Garden Centre or Plant sales skills course, self paced distance education, personal one to one tuition; learn sales techniques that work.

Course Code: VHT103
Fee Code: S1
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Become an Expert Nursery Sales Person

  • Learn to sell plants and associated product in a garden centre or nursery
  • Advance your career, improve a business, get a job

Comment from a student in this course:

Lara - I have enjoyed the content of the course, and find it very possible to cope with correspondence learning and having a young, demanding family.

Lesson Structure

There are 5 lessons in this course:

  1. Plant Identification
    • Understanding plant classification
    • Pronunciation of plant names.
  2. Basic Sales Skills
    • Understanding different customers
    • Developing communication skills for Selling
    • How to open and close a sale.
  3. Caring for Plants
    • Planting techniques
    • Understanding soils
    • Plant nutrition
    • Pest and Disease management.
  4. Selecting the Right Plant for the Right Place:
    • How to create different moods using plants.
  5. Advising Customers in a Nursery
    • Developing good communication skills
    • Knowing your product
    • Plant placement.


  • Identify a range of different plants, based on their flower and leaf structures.
  • Describe the importance of effective communication and sales techniques in the retail nursery industry.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of how to care for plants, both in the garden and in the nursery.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of appropriate plant selection for a range of different sites.
  • Identify a range of plant health problems and describe appropriate chemical and non-chemical control methods to control those problems.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and use of nursery products.
  • Describe the importance of plant placement in the retail nursery.


In the past, garden centres primarily sold plants and allied products such as pots, packaged potting mixes, fertilisers, pesticides and garden tools. In recent years, however, garden centres in most countries have undergone a significant transformation, providing a complete outdoor ‘lifestyle’ package. Nowadays when customers visit a garden centre, they can buy outdoor furniture, sporting equipment, giftware, artwork, landscaping materials, water features, statues, outdoor lighting – almost anything that can be used outdoors can be found in garden centres.

The onus is on garden centre managers and staff to have in-depth and wide-ranging knowledge of the products stocked in the nursery. Customers expect expert advice on everything from plants, garden care, landscaping products and tools, to care of outdoor furniture, pools and water features.

All businesses need to be able to ‘value add’ if the opportunity exists. In the nursery industry there is a large scope for value adding. This may for example include:

  • Potting plants into attractive containers
  • Selling appropriate plants in hanging baskets
  • Potting small-growing indoor plants into terrariums
  • Training appropriate plants into topiary or bonsai
  • Developing water gardens

Nursery operators need to research the latest trends in garden products and try to take the lead to ensure that they remain competitive and are meeting the needs of their customers.

These days many garden centres value add by providing leisure experiences such as cafés, garden classes and display gardens for inspiration and browsing; by providing these experiences, customers are more likely to stay in the nursery longer and purchase more products. They are also more likely to come back to the nursery and repeat the experience with friends and family.


Pots are always easier to maintain if they are kept together in the one part of the garden, but that doesn't necessarily make the best aesthetic use of your container plants. Patios, verandas and indoors are the most popular places to use container plants. They can be used virtually anywhere though:

  • Two large tubs are ideal either side of an entrance. At the beginning of a path, they make a visual statement, telling people this is where the path begins. They have a similar effect at the top and/or bottom of stairs, either side of a door way or either side of a garden arch.
  • Hanging baskets or tubs can be used beside a bare wall to soften the harshness of brick or metal.
  • Baskets can be used to give height in a new garden where most plants are still below eye level.
  • A veranda or patio can be made much softer and attractive with container plants, without needing to dig up the paving or timber decking.
  • If you have a bad back, try putting your pots on a raised bench to save bending. (A simple bench can be made by placing a railway sleeper between top of two stacks of bricks).
  • If you bring pots indoors, carefully consider where you put them. Plants need time to adjust to new environments (eg. they shouldn't be taken from cold to hot or sunny to dark places overnight).



The nursery industry provides a wide range of products and services. They include:
Plants (also called 'Green Life')
The majority of sales are usually plants, seed or flowers. These can include: Natives, Trees, Shrubs, Ground Covers, Climbers, Perennials, Herbs, Bulbs, Indoor Plants, Cacti, Bonsai, Topiary, Potted Colour, Hanging Baskets, Terrariums, Vegetable Seedlings, Berry Plants, Fruit Trees, Instant Turf (Sod), Cut Flowers, Lawn Seed, Flower Seed, Vegetable Seed, Tree and Shrub Seed.

Add on Sales
These are things purchased to help grow plants better, or to be used in landscaping. They provide 'add-on sales' when customers buy plants and can include: fertilisers, stakes, pots, mulch, soil additives, tree guards, chemical sprays, tools and equipment, horticultural fabrics, soils and potting media, hydroponic equipment, irrigation/watering equipment, garden buildings, fencing, rock and stone, masonry, concrete, timber, garden furniture, statues, ponds, pumps, etc.

Nurseries may have the expertise already on staff to offer some special services either free or at a charge. Alternatively, they may develop a relationship with local "experts" to provide such services. These services can include: Landscape Design, Delivering Plants, Identifying Pest and Disease Problems, Tree Surgery, Lawn Repair, Garden Renovation, Chemical Spraying, Routine Garden Maintenance, Landscape Construction, Installing Irrigation Systems, Erecting Garden Buildings, Transplanting, Pruning, Recycling (refunds for used pots, chipping prunings etc), Entertainment (eg. a guitar player or clown), a Garden Advice Booth, Garden Lectures, Courses, etc.

Allied services
Allied services are those that have a synergistic relationship with the nursery operation. They include franchises and business partnerships. For example, there has been a strong trend by retail nurseries in recent years to add a tea room or cafe to their operations. As well as generating income, these facilities encourage customers to spend longer in the nursery, increasing the likelihood they will make a purchase.

There is a range of other things which may be included in nurseries to generate extra turnover. They need to be relevant to the type of nursery, and the type and number of customers attracted. They can include: Self Service Drink or Snack Food Machines, Books, Magazines, Art and Craft, Cards, Souvenirs, Aquarium Supplies, Pet Shop, Hardware Supplies, Pool and Spa Supplies, etc.


Timing is always important. There is no point in selling something that cannot be supplied. Therefore, within any marketing concept there should be targets set for the desired level of sales to be achieved at particular dates. Many businesses set and revise monthly sales targets. Others work to a weekly or annual target. Nursery businesses may increase or reduce their marketing effort in order to reduce or increase their level of sales. For example, to maximise advance orders, a specialist wholesale nursery might advertise heavily during the three months prior to bare-rooted tree stock becoming available.

Opening a sale
Conditions have to be suitable before a sale can take place. Recognising an opening and creating the right conditions can give most salespersons a great advantage.

Remember time is money for you and the customer. People have a limited attention span. If you want someone to know something, get straight to the point! Good marketing involves getting information across to the customer/client clearly and in as short a period of time as possible. This might be done in many different ways:

  •     By talking.
  •     Literature writing, pictures, diagrams.
  •     Video, internet presentation, practical demonstration, etc.
  •     Signage.

Advising a customer what to purchase
First determine the customer's needs without prejudice. Do this by asking questions. Most people appreciate if you take the time to help them focus on their real needs.

Sales staff in any nursery, retail or wholesale, must know the range of plants, products and services being offered for sale. This is one of the most important skills for a nursery sales person. Products/services can be described in terms of the following criteria:

  •     Quality
  •     Cost
  •     Durabilty/lifespan
  •     Supply
  •     Back up service ongoing advice/training/maintenance etc.
  •     Flexibility and diversity of use or application

Obviously, it can sometimes be unproductive, spending an hour advising someone on the sale of one plant; but such situations are rare; and even then, the happy customer will return and perhaps bring friends with them.

Convincing the customer
What makes a buyer nervous of a salesperson? When he knows that an attempt is being made to make him take a line of action. But, a first class salesperson never betrays this type of determination. A buyer likes to feel that he is making his own decisions. Obviously this all takes place through the use of verbal or written communication.

Anything you try to sell has its good points and its bad points. You have the job of convincing the client/customer that the good points outweigh the bad points. To do this, you must believe in what you are selling.

Bad products and services can be sold, by salesmen who exaggerate the good points and hide the bad points. This isn't good marketing though, because it can cause problems in the after sales stage of marketing. If the product or service is not good, the salesperson is advised to seek product improvement.

Add-on sales
A big push in the nursery industry is add-on sales. This refers to additional products that can be sold with a primary product. For example, the primary product is a pot plant and the add-on sales opportunities are fertiliser, pest control, new pot, watering can, etc.

This can help increase the sale per customer however some customers may reject the sales pitch and refuse the initial primary product. For example, if your customer only has a certain amount of money to spend, he may hesitate about favouring one product at the expense of another. It can cause a "I'll need to think about it" put-off. It is best to identify your client's priority and to meet that need. Once that need is met and the 'product' is in the trolley (and guaranteed to be sold), you may then identify the next priority and help to sell that. Do this again and again in terms of your customer's needs.

Closing a sale
In the car trade when a salesperson has reached a stage where the sale is about to be completed, it is called the "crunch". In other words, it is the crucial moment when the sale is about to be "closed". Closing a sale is not a skill easily learnt. It follows a few simple rules but as times change and competition for the 'almighty dollar' alters, it becomes ever more important for any retail person to learn.

In the nursery industry the closing of a sale (COS) is the culmination of the whole act of selling (from first introduction of yourself, introducing your products and 'preaching' the attributes of the products). It is the payoff for all the work and planning you nave done so far.

For every customer you approach in the nursery you should have only one objective - to achieve COS. The best way to achieve this goal is to ask a question. It should be followed by a silence to force the client to break the silence and make a decision. Eye contact and body language are important at this point - look alert and attentive. If you attempt a closed question, it may end up as a flat "no" - end of sale. A good closing question should be open-ended such as:

    "Where shall we deliver this to?"
    "How far are you parked from the entry?"
    "When shall we organise the delivery?"
    "How do you want to handle payment?"



Knowing how to 'sell' is fundamental to the success of any business - without sales there is no income! It isn't just enough to know your products (although this too is important) - knowing HOW to sell, how to answer customers' questions, how to close a sale - these are all important aspects of selling. This course will certainly help you to achieve all this and will improve your career opportunities as well.

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

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

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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