Landscaping, Groundskeeping, Nursery, Greenhouse, & Lawn Service Occupations

Significant Points

  • There are seldom minimum educational requirements for entry-level jobs and most workers learn through short-term on-the-job training.
  • Opportunities should be excellent due to significant job turnover; but earnings for laborer jobs are low.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Attractively designed, healthy, and well-maintained lawns, gardens, and grounds create a positive first impression, establish a peaceful mood, and increase property values. Workers in landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service occupations are responsible for the variety of tasks necessary to achieve a pleasant and functional outdoor environment. They also care for indoor gardens and plantings in commercial and public facilities, such as malls, hotels, and botanical gardens.

Nursery and greenhouse workers help to cultivate the plants used to beautify landscapes. They prepare nursery acreage or greenhouse beds for planting; water, weed, and spray trees, shrubs, and plants; cut, roll, and stack sod; stake trees; tie, wrap, and pack flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees to fill orders; and dig up or move field-grown and containerized shrubs and trees. Nursery and greenhouse managers make decisions about the type and quantity of horticultural plants to be grown; select and purchase seed, fertilizers, and disease control chemicals; hire laborers and direct and coordinate their activities; manage recordkeeping, accounting, and marketing activities; and generally oversee operations.

Landscape contractors usually follow the designs developed by a landscape architect. They coordinate and oversee the installation of trees, flowers, shrubs, sod, benches, and other ornamental features. They also implement construction plans at the site, which may involve grading the property, installing lighting or sprinkler systems, and building walkways, terraces, patios, decks, and fountains. They must determine the type and amount of labor, equipment, and materials needed to complete a project, and inspect work at various stages of completion. Some work exclusively on large properties, such as office buildings and shopping malls, whereas others also provide these services to residential customers.

Landscaping laborers physically install and maintain landscaped areas. In addition to initially transporting and planting new vegetation, they also transplant, mulch, fertilize, water, and prune flowering plants, trees, and shrubs, and mow and water lawns. Supervisors generally perform the same work but are also responsible for directing the landscaping crew’s activities, adhering to schedules, and keeping track of labor costs. Some landscaping laborers, called pruners, specialize in pruning, trimming, and shaping ornamental trees and shrubs. Others, called lawn service workers, specialize in maintaining lawns and shrubs for a fee. A growing number of residential and commercial clients, such as managers of office buildings, shopping malls, multiunit residential buildings, and hotels and motels favor this full-service landscape maintenance. These workers perform a range of duties on a regular basis during the growing season, including mowing, edging, trimming, fertilizing, dethatching, and mulching. Those working for chemical lawn service firms are more specialized. They inspect lawns for problems and apply fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals to stimulate growth and prevent or control weed, disease, or insect infestation, as well as practice integrated pest management techniques. Lawn service managers oversee operations, negotiate fees, schedule jobs, and hire and train new workers.

Groundskeeping laborers, also called groundskeepers or grounds maintenance personnel, maintain a variety of facilities including athletic fields, golf courses, cemeteries, university campuses, and parks. Many of their duties are similar to those of landscaping laborers. But, they also rake and mulch leaves, clear snow from walkways and parking lots, employ irrigation methods to adjust the amount of water consumption and prevent waste, and apply pesticides. They see to the proper upkeep and repair of sidewalks, parking lots, groundskeeping equipment, pools, fountains, fences, planters, and benches. Grounds managers may participate in many of the same tasks as maintenance personnel but typically have more extensive knowledge in horticulture, turf management, ornamental plants, landscape design and construction, pest management, irrigation, and erosion control. In addition, grounds managers have supervisory responsibilities and must manage and train personnel, draw up work contracts, efficiently allocate labor and financial resources, and engage in public relations activities.

Groundskeepers who care for athletic fields keep natural and artificial turf fields in top condition and mark out boundaries and paint turf with team logos and names before events. Groundskeepers must make sure the underlying soil on natural turf fields has the required composition to allow proper drainage and to support the appropriate grasses used on the field. They regularly mow, water, fertilize, and aerate the fields. In addition, groundskeepers apply chemicals and fungicides to control weeds, kill pests, and prevent diseases. Groundskeepers also vacuum and disinfect synthetic turf after use in order to prevent growth of harmful bacteria. They periodically remove the turf and replace the cushioning pad.

Workers who maintain golf courses work under the direction of golf course superintendents and are called greenskeepers. Greenskeepers do many of the same things other groundskeepers do. In addition, greenskeepers periodically relocate the holes on putting greens to eliminate uneven wear of the turf and add interest and challenge to the game. Greenskeepers also keep canopies, benches, ball washers, and tee markers repaired and freshly painted.

Some groundskeepers specialize in caring for cemeteries and memorial gardens. They dig graves to specified depth, generally using a backhoe. They may place concrete slabs on the bottom and around the sides of the grave to line it for greater support. When readying a site for the burial ceremony, they position the casket-lowering device over the grave, cover the immediate area with an artificial grass carpet, erect a canopy, and arrange folding chairs to accommodate mourners. They regularly mow grass, apply fertilizers and other chemicals, prune shrubs and trees, plant flowers, and remove debris from graves. They also must periodically build the ground up around new gravesites to compensate for settling.

Groundskeepers in parks and recreation facilities care for lawns, trees, and shrubs, maintain athletic fields and playgrounds, clean buildings, and keep parking lots, picnic areas, and other public spaces free of litter. They may also remove snow and ice from roads and walkways, erect and dismantle snow fences, and maintain swimming pools. These workers inspect buildings and equipment, make needed repairs, and keep everything freshly painted.

Landscaping, groundskeeping, and lawn service workers use handtools such as shovels, rakes, pruning saws, saws, hedge and brush trimmers, and axes, as well as power lawnmowers, chain saws, snow blowers, and electric clippers. Some use equipment such as tractors and twin-axle vehicles. Park, school, cemetery, and golf course groundskeepers may use sod cutters to harvest sod that will be replanted elsewhere. Athletic turf groundskeepers use vacuums and other devices to remove water from athletic fields. In addition, some workers in large operations use spraying and dusting equipment. Landscape contractors and those in managerial positions increasingly use computers to develop plans and blueprints, to estimate and track project costs, and to maintain payroll and personnel information.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Many of the jobs for landscaping, groundskeeping, and nursery workers are seasonal, mainly in the spring, summer, and fall when most planting, mowing and trimming, and cleanup are necessary. The work, most of which is performed outdoors in all kinds of weather, can be physically demanding and repetitive, involving much bending, lifting, and shoveling. Landscaping and groundskeeping workers may be under pressure to get the job completed, especially when preparing for scheduled events, such as athletic competitions or burials.

Those who work with pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals, as well as potentially dangerous equipment and tools such as power lawnmowers, chain saws, and power clippers, must exercise safety precautions. Workers who use motorized equipment must take care to protect against hearing damage.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service workers held about 1,285,000 jobs in 1998. Employment was distributed as follows:

Landscaping and groundskeeping laborers 1,130,000
Lawn Service Managers 86,000
Pruners 45,000
Sprayers and applicators 19,000
Nursery and greenhouse managers 5,000

About one-third of wage and salaried workers were employed in companies providing landscape and horticultural services. Others worked for firms operating and building real estate, amusement and recreation facilities such as golf courses and race tracks, and retail nurseries and garden stores. Some were employed by local governments, installing and maintaining landscaping for parks, schools, hospitals, and other public facilities.

Almost 2 out of every 10 landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service workers were self-employed, providing landscape maintenance directly to customers on a contract basis. About 1 of every 6 worked part time, many of whom were school age.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

There usually are no minimum educational requirements for entry-level laborer positions in landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service occupations. In 1998, more than 4 in 10 workers did not have a high school diploma, although this diploma is necessary for some jobs. Short-term on-the-job training usually is sufficient to teach new hires how to operate equipment such as mowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, and small tractors, and follow correct safety procedures. Entry-level workers must be able to follow directions and learn proper planting procedures. If driving is an essential part of a job, employers look for applicants with a good driving record and some experience driving a truck. Workers who deal directly with customers must get along well with people. Employers also look for responsible, self-motivated individuals, because many gardeners and groundskeepers work with little supervision.

Laborers who demonstrate a willingness to work hard and quickly, have good communication skills, and take an interest in the business may advance to crew leader or other supervisory positions. Advancement or entry into positions as grounds manager or landscape contractor usually requires some formal education beyond high school, and several years of progressively responsible experience.

Prospective grounds managers or landscape contractors should be knowledgeable about turf care, horticulture, ornamental plants, soils, and erosion prevention and irrigation techniques. They must be familiar with all landscaping and grounds maintenance equipment, and know how and when to mix and apply fertilizers and pesticides. Some are responsible for designing and developing installation and maintenance plans for landscapes and proper grounds management. They also estimate and track project costs, and handle personnel issues. Those in managerial positions must also be aware of local or Federal environmental regulations and building codes. Several years of hands-on experience plus a 4-year bachelor’s degree, a 2-year associate’s degree, or a 1-year vocational-technical degree in grounds management or landscape design or a closely related "green" discipline, usually provide a good background for those who wish to deal with the full range of landscaping responsibilities. Some schools offer cooperative education programs in which students work alternate semesters or quarters for a lawn care or landscape contractor.

Most States require certification for workers who apply pesticides. Certification requirements vary, but usually include passing a test on the proper and safe use and disposal of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Some States require that landscape contractors be licensed.

The Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) offers certification to grounds managers who have a combination of 8 years of experience and formal education beyond high school, and pass an examination covering subjects such as equipment management, personnel management, environmental issues, turf care, ornamentals, and circulatory systems. The PGMS also offers certification to groundskeepers who have a high school diploma or equivalent, plus 2 years of experience in the grounds maintenance field.

The Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) offers the designations, Certified Landscape Professional or Certified Landscape Technician, to those who meet established education and experience standards and pass an ALCA examination. The hands-on test for technicians covers areas such as maintenance equipment operation and the installation of plants by reading a plan. A written safety test is also administered.

Some workers in landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service occupations open their own business after several years of experience.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Those interested in landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service occupations should find excellent job opportunities in the future. Because of high turnover, a large number of job openings is expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. These occupations attract many part-time workers. Some take landscaping, groundskeeping, or nursery jobs to earn money for school or only until they find a better-paying job. Because wages for beginners are low and the work is physically demanding, many employers have difficulty attracting enough workers to fill all openings.

Employment of landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service workers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2008 in response to increasing demand for landscaping, groundskeeping, and related services. Expected growth in the construction of commercial and industrial buildings, shopping malls, homes, highways, and recreational facilities should contribute to demand for these workers. Developers will continue to use landscaping services, both interior and exterior, to attract prospective buyers and tenants.

The upkeep and renovation of existing landscaping and grounds are growing sources of demand for landscaping, groundskeeping, and lawn service workers. Owners of many existing buildings and facilities, including colleges and universities, recognize the importance of curb appeal and are expected to use these services more extensively to maintain and upgrade their properties. In recent years, the large number of baby boomers, wishing to conserve leisure time by contracting out for basic yard services, spurred employment growth in landscaping and lawn service occupations. Homeowners are expected to continue using such services to maintain the beauty and value of their property. As the "echo" boom generation (children of baby boomers) comes of age, the demand for parks, athletic fields, and recreational facilities also can be expected to add to the demand for landscaping, groundskeeping, and lawn service workers. The need for nursery and greenhouse laborers and managers will grow because of the continued popularity of home gardening, as well as the need to cultivate and provide the vegetation used by landscaping services.

Job opportunities for nonseasonal work are more numerous in regions with temperate climates where landscaping and lawn services are required all year. However, opportunities may vary depending on local economic conditions.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Earnings vary widely depending on the particular landscaping position and experience, ranging from the minimum wage in some beginning laborer positions to more than $20.00 an hour in some manager jobs. The following tabulation presents 1998 median hourly earnings for landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service occupations:

Lawn service managers $12.22
Nursery and greenhouse managers 12.19
Pruners 10.61
Sprayers and applicators 10.41
Landscaping and groundskeeping laborers 8.24

Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of landscaping and groundskeeping laborers in 1997 are shown below:

Concrete work $10.40
Local government, except education and hospitals 10.00
Real estate operators and lessors 7.70
Landscape and horticultural services 7.70
Miscellaneous amusement and recreation services 7.50

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service workers perform most of their work outdoors and have some knowledge of plants and soils. Others whose jobs may be performed outdoors and are otherwise related are botanists, construction workers, landscape architects, farmers, horticultural workers, tree surgeon helpers, forest conservation workers, and soil conservation technicians.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

For career and certification information, contact:

  • Associated Landscape Contractors of America, Inc., 150 Elden Street, Suite 270, Herndon, VA 20170.
  • Professional Grounds Management Society, 120 Cockeysville Rd., Suite 104, Hunt Valley, MD 21030.

An industry employing landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse, and lawn service occupations that appears in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Agricultural services

O*NET Codes: 15017A, 15031, 15032, 72002D, 72002E, 79005, 79030B, 79033, 79036, & 79041 About the O*NET codes

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