar.

2. Plant culture                        Minimum 60 hours instruction

The purpose of this study area is to demonstrate the ability to care for plants so as to maintain optimum growth and health while considering pruning, planting, and irrigation.


*Describe how to prune different plants.

*Demonstrate how to cut wood correctly, on the correct angle and section of the stem.

*Describe how to plant a plant.

*Demonstrate an awareness of different irrigation equipment, sprinklers, pumps and turf systems available by listing their comparative advantages and disadvantages.

*Demonstrate competence in selecting an appropriate irrigation system for a garden, explaining why that system would be preferred.

*Define water pressure and flow rate and how to calculate each.

*Explain the need for regular maintenance of garden tools and equipment.

*List factors that should be considered when comparing types of machinery for use in garden maintenance.

3. Soils and plant nutrition      Minimum 50 hours instruction

The purpose of this study area is to provide students with the skills and knowledge to identify, work with, and improve the soil condition and potting mixes, and to evaluate fertilisers for use in landscape jobs to maximize plant growth.


*Describe the soil types commonly found in plant culture in terms of texture, structure and water-holding and nutrient holding capacity.

*Describe methods of improving soil structure, infiltration rate, water holding capacity, drainage and  aeration.   

*List the elements essential for plant growth.

*Diagnose the major nutrient deficiencies that occur in ornamental plants and prescribe treatment  practices.

*Describe soil pH and its importance in plant nutrition.

*Describe the process by which salting occurs and how to minimise its effect.

*Conduct simple inexpensive tests on three different potting mixes and report accordingly.

*Describe suitable soil mixes for container growing of five different types of plants.

*List a range of both natural and artificial fertilizers.

*Describe fertilizer programs to be used in five different situations with ornamental plants.

4. Introductory propagation     Minimum 40 hours duration

The purpose of this study area is to improve the student's understanding of propagation techniques with particular emphasis on cuttings and seeds. Other industry techniques such as grafting and budding are also explained.


*Demonstrate propagation of six (6) different plants by cuttings and three from seed.

*Construct a simple inexpensive cold frame.

*Mix and use a propagation media suited to propagating both seed and cuttings.

*Describe the method and time of year used to propagate different plant varieties.

*Describe and demonstrate the steps in preparing and executing a variety of grafts and one budding technique.

*Explain the reasons why budding or grafting are sometimes preferred propagation methods.

5. Identification and use of plants        Minimum 60 hours instruction

The purpose of this study area is to improve the student's range of plant knowledge and the plant use in landscaping and the ornamental garden, and the appreciation of the different optimum and preferred growing conditions for different plants.


*Select plants appropriate for growing in different climates.

*Select plants appropriate to use for shade, windbreaks, as a feature, and for various aesthetic effects.

*Categorise priorities which effect selection of plants for an ornamental garden.

*Explain the differences in the way plants perform in different microclimates within the same area.

*List and analyze the situations where plants are used.

6. Pests, diseases and weeds  Minimum 50 hours instruction

The purpose of this study area is develop the student’s ability to identify, describe and control a variety of pests, diseases and weeds in ornamental situation, and to describe safety procedures when using agricultural chemicals.


*Explain in general terms the principles of pest, disease and weed control and the ecological (biological) approach to such control.

*Explain the host‑pathogen‑environment concept.

*Describe a variety of pesticides for control of pests, diseases and weeds of ornamental plants in

terms of their active constituents, application methods, timing and rates, and safety procedures.

*Photograph or prepare specimens, identify and recommend control practices for at least five insect

pests of ornamental plants.

*Photograph, sketch or prepare samples, identify and recommend control practices for three non‑insect ornamental plant health problems (e.g. fungal, viral, bacterial).

*Describe the major ways in which diseases (fungal, viral, bacterial and nematode) affect turf, the life cycle features that cause them to become a serious problem to turf culture and the methods available for their control.

*Identify, describe and recommend treatment for three different weed problems.

*Collect, press, mount and identify a collection of ten different weeds, and recommend chemical and  non-chemical treatments which may be used to control each.

*List and compare the relative advantages and disadvantages of different weed control methods.




Students will choose one area of elective study from the list ‘Elective Studies’, above. Some are described below. For information on other streams, contact the school.

Landscape & garden design

The aim of the stream studies is to develop skills and knowledge in landscape design, construction, features and landscape business management.


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

*Review the historical evolution of gardens.

*Obtain pre-planning information and use of that information to draw plans.

*Identify different principles and styles of landscape designs.

*Analyze garden designs.

*Develop graphic skills, and a knowledge of drawing materials and techniques.

*Prepare cost estimates for a landscape job.

*Describe surfacing materials and their effects.

*Explain the quality and cost of different landscape materials.

*Develop a knowledge of plants, both native and exotic, suitable for local conditions.

*Select plants for difficult sites and conditions.

*Describe advantages and disadvantages of various pipes, sprinklers and pumping equipment.

*Recommend irrigation systems for different landscape situations.

*Design a simple irrigation system.

*Design a bush garden and the value and relevance of using native plants.

*Analyze and report on a cottage garden design.

*Analyze and report on a playground design.

*Prepare a playground design for a school or public park.

*Draw layout plans for a range of gardens.

*Conduct a detailed survey of a site, prepare a detailed plan based on that survey, estimate costs and develop contract documentation for that project.

*Explain earthworks and soil preparation techniques used in landscaping.

*Describe alternative techniques for establishing and growing plants.

*Explain a range of landscape construction techniques including building fences, walls, rockeries, paths, water gardens, paving and drainage.

*Compare different landscape materials with respect to their quality, cost, availability and application in garden construction.

*Describe the correct procedures for the proper and safe removal of a limb from a tree, and for the felling of trees.

*Develop a detailed maintenance program for a garden.

*Demonstrate the ability to prepare for, and plant a new lawn.

*Explain how to establish turf on a steep slope.

*Write and advertisement for a landscaping business.

*Explain basic management procedures.

*Show a reasonable level of communication skill.

*Explain health and safety requirements on a landscape site.

Ornamental horticulture

This part of the course involves four main areas of study:

  • Landscaping
  • Plant knowledge 
  • Plant Care
  • Nursery Practices


*Landscape design (including pre-planning and drawing plans).

*Principles and styles of landscape designs.

*Analysis of garden designs.

*Graphic skills, materials and techniques.

*Estimating costs for landscape jobs.

*Surfacing materials and their effects.

*Quality and cost of different landscape materials.

*Plant knowledge, both native and exotic, suitable for local conditions.

*Plant selection for difficult sites and conditions (including treating degraded sites and interior plantscaping).

*Tropical and indoor plants.

*Environmental factors important for indoor plant culture.

*Bulbs, perennials and annuals.

*Planting design for flower beds (annuals and bulbs) suitable for the locality of the student.

*Herb culture and garden design.

*Miscellaneous growing techniques including; bonsai, terrariums, pot culture, baskets and hydroponics.

*Describe the importance of trees to humans.

*Procedures for the proper and safe removal of a limb from a tree.

*Tree problems and their treatment.

*Compartmentalisation and its effect on the spread of disease in trees.

*Preparing a detailed maintenance program for a garden.

*Seed selection, storage, preparation and spreading (sowing).

*Preparation, planting and establishment of a lawn.

*Establishing turf on a steep slope.

*Turf maintenance techniques.

*Analysis of nursery production systems.

*Preparing a flow chart for the production of a particular plant, from propagation to marketing.

*Preparing a maintenance program for green life in a garden centre.

*Preparing guidelines for the disposal of surplus or below standard stock in a nursery.

*Write an advertisement for a nursery or garden maintenance business.

*Basic management procedures for a one man nursery or garden maintenance business.

*Basic communication skills.

*Health and safety requirements for a nursery or garden maintenance workplace.


This part of the course involves the following four areas of study

  • Turf Culture
  • Engineering and Irrigation
  • Management
  • Landscaping


*List and describe the situations where turf is used.

*Describe features of turf plants including roots, stems and leaves.

*Explain the function of roots, stems & leaves; and describe variations which can occur in these parts.

*Use knowledge of cutting effects and recuperative potential of various turf plants to choose varieties for

different purposes.

*Identify and describe the difference between the turf varieties.

*Describe plant growth in both scientific and unscientific terms.

*Describe how day length, temperature, moisture and light affect turf plants.

*Explain how turf is affected by variations in watering and mowing techniques.

*Describe different methods of preparing an area for planting turf.

*Describe the methods (including timing) of establishing turf.

*Identify and describe tools and equipment used in turf establishment and maintenance.

*Explain how to determine if a turf area requires renovation and describe different renovation methods.

*Describe how weeds are spread and methods of controlling common weeds.

*Prepare, name and submit a collection of weeds of significance to turf culture.

*Describe how pests and diseases affect turf and the methods available for their control.

*Describe horticultural chemicals in terms of chemical group, application methods, rates and timing.

*Photograph or prepare pressed specimens, and identify a selection of turf varieties.

*Explain soil moisture, hydraulics and other aspects of water management

*Review the operation and programming of a multi‑stage irrigation system.

*Design and explain the operation of a simple irrigation system.

*Explain the operation and maintenance of different types of engines.

*Consider hiring vs. purchase of a range of different items of machinery

*Explain the uses of different tools and equipment available for turf culture.

*Select appropriate tools and equipment for a range of turf management tasks.

*Recommend techniques for storage and care of tools and equipment.

*Plan and write reports, articles and letters that clearly express what is intended.

*List the communication skills necessary for effective instruction of staff and scheduling of work.

*Develop an annual works program for at least two turf management situations.

*Draw layout plans for selected plants in a range of garden situations.

*Design a garden to achieve year round flowering by a selected range of plants.

*Prepare a bill of materials and costing for a landscape development.

*Describe to construct a variety of landscape features including paths and paved areas, water features,

retaining walls, fences and pergolas.

*Describe how to excavate, shape and cultivate a landscape site.

*Describe the forces that act on water in the soil and their significance to drainage.

*Describe how to determine levels for, and how to install drainage systems.

*Review erosion control methods (eg. mulching, terracing, retaining walls).

*Describe the construction details of different sportsgrounds.

*Identify the steps necessary to minimise wear and tear on various sportsgrounds.

*Describe the construction details of different greens.

*Explain workplace health and safety practices in the turf industry.

Plant propagation

The student will learn different methods of propagating plants for small scale or nursery operations.


*Collect seed from and propagate different varieties of plants with that seed.

*Describe the method and time of year used to propagate at least 200 different plant varieties.

*Draw and label the parts of a seed.

*Explain how a seed germinates, and grows in the early stages of its development.

*Explain a variety of different harvest and post harvest treatments for seed.

*Explain a variety of pre-germination treatments for seed.

*Collect, identify and prepare cuttings for at least 50 different varieties of plants.

*Propagate from cuttings and successfully grow on ten different plant varieties to the stage of a saleable tube.

*Mix and use a propagation media suited to propagating cuttings and seed.

*Explain the reasons why particular propagation methods are preferred to other methods.

*Explain the propagation of at least 40 different varieties of plants by grafting or budding.

*Prepare examples of at least ten different types of grafts.

*Successfully execute at least ten grafts using at least ten different plant variety combinations.

*Propagate fifteen different plants by methods including separation, division and layering.

*Explain tissue culture techniques and their commercial relevance in plant production.

*Consider site features which are important to the operation of a nursery.

*Explain different nursery production systems.

*Construct a simple inexpensive cold frame.

*Prepare a routine maintenance program for plants in a production nursery.

*Analyse and report on the operation of two different production nurseries.

*Prepare a floor plan for the interior layout of a propagation/potting area.

*Describe how to pot up and plant out at least 20 different types of plants.

*Describe soils and potting media in terms of texture, structure and water holding and nutrient holding capacity.

*Prescribe methods of improving soil structure, infiltration rate, water holding capacity, drainage and aeration.   

*Describe how to grow plants successfully in containers.

*Describe suitable potting mixes for container growing of five different types of plants.

*List safety procedures to be followed in a nursery.

*Show an awareness of irrigation equipment and its operation in a nursery.

*Explain growing structures and equipment used to enhance the propagation of plants including, hot beds, misting, fogging, cold frames and greenhouses.

Exams:   There are two exams for the core. There are a further 2, or 3 exams for the stream, depending upon which stream you choose to do.





A groundsman is a person responsible for maintaining landscapes, gardens or sports venues, either for appearance or for the functionality of the area. In some schools and institutions, they are referred to as “horticulturists”.
A groundsman will be required to carry on certain types of responsibilities to improve appearance and maximise the utility of the area.

These tasks may include:

  • planting and/or watering trees and shrubs
  • cut away dead or excess branches from trees or shrubs (pruning/trimming)
  • mowing and cutting lawns
  • responsible for the cleanliness and maintenance of sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, buildings and other public areas
  • installation of water and/or light systems
  • construction and maintenance of fences, terraces, pools, fountains, planters, burial sites and other ground features
  • applying pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or other chemicals to the soil, weeds, plants, trees and shrubs or any other surface that requires it
  • planting seeds, bulbs, grass, foliage, flowers, trees, shrubs and plants as well as up keeping them by applying mulch, aerating, weeding, grubbing, removing thatch, trimming and picking, including the decoration of the gardens and landscape facilities.

Groundsmen not only follow a site plan created by a landscape architect, but they may also find the possibility of creating their own design and present it as an alternative option, as well as offering service solutions and confidence to companies of all types and sizes to make sure their grounds and it’s appearance will be kept up to the uppermost standards.

Because of the type of work groundsmen are exposed to, they often find themselves spending the majority of their time in outside areas. The kind of work might be part time, full time, contract work, as well as just a temporary seasonal job.

The most common areas include:

  • Sports facilities such as golf courses, tennis courts, soccer/football fields, cricket fields, bowling grounds, athletic racks and swimming pools.
  • Commercial and private sectors such as universities/schools, government buildings, parks and reserves, apartment complexes, farms, cemeteries, malls, private properties/homes or other commercial grounds
  • National parks, gardens and landscaping areas.

Risks and Challenges
Because groundsmen normally work on outdoor environments, they are generally exposed to variations in weather conditions, as well as noise, pollution or risks that may happen on-site. The job can be physically intensive and a groundsman should be able to enjoy working on this type of environment. Ideally, a groundsman should like the type of sport for the field his work is based on.

A good groundsman, therefore, will be capable of achieving a wide variety of physical work as well as a great resistance to prolonged hours of duty. They should be fit and capable of physical acquires such as prolonged standing, sitting and crouching; ability to push, pull and position tools, machinery and construction material; capability to lift heavy loads; they must be able to work on ladders exposed to heights; they should be capable of working on a variety of different surfaces and must be resistant to environmental disparities.

How to become a Groundsman
Many institutions are trying to shift away from pollution and the use of chemicals and are getting more and more inclined towards integrated pest management. A good groundsman will have the qualification, knowledge and experience to carry on these tasks in the most cost effective and efficient manner. For this, among other reasons, it is of great importance for a groundsman to manage certain skills and have a good horticulture understanding, as well as a profound knowledge on pest control, and weed mitigation when working with certain chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and/or insecticides.

Because of a growing demand for good groundsmen, it is important that they become familiar with machineries and technologies related to the maintenance of grounds in order to carry out projects and to ensure high standards of quality work.

Some of the tools and machinery involved in tasks groundsmen might have to relate to include: axes, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, saws, hammers, hoes, spades, edgers, hoses, sprinklers, shovels, rakes, rotary brushes, hedge clippers, shovels, pruners, shears, and other garden tools, as well as vehicles and empowered equipment such as tractors, snow blowers, twin-axle vehicles, chain saws, electric clippers, sod cutters, edgers and pruning saws.

Therefore, a top groundsman will know how to identify the correct type of tools and/or size acceptability of the machinery to be used in order to complete both large and small scale jobs.

  • You will need to take care to choose the right college for you. Every college offers something different.
  • They all have different tutors, with varying qualifications and experiences. 
  • Some have higher course fees; but that could be because they offer more extensive support; while others may charge less but provide less services. Some may offer different payment plans to others.

The style of teaching and learning; as well as the emphasis upon assessment and the way work is assessed can vary from one college to the next

Other related jobs

  • Gardener
  • Arborist
  • Handyman
  • Landscape Designer
  • Nursery Worker
  • Machinery Operator
  • Farm Hand
Horticulture and Horticultural Education in the New Millennium

Comments from Adriana Fraser, Horticultural Tutor, Course Developer and Writer
Courses and qualifications in horticulture are shrinking! Educational Institutions world-wide are narrowing their course base, lowering course content, absorbing horticulture into other (often non-related) departments and offering their students far less in the process. The rationale for this shrinkage is that there is less demand from students for places (because in general) students are not seeing a great future in horticulture. In reality this is a no-win situation; offer less and students will perceive less scope for opportunity. To look at it another way - with fewer courses offered, student interest will also be lowered (especially when they cannot specialize). And once you also lower the actual course content of those left (on offer) you also lower the value of the qualification – especially in the eyes of the industry.

Horticulture is of great economic and social importance globally. It is a considerable contributor to global physical and psychological health - through the constant and reliable supply of safe foods and also through the production of ornamental plants, for social activity and to enhance our environment.
With a world that is growing in population and also facing enormous environmental and economic changes, the need for experts in all sectors of horticulture will increase not decrease. The real change is a shift in needs, rather then ‘no need’. Change is actually bringing about newer and broader opportunities for well qualified, general and also specialized horticulturists. This is apart from the fact that current lower graduate output will create a shortage in the future in all sectors including environmental horticulture, crop growing and the nursery trade. This will be a world-wide shortage!
Examples of shifts in the industry include:
 In the nursery trade – a greater demand for dry tolerant plants and a greater demand for vegetable seeds and seedlings as people become more interested in growing their own food. Many people want to grow their own produce to help the environment by lowering the ‘food miles’ (if you lower the distance the food travels before it is on your plate – it lowers the negative impact on the environment). They also have a far better understanding of nutrition and the benefits of organically grown produce. This leads us to three areas of opportunity:

  • The supply of dry tolerant plants and also of seeds and seedling.
  • The opportunity to offer services in ‘organic growing’.
  • The opportunity to offer services in developing ‘sustainable gardens’.

Another area of opportunity is the shift in amenity horticulture towards environmental horticulture. As the trend shifts away from traditional gardening - it is moving more towards sustainable gardens and in a borader sense landscapes. The future for people educated in environmental horticulture is therefore very positive. As a tutor and academic working with ACS Distance Education, I am proud to note that ACS has not followed the ‘shrinking’ trend – in fact each year ACS is offering more rather then less. The range of courses on offer (across all industry sectors) is broad - and will remain so. New courses are consistently added  to the curriculum. These, plus existing courses are also under constant review - not to ‘shrink’ them - but to ensure that all ACS courses reflect current industry needs and also meet the demands of the future.

ACS courses also focus on things that really matter ‘on the job’:

They develop a broad capacity to solve problems and adapt to change in the horticulture industry. In other words you are taught to think rather then just to follow orders.
They develop a range of practical skills in areas that are now so overlooked or reduced in many other courses - for example plant identification and the ‘basics’ of horticultural practice.

They help students to become experts who offer a positive contribution to society ie. without plants we would not have life.

Tutor Comment on this course:

I believe that if you study with ACS Distance Education you can grow in the industry!   Adriana Fraser (ACS Academic Officer)

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Accredited ACS Global Partner

Member of the Nursery and Garden Industry Association since 1993

Member of the Permaculture Association

Member of Study Gold Coast

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

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

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