Study sustainable horticultural crop production, plant culture, growing, using and selling horticultural produce. Learn how to grow edible plants organically.

Course Code: VHT002
Fee Code: CT
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 600 hours
Qualification Certificate
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Become Proficient in Organic Growing Methods

Organic growing has risen in popularity over recent decades. There are many reasons for this such as growing awareness of the damage chemical inputs can cause to the environment, the recognition that one should feed the soil rather than the plant, and acceptance that conventional farming practices are not sustainable. 

Most importantly, consumers are more aware of the value of organic crops and are concerned about sustainability issues. Consequently, more and more consumers are demanding organic produce.

Study this course to train to be an organic expert:
  • Learn about both general horticulture and organic growing
  • Set yourself up for sustainable practices
  • Provide produce that consumers want

This certificate provides a strong foundation:  

  • 50% focuses on a broad understanding of plant identification, garden techniques and the fundamentals of horticultural science.
  • 50% focuses on organics and applications for organic growing in crop production and amenity horticulture
Graduates are thus well placed to start a business or seek employment in any sector of horticulture from vegetable or fruit production to landscaping, nursery or cut flower production.
Course Structure
The Core Units comprise fifteen modules that are divided into the following sections:

  • Introduction to Plants
  • Plant Culture
  • Soils and Nutrition
  • Plant Identification and Use
  • Pests, Diseases and Weeds

Students must complete and pass all of these core units.

1. Introduction to plants (40 hours)
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 (60 hours)
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 (50 hours)
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 (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 (60 hours)
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 (50 hours)
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


The Organic Plant Growing Stream is divided into the following:-
  • Organic Plant Culture

Plus 2 of the Following Modules:

  • Commercial Organic Vegetable growing
  • Organic Farming
  • Permaculture Systems
  • Berry Production
  • Mushroom Production
  • Fruit Production


Fees do not include exam fees

There are two exams for the core and 3 for the stream (one for each stream module)


Accredited through International Accreditation & Recognition Council



ACS was founded by John Mason in 1979 as Australian Horticultural Correspondence School.

Right from these very early times, we've always believed that the best education only comes when the student is learning from the experience of a whole range of industry experts (rather than just a single teacher).

Every ACS course is a work in progress, continually evolving, with new information being added and old information being updated by our team of internationally renowned professional horticulturists.

Over the decades more than 100 horticulture experts from across the world have contributed to these courses, bringing their individual knowledge and experiences from as wide afield as England and Spain to Australia and America.


When it comes to tutoring, marking papers and mentoring students, the team approach is just as strong as with our writing. ACS students have the ability to obtain advice and support from staff across the world, with horticulture tutors located in the UK, Australia (both the north and south) and New Zealand.


The ACS team approach and global focus to both course content and student support, ensures our graduates have a unique and "real world" skills set. This unique approach is highly regarded by our colleagues in horticulture.

There are ways to grow plants without using dangerous chemicals. Sometimes your plants and the crops they produce may show a few chew marks or other blemishes, but they will be safer for you and your family to be around or use.
These include:
Doing nothing
The optimum aim for organic gardeners is to achieve a garden that is in some ways equivalent to naturally occurring ecosystems in which all of the plants and animals are dependent on each other. If you destroy one life form you can upset the balance of the ecosystem, causing imbalances to spread throughout the entire system. Many organic growers believe that by providing optimum conditions in terms of watering, feeding etc and not attempting any pest and disease control that over time a balance will occur between pests and diseases, predators and plants. This may take some time to achieve and result initially in high losses of plants and produce until a balance is achieved. This is also very difficult to achieve for the small scale organic gardener surrounded by gardens where other means of pests and disease control.
Choosing resistant plant varieties:
If you select plants that are known to be more resistant to pests and diseases than other similar plants, you decrease the likelihood of extensive pest and disease damage occurring.
Keep your plants healthy
If plants are well fed, well watered and protected from harmful environmental conditions such as strong heat, wind, frost etc then they are more likely to resist attack, and more likely to recover if attacked.
Hand removal of pests
This is useful in the early stages of infestation, before pests spread too far. Caterpillars, in particular, may be controlled in this way.
This can be used to control pests and diseases by simply removing and destroying infected, infested or weakened plant parts. This has proven effective against scale, borers and many fungal diseases.
It is important when pruning that secateurs, pruning saws etc are regularly sterilised (ideally after each plant) to prevent the spread of disease by these implements.
Use of Antagonistic Organisms:
There are three main approaches that can be used. These are:
  1. Introducing parasites and predators which were not previously in the garden. This usually is necessary when a pest has been introduced to an area without its natural predators.
  2. Introducing additional supplies of predators or parasites which are collected from elsewhere or grown especially under controlled conditions to be released into an area where a particular pest or disease is a problem. Producing and marketing such biological control agents is now big business overseas. In Australia such work is limited to a few companies, for example Biocontrol of Warwick in Queensland who's major product is a predatory spider mite that is effective against red spider. The only other widely available biological control available to home gardeners is Dipel (by Bayer), a powdered form of Bacillus thuringiensis which is effective against caterpillars.
  3. Conservation of existing natural enemies: by changing or stopping spraying programmes.
Advantages of using antagonistic organisms
  • Antagonistic organisms don't damage plants, in contrast to many chemicals.
  • No residues are left as in the case of many chemicals.
  • You don't have to wait (ie. there is no withholding period) before harvesting produce, as commonly occurs when using chemicals.
  • It's less costly than using chemicals, and unlike chemicals where repeat applications are generally necessary, predators and parasites may offer continuous control as they continue to breed.
  • These organisms can spread, often very rapidly, controlling pests and diseases over large areas.
  • Pests and diseases are unlikely to build up resistance to these organisms as often occurs with chemicals.
  • These organisms are generally predators or parasites of specific pests or diseases and will not affect other organisms.
Disadvantages of using antagonistic organisms
  1. They are often very slow acting in comparison to chemicals.
  2. The degree of control is often not as high as with chemicals.
  3. It is often very hard to find predators or parasites of some pests, especially ones that are specific to that pest or disease, rather than a number of organisms.
  4. The mobility of antagonistic organisms can sometimes be a disadvantage.

What may be a pest or disease in one area may not be one elsewhere, for example blackberries are a declared noxious weed in some areas, but are also grown commercially for their berries. The introduction in recent years of a blackberry rust to Australia as a means of blackberry control may affect crop varieties.
The advantages certainly far outweigh the disadvantages, in the long term if not in the short term, particularly in terms of the effects on the environment.
An Organic Future
This course may change your business or career; and for some, it may change even more than that.
When you study organic growing as intensively as you do in this course, your level of awareness about the environment will increase, you will develop deeper insights into not only how to grow things organically, but also why you should be growing them organically.
For some, the reason to go organic may be altruistic - to be healthier or to reduce environmental problems. For others the purpose may also be because they see commercial, business or career opportunities in a sector of horticulture that has a particularly promising long term future.
This course is uniquely broad based. It will give you a very strong understanding of organic growing but also introduce you to the broad nature and scope of horticulture. You may end up working in crop production; but the course will prepare you just as well, for a future in nursery production, landscape, turf, parks, horticultural media, education, or any other sector of the industry.  



No course will guarantee you work - 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 work – choosing the right course and learning the right things will certainly help.

Career Prospects

  • Organic farmer
  • Market gardener
  • Organic grower
  • Horticulturist
  • Organic consultant
  • Nursery hand
  • Small business operator
  • Entrepreneur



Course Contributors

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

Maggi Brown

Maggi is the classic UK "plantswoman". She can identify thousands of plants, and maintains her own homes and gardens in the Cotswolds (England), and near Beziers (in Southern France). Maggi is regarded as a leading organics expert across the UK, having w

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

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

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