Foundation Certificate in Plant Growth for Horticulture Level 2

An in depth course into, Plant Growth, Propagation & Development. Understand the foundations of plant growth, essential nutrition, propagation and managing pests and diseases.

Course Code: VHT040
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 150 hours
Qualification Certificate
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Good Gardening requires a certain level of Basic Knowledge

  • Know how to identify plants and what influences growth
  • Know what causes plant health to suffer
  • Know how new plants can be reproduced from old ones

When you know these things, you have a reference point for making better decisions about how to care for plants and manage gardens.

This course provides you with that fundamental knowledge setting you on a path to be a better gardener. After that, as you build your knowledge ands experience, you have a solid foundation to advance your career. With a sound foundation in the science and practices of horticulture, the sky is then the limit in this industry!


Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Classification of Plants and the Plant Naming System
    • Botanical and Horticultural Nomenclature: common names, scientific names
    • The Binomial System
    • Botanical Classification levels
    • Horticultural Groups
    • Plant Families and their distinguishing characteristics
    • Species, Hybrids, Varieties, Cultivars
    • Review of significant Dicotyledon and Monocotyledon families
    • Plant Lifecycles
    • Stages in Plant Development
    • Plant Collection Reviews
  2. The Internal Structure of Higher Plants
    • Plant Cell Structure
    • Cell Components
    • Cell Division; mitosis and meiosis
    • Types of Plant Cells; Parenchyma, Collechyma,Sclerenchyma, Xylem, Phloem, Epidermal
    • Internal Structure of Dicotyledon Stems: Epidermis, endodermis, cortex, vascular bundles, etc
    • Structure of Monocotyledon Stems
    • External Differences between Monocotyledons and Dicotyledons
    • Anatomica features of leaves and stems in cross section
    • Plant Tissues
    • Primary and Secondary Growth
    • Terminology
    • Botanical Keys and their use
  3. The External Structure of Higher Plants, Roots, Leaves, Stems and Buds
    • Stems; the framework, functions of the stem
    • Stem modifications
    • Leaves
    • Functions of leaves
    • Respiration, transpiration and photosynthesis
    • Leaf shapes
    • Compound leaves
    • Leaf modifications
    • Buds: adventitious, apical, flower, vegetative
    • Root Structure
    • Types of Root Systems
    • Root Modifications
    • Morphological Changes due to Maturation
  4. Identification and Function of the Reproductive Parts of the Plant
    • Parts of a flower: Sepals, Petals Stamens, Carpel
    • The Inflorescence
    • Flower Structure
    • Types of Fruits
    • Fruit and Seed Terminology
    • Modification of Fruits -dry fruits, succulent fruits, composite fruits, false fruits
    • Key to Main Fruit Types
  5. Pollination and Fertilisation in Higher Plants
    • Pollination Processes
    • Self Pollination, Cross pollination
    • Pollination Mechanisms
    • Compatibility
    • Fertilisation, Embryo and Seed Formation
    • Post Fertilisation
    • F1 Hybrids
    • Genotype versus Phenotype
    • Male Sterility
    • Parthenocarpy
    • Hybrid Seed Production
    • Terminology
    • Seed and Fruit Development
    • Seed Structure
    • Seed Germination
    • Fruit Set, Growth and Development
  6. The Fundamental Physiological Processes in Plants, Plant Growth and Developmental Relationships
    • Importance of Photosynthesis
    • The Light Reactions
    • The Dark Reactions
    • Coroplasts in Photosynthesis
    • C3, C4 and CAM Plants
    • Rate of Photosynthesis
    • Chemistry of Respiration
    • Rate of Respiration
    • Stages of Respiration
    • Aerobic versus Anaerobic Respiration
    • Transpiration and Translocation of Water
    • Osmosis
    • Diffusion
    • Mechanisms of Nutrient Uptake
    • How Water, ions and metabolites move through a plant
    • Tropisms; Phototropism, Geotropism, Thigmotropism
    • Chemical Growth Modification; Auxins, Gibberellins, AA, Ethylene, Cytokinin, etc
    • Effects of Chemical hormones
    • Light factors in plant growth
    • Artificial Light
  7. Soils and the Root Environment
    • Soil Profile
    • Importance of Soil
    • Soil Composition
    • Texture
    • Structure and soil types
    • Soil Horizons (A, B, C and R)
    • Naming the Soil
    • Improving Soil Structure
    • Soil Sampling
    • Improving Fertility
    • Organic Matter
    • Benefits of adding Organic Matter
    • Soil Water and it's Value to Plants
    • Water Loss from Soils
    • Improving Water Retention
    • Hygroscopic Water, Gravitational Water, Field Capacity and other terminology
    • Saturation
    • Rate of Watering
    • Plant Health and Drainage
    • Symptoms of Poor Drainage
    • Improving surface and sub surface Drainage
    • Tensiometer
    • Soil pH
    • Nutrient Availability and pH
    • Calcifuges and Calcicoles
    • Adding Lime
    • Adding Acidic Materials to Lower pH
    • Conservation Issues: Peat
    • Terminology
  8. Plant Nutrition
    • Soil Life: Earthworms, Mycorrhizae, Nitrogen Fixing
    • Nitrogen Cycle; Ammonification, Nitrification, Denitrification, Nitrogen Loss
    • Forms of Nitrogen
    • The Nitrogen Cycle
    • The Carbon Cycle
    • The Nutrient Elements
    • The Major Elements
    • The Minor Elements (Trace Elements)
    • Total Salts
    • Diagnosis of Nutrient Problems
    • Fertilisers
    • Types of Fertilisers
    • Applying Fertilisers
    • Natural Fertilisers
    • Manures, Rock Dusts, Seaweed
    • Composting Methods: sheet composting, Indore method, 14 day method, compost bins, trench composting, etc
    • Green Manures
    • Mulch and Mulching
    • Cultivation Techniques
    • Cultivation Tools and Equipment
    • Improving Water Infiltration into Soil
    • Non Dig Growing Method
    • Soil Problems
    • Soil Rehabilitation
    • Properties of Growing Media
    • Potting Media: Components and mixes
    • Choosing Growing Media
    • Air Filled Porosity
    • Hydroponics defined
  9. Plant Health Problems
    • Factors Affecting Plant Health and Growth
    • Types of Problems
    • Conducting an Inspection
    • Determining and Recommending Treatments
    • Responding to Difficult to Diagnose Problems
    • Plant Pests -major groups
    • Pest Treatments - Sanitation, Physical control methods, Resistant varieties, Biological controls, Chemical controls, Soil drenches
    • Insect Biology; structure, lifecycles, etc
    • Review of Major Pests and their Treatments
    • Review of Major Diseases and their Treatments
    • Review of Environmental Problems and their Control
    • Types of Weeds
    • Identifying Weeds
    • Weed Control Methods; suffocation, burning, cultivation, grazing, mowing, solarisation, chemicals, etc
  10. Plant Propagation Principles and Practice
    • Sexual Propagation
    • When to Sow Seed
    • Why Some Seeds Don't Germinate
    • Dormancy Factors in Seed -Hard Seed Coat, Chemical Inhibitors, Undeveloped Embryos etc
    • Difficult to Germinate Seeds
    • Treatments to Break Seed Dormancy
    • Seed Sources
    • Seed Saving; Seed Storage
    • Sowing Seed Indoors
    • Seed Sowing: Germination, Temperature Control Hygiene
    • Seed Propagating Media
    • Sowing Seed Outside
    • Handling and caring for Seedlings
    • Potting Up
    • Propagation after care
    • Propagation from Cuttings
    • Succeeding with Cuttings
    • Types of Cuttings
    • Softwood, Semi Hardwood and Hard wood Cuttings
    • Variations on Cuttings: nodal, heel, tip, etc
    • Leaf Cuttings, Leaf bud cuttings, Root Cuttings, Bulb Cuttings, etc
    • Stock Plants for Cuttings
    • Layering
    • Propagation from Specialised Stems and Roots; Offsets, Division, etc
    • Propagating Tools: Secateurs, How to Cut, Knives
    • Grafting
    • Propagating Plants in a Greenhouse
    • Cold Frames
    • Heated Propagators


  • Describe the classification of higher plants
  • Describe the internal structure of higher plants
  • Describe the structure and functions of roots, leaves, stems and buds.
  • Describe the functions of the reproductive parts of the plant
  • Describe the process of pollination and fertilisation in higher plants.
  • Describe the processes photosynthesis, respiration, the movement of water in plants and plant growth and development.
  • Develop an understanding of the constituents, properties and management of soils and growing media.
  • Describe the nutrient elements and plant nutrition in relation to soil and growing media.
  • Describe the uses of organic matter and the importance of living organisms in the soil
  • Develop an understanding of pest, diseases and weeds that affect horticultural plants, and the cultural, biological, chemical and integrated systems used to control those problems.
  • Develop an understanding of the principles and main practices of plant propagation in horticulture.

Do You Know how to Propagate Plants?
There are tens of thousands of different plants; and all of them are propagated in different ways, under different circumstances. The appropriate way to propagate any particular cultivar or species, may depend upon the equipment and time available to you, the climatic conditions you are working with, and the characteristics of that plant which you are hoping to preserve in the new plants.
Seed is often used in one situation; but not in another; even for the same plant. Many plants are commonly grown by cuttings, but others can be very difficult to reproduce from cuttings. Some are more reliably grown by budding or grafting.
This course will help you to learn the many different techniques for propagation; and also how to make the right decision about what technique to use to propagate each plant you encounter.
Consider Cuttings
A cutting is a piece of vegetative growth which is detached from a plant and treated in a way so as to stimulate it to grow roots, stems and leaves; hence producing another new plant.
A cutting grown plant is identical to the parent plant (ie. the plant from which the original cutting was taken from). This is not necessarily so when plants are grown from seed. This technique is therefore good for hybrids and cultivars.
Cutting propagation can be used for a very wide variety of plants, and along with seed propagation, is the most commonly used method of producing new plants.
Cutting propagation is most commonly used for shrubs, indoor plants and many herbaceous perennials. As a general rule, it is rarely used to propagate trees, vegetables or annual flowers.
Cuttings can be classified two different ways:
A. According to the time of year the cutting is taken (or the stage of growth the plant is at when it is taken). eg.
(a) A softwood cutting is one taken in spring when the young growth on the plant is soft tissue. Used for Myrtus, Veronica (Hebe) and Oleander.
(b) A hardwood cutting taken in winter using the stem ie. old growth. Common hardwood cuttings include tip growth from conifers (eg. Juniperus or Chamaecyparis), or sections of stem from deciduous plants (eg. Rosa, Cydonia or Punica).
(c) A semi hardwood cutting is usually taken late summer or early autumn, as recent spring growth is in the process of hardening. Used for Azalea, Camellia, Pittosporum, Grevillea, Euonymus, Prostanthera and Boronia.
(d) Herbaceous cuttings : A leafy stem cutting taken from a soft wooded (succulent growing) plant such as a Chrysanthemum, Aster, Coleus, Carnation or Geranium. Taken virtually at any time of the year.
B. According to the part of the plant which is used (eg. A leaf cutting is a cutting made from just a leaf, or part of a leaf).
(a) Stem cuttings: A section of stem, usually (but not always) with some leaves left on the top but lower leaves removed. There should be a node (the point at which a bud emerges) at the bottom of the cutting and another node at the top of the cutting. There may be one, or several nodes in between.
(b) Tip cuttings: Stem cutting taken from the growing tip of a plant.
(c) Heel cuttings: A stem cutting of 1 year old wood which has attached to the base, a small section of two year old wood. Normally prepared by tearing side shoots from a small branch or stem. The torn section is then trimmed neat with a pair of secateurs or a knife.
(d) Nodal cuttings: A stem cutting without a heel, where the base of the cutting is made as a right angle cut, just below a node (ie. where a leaf joins the stem).
(e) Basal cuttings: A stem cutting where the base of the cutting is made at the point where the young shoot joins the older branch. At this point there is often some swelling in the stem. The basal cutting does not necessarily contain any older wood, as does the heel cutting.
(f) Leaf bud cuttings: A full leaf (leaf blade and stalk) with a small piece of the stem the leaf was attached to. At the junction of the stem, there is a bud (which is retained). Plants which can be grown this way include ivy, camellia, raspberry and hydrangea.
(g) Leaf cuttings: Either a section of a leaf or a full leaf including the leaf stalk (ie. petiole). In the case of a section of a leaf being used (eg. Begonia), the cutting must include part of a major leaf vein).
(h) Cane cuttings: A small section of cane from the plant, containing only one or two nodes, and no leaves is inserted horizontally (instead of vertically like cuttings are normally done); with a bud showing above the surface of the media. Used with plants such as Dracaena and Dieffenbachia. Heating and misting are essential for success.
(i) Root cuttings: Sections of relatively young (1 3 yr old) root, 2 10 cm long, taken preferably from young plants. Cuttings are planted horizontally 2 4 cm deep.(eg, raspberry, wisteria )
(j) Bulb cuttings: A mature bulb is cut vertically into 8 or 10 sections; each having part of the basal plate. Each of these sections can be further divided by cutting down between the scales...forming cuttings which compose 7 or 4 parts of scales attached at the bottom to a small section of basl plate. Plant vertically with just the tips showing. Use` for Hippeastrum, Narcissus (Daffodil), Nerine, Scilla and Sprekelia.
More than just this though
Some people can spend their whole lives just learning about cuttings. The exciting thing about horticulture is that there are so many different types of plants and different techniques for growing them; that you can always find more to discover.
This course will give you a foundation though; and with that foundation, you will make much more sense of what you observe and discover than ever before.
Propagation is only the start too.
This course helps you to understand the science of plant growth, and all of those factors that affect both successful growth during propagation, and successful growth bewyond, through the entire life of the plant.
With this as a foundation, you will have a perspective upon which to build a career (should you work in horticulture), or a magnificent garden (should you be a property owner).



A qualification isn't actually the most important thing - the knowledge you have gained (and retained) and your attitude and passion for the work is much more important. A qualification  will of course help you get a foot in a potential employer's door, but if i during a job interview you can demonstrate your skills, knowledge and passion, you are much more likely to get a job than someone who has (for example) a diploma but hasn't retained enough of their knowledge to recall it when needed.

What are the key elements for getting ahead in horticulture?

  • Passion for the work - a person who is passionate about their work is much more likely to take the time to learn about it and to be good at their work.
  • Keep abreast of new developments - things change rapidly and this also applies to horticulture; do a bit of research each week to see what is new and where your industry is heading, attend seminars, garden shows, trade exhibitions and so on.
  • Networking - 'who you know' is just as important as 'what you know'. If you network it makes people aware of you and this is a proven way to capture good opportunities and develop your career.
  • Do a course of study which will give you expertise rather than give you a 'piece of paper'. Not all courses are equal, some only tick you off against a set of known parameters (competencies). ACS courses concentrate of developing your knowledge but also, more importantly, your problem solving skills. The work place is inundated with 'problems' both small and large each and every day - most management skills are centred around finding solutions to those problems. If you can demonstrate your problem solving skills every day in your work place, you are far better placed to be noticed and advance in your career.
  • Be a good communicator - this applies to all types of communications skills for example: know how you speak to people - use a respectful and confident approach at all times with all people whether your peers, your supervisors your employers, your staff or your customers. Good writing skills are also important; in daily work life you will almost certainly be asked to produce some sort of written work at some time and to get ahead (e.g. a management role) you need to have good writing skills. Have a great telephone manner - we all love people that know how to speak on the phone e.g. that are a bit upbeat in their approach, use respectful terms, use your name, say please and thank you and always use a professional approach.
  • Know how to use technology - all workplaces expect you to be able to know your way around a computer, you don't have to be the world's fastest typist, but you should know how to use basic programs such as word and exel and be able to do internet searches.
  • Be well presented -  in horticulture this can be difficult and it is easy to fall into the trap 'oh well I am only going to get dirty anyway'. You don't need to be a fashion tragic, but your clothes should be clean and well presented at least at the start of the day, even if you work in an industry sector that will ensure you get dirty by the end of the day! Nobody will notice you if you turn up scruffy every day - but they will if you look bright, sharp and clean at the start of every day! Good presentation is even more important if you are client facing - this not also includes your clothes but also grooming.
  • Develop your efficiency skills - the horticulture industry is built on efficiency - for example an efficient propagator can prepare 300 or more cuttings in an hour! Efficiency isn't all about how fast you can do things though - it is knowing how to use the best methods, do them in a logical order to get the best possible result. This goes back to problem solving skills - if you have well developed problem solving skills you are also more likely to be a good organiser, to understand logical sequences of work and to be able to apply this towards efficient work practices.

Course Contributors

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

Yvonne Sharpe

RHS Cert.Hort, Dip.Hort, M.Hort, Cert.Ed., Dip.Mgt. Over 30 years experience in business, education, management and horticulture. Former department head at a UK government vocational college. Yvonne has traveled widely within and beyond Europe, and has

Diana Cole

Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Permaculture Design Certificate, B.A. (Hons)-Geography, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development
Diana has been an enthusiastic volunteer with community garden and land conservation projects sinc

John Mason (Horticulturist)

Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant.
Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK.
He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and edito

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