Career in Landscaping

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by ALarsh, Nov 25, 2007.

  1. ALarsh

    ALarsh LawnSite Silver Member
    from Midwest
    Messages: 2,412

    For those that are thinking about getting into the business next year, here is a little guide from that might be helpful for some. Its a long read but has some good information in it.

    Career in Landscaping / Nusery Business

    $13.50 for lawn service managers
    $13.50 for nursery & greenhouse managers
    $11.50 for pruners
    $11.50 for sprayers & applicators
    $9.54 for landscaping & groundskeeping laborers
    Owner of a mid-size nursery/landscaping service: $50,000 to $75,000 annually
    Owner of a large, successful nursery/landscaping service: $100,000 annually

    Traits Required:
    Like to work with plants and soil
    Like to work with your hands
    Ability to get along with all types of people
    Like hard, outdoor work
    Physical strength
    Desire to satisfy your clients
    Ability to do more than one task at a time

    What You'll Do:
    Identify your clients' needs & desires & satisfy them
    Inspect lawns for problems
    Apply fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides & other chemicals
    Develop plans & blueprints
    Estimate & track project costs
    Sell Plants & Flowers

    Where You'll Work:
    Clients' homes or businesses, either outside or inside
    Your home or office
    Fields & greenhouses of a nursery

    Education Required:
    On the job training
    High school diploma
    State universities offering courses in landscape contracting & design, & in horticulture

    Opportunity to work out-of-doors
    Sense of freedom
    Sense of pride
    Sense of accomplishment.
    Seeing tangible results

    Work outdoors no matter what the weather is
    Loss of money due the plants dying
    Low pay for entry-level positions
    Tools can cause injuries
    Working with chemicals
    Final fee payment may never be paid

    People need plants and love to surround their living and working spaces with foliage and flowers. There are smaller and less expensive plant arrangements, such as perennials as well as more costly shrubs and trees. And, there is major landscape projects, like the addition of an ornamental pond with lily pads or stone walls covered with vines.

    But plants are good for more than just decorating homes and offices. They contribute to human health by absorbing carbon monoxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen. They also provide food; the first and most predominant food of the cave-dwelling people was plant material. Ornamental use of plants and trees came much later, but those origins were still thousands of years ago.

    Today landscaping is a popular business to start because it is much in demand but also relatively inexpensive for the beginning entrepreneur. If you already own a truck and a lawn mower, you're almost halfway there. However, the market in some areas does become saturated with people who call themselves landscapers but who have little or no training or experience. Property maintenance, mowing and trimming lawns, are not the same thing as landscaping. Landscaping involves art and design, as well as grooming.

    Landscaping isn't restricted to the outdoors. There is a huge market for indoor landscaping, such as that found inside malls and office building lobbies. Someone must plant and tend the shrubs and flowers you see in such indoor environments. The special problems facing indoor landscapers include the artificially manipulated air quality of the environment and the way the windows enhance or block the sun that falls on the plants.

    If you own your own landscape business, you will be responsible for planning your clients' gardens or working off blueprints furnished by a landscape architect, purchasing the plant material and overseeing the establishment of the garden. If you start as a landscape laborer, you will physically install the plants, as well as transplant, mulch, fertilize, water and prune plants, trees and shrubs; you will also mow and water lawns.

    Landscape workers can further specialize to become pruners, whose duties are restricted to pruning, trimming and shaping ornamental trees and shrubs. The shaping of shrubs is also known as topiary and can be a highly specialized business; it takes many years to learn how to do it correctly. Most topiary specialists today use chain saws, but some still prefer non-motorized tools to perform their art.

    A groundskeeper is very similar to a landscaping laborer. However, a groundskeeper is usually hired by one facility to maintain that landscape only, instead of working for a number of clients. Besides maintaining lawns, plants and trees, a groundskeeper is often responsible for raking leaves in the fall and clearing snow from pathways and parking lots in the winter.

    A groundskeeper is typically responsible for both the inside and outside of the facility. If you are employed as a groundskeeper, you must know how to care for the outdoor shrubbery as well as the indoor ornamental plants.

    As a landscaper working for individual clients, either residential or commercial, you will purchase grown plants and shrubs from a nursery. If growing plants appeals to you more than arranging them in a client's backyard, you may wish to consider opening your own nursery.

    Most nurseries start small and expand over the years. Nursery sales follow the economy in general, and the industry as a whole has grown 20% over the last decade. It takes between five and seven years for a new nursery business to start earning a profit.

    Ornamental plants, those that people buy to dress up their yard, fall into general categories: shade trees, conifers, perennials, vines, shrubs, bulbs and annuals. Lately, nurseries have been specializing more; for instance, they might grow native groundcovers or daylilies exclusively. Even small growers can work within such niche markets with specialty crops (native plants, hardy bamboo, etc.). There is also a demand for plants in short supply, such as uncommon plants or very large trees.

    There is still a huge segment of homeowners who are avid gardeners, and the numbers are growing every year. This means there will continue to be an excellent market for the nursery business. These customers will typically ask you for advice or other information about the plants you sell, but they are usually aware of how to plant and care for them.

    Nursery managers decide what type and quantity of plants will be grown; they choose seed, fertilizers and disease control substances; hire workers and direct and coordinate their activities; manage bookkeeping and marketing tasks; and generally oversee the entire operation.

    Nursery workers prepare the nursery acres 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; dig up or move field-grown shrubs and trees, as well as those in containers.

    The most predominant type of nursery production uses whatever means they have at their disposal to grow the best, most healthy plants. This often involves using pesticides for their fruits, vegetables and flowers, to cut down on disease and insect damage.

    There is also the organic nursery/farm, which uses other methods of pest and weed and disease control, many of which have been used for hundreds of years. Beneficial insects are cultivated right in the garden in order to control pests, and combinations of regular household items, like vinegar and sugar, are also used.

    Sustainable nursery production involves practices which use reduced levels of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides; integrated pest management to deal with insects, diseases and weeds; and focuses on building soil quality to promote plant health.

    There are several types of nurseries, one of which may be right for your career needs:

    A Grower/Retail nursery grows their own products on their own acres, then sells them from a storefront located someplace on the same property or close by.
    The Wholesale nursery grows plants for sale to other nursery operations, landscapers or retailers. It may also grow plants on a contract basis.
    A typical landscape and nursery business produces plants for retail sales and also offers landscaping services to its customers. Sales outlets for nursery plants include:

    The Lawn and Garden Center is somewhere between mass merchandiser and landscaper. You may even have one in your neighborhood, family owned and operated and offering a good selection of locally grown plants. Some centers want a great deal of variety in plant types and sizes, and others don't, but they generally do not grow their own.
    If the buyers for your plants are landscapers, they will be looking for large, quality plants carefully identified and raised. They will select their plants from a few quality growers, and want to choose from many different plants and sizes of plants. Their purchases tend to be spread over the year, with some emphasis on spring planting.
    You can sell plants at Farmers' Markets, which sell locally at retail prices. This is a local activity, but it can involve traveling many miles to participate in many local markets, even to urban areas.
    Mail order/Web site outlets give you the ability to sell at the national level. Selling through the mail and Web site may require you to do some national advertising, design a catalog, and have a larger inventory of plants.
    Learn More about This Career
    Professional landscaping on a residential dwelling makes a good first impression on visitors; in the trade it is known as "curb appeal." It can also create a peaceful mood for the residents and visitors, and it has been shown to increase property values.

    Curb appeal has enjoyed increasing importance to both residential owners and commercial concerns. Landscape services will be used more extensively to maintain and even upgrade existing properties. Also, a large segment of homeowners prefer to spend their leisure time in pursuits other than gardening, which accounts for the recent growth in home landscaping services.

    You can open a landscape business that also operates a nursery, in essence growing the plant materials you will use in your landscaping projects. You will be operating two different businesses, but they are compatible. You grow the plants, package them, design landscapes for your clients and use your own plants. Some clients prefer this, because they feel the plants will be of superior quality with the landscape owner so intimately involved in their growth.

    Growing your own plants, as a landscaper or nursery business owner, requires a greenhouse and some costs, such as heating. You can start and grow the plants completely or you can buy young plants and proceed from there. Growing your own involves less up front cost, but it also takes longer.

    There are two types of nursery production, in the field and in containers. Those plants grown in the field come from direct seeding or are transplanted from seedlings. After being lifted from the ground, they are used as fruit trees, seedlings for Christmas trees, windbreaks and conservation planting, or grown for balled and burlapped landscape or shade trees.

    Until the 1950s, nearly 100% of nursery production was accomplished in the field. Today, field production is used for bare-root seedlings for conservation plantings, fruit trees and nursery liners. The most profitable field production is that of balled and burlapped shade trees for the landscaping industry.

    The similarities between field and container growing include the fact that most woody landscape plants begin as cuttings, and both types of growing involve spending a large portion of the budget on machinery to aid production.

    Plants grown in containers generate about 10 times more sales per acre than those grown in fields. About 80% of your business will come from a five to 15 mile area around your nursery location. If you sell to retail garden centers, you will need smaller plants in 1-3 gallon containers. If you sell to landscaping firms, you will need to provide plants in 3-5 gallon containers, as well as balled and burlapped woody plants.

    Container stock has a better chance of survival from the beginning, and is much more likely to establish itself upon transplanting. It requires less room to grow and will tolerate less quality soil. Growing in containers also tends to lengthen the planting season.

    Several years ago a group of landscape architects were asked to identify the areas where nurseries might improve. These landscape architects cited four: nurseries should try harder to be reliable and consistent in the plants they provide; they should develop plant varieties that meet specific needs and sizes; they should recommend certain plant varieties for certain conditions; and they should make regular presentations to landscape architects.

    History of the Profession:
    Gardening and landscaping are as old as recorded history, maybe even older. In ancient Egypt, wealthy people had private gardens, carefully landscaped. City officials also provided public gardens for the poor, and every home had ornamental flowers.

    Possibly the most famous of any ancient gardens are known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar built the most imposing of his palaces on a mound north of Babylon, known as Kasr. The adjoining gardens themselves were supported on a series of circular colonnades, and they were built for one of the king's wives, who was unused to the Babylonian heat. The Greeks called the gardens one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

    The Persians enjoyed luxuriant gardens which sometimes doubled as hunting parks, almost in the tradition of the later British.
  2. ALarsh

    ALarsh LawnSite Silver Member
    from Midwest
    Messages: 2,412

    In ancient Japan, flowers and gardening were elevated to cult status. Gardeners were revered and their work considered sacred. Gardens were more than just places of beauty; they were designed to allow a person to meditate, to escape to the inner recesses of the mind. Although land has always been in short supply in Japan, the people traditionally attached their homes to their gardens, rather than the other way around.

    Flower-masters, or those who arrange flowers, are still highly sought after and venerated. Every year, the Japanese people await the flowering of the cherry trees, not for the fruit but the blossoms. The fact that the blooming season is so short, a couple of weeks in early April, makes the flowers that much more prized.

    In the Middle East of the Middle Ages, the Islamic people cultivated formal gardens even in the cities. Rich people had villas in the country, around which they built "paradises", or parks with springs, brooks, fountains, tiled pool, rare flowers, shade, fruit and nut trees, and a pavilion to allow enjoyment of the open air shaded from the sun.

    The Ottoman Empire during the 1500s was known for its cruelty in war. However, its citizens had a passion for flowers, and Turkish gardens were famous for their color. Because of the Turks, Western Europe received the lilac, tulip, mimosa, cherry laurel and ranunculus.

    The first botanical garden was set up in 1530 by Euricius Cordus, city physician to Bremen. Later in the century, most of the new botanical gardens evolved out of the herbariums of physicians. They were maintained for public use by universities or governments.

    In Elizabethan England, every home had its garden. The garden provided herbs for healing and flavoring food, as well as trees, shrubs, shade and flowers with which women decorated themselves and their houses. Shakespeare wrote verses about primrose, hyacinth, honeysuckle, larkspur, sweet William and marigold.

    The Royal Botanic Gardens were established in England by the mother of King George III, Augusta, on part of her estate at Kew. By the end of the 18th century, it was a popular pastime for gentlemen and ladies to interest themselves in the workings of the soil, even to the point of experimenting with hybrids.

    By the Victorian age, it was considered essential among European upper classes to have a staff of gardeners to maintain the grounds of the grand urban and country residences. While the ladies might pick flowers daily to grace the drawing room, it was the head gardener and the under gardeners who did the real work of tilling and planting and pruning.

    The Royal Horticultural Society was established in England in 1804, with the American Horticultural Society following a hundred years later. Edwin Beard invented the first lawnmower in 1830.

    Before World War II, farmers controlled plant pests through some ingenious natural means. They tried to use the best seeds from the best of each year's plants; the theory was that the best plants would be more pest-resistant than the poorer ones. They would plough deeply to bury weeds and pests from previous plantings. For centuries, farmers have burned their fields to sterilize them of weeds and pests.

    Another natural way to ensure a decent crop is by growing many varieties of the same crop. That way, even if a pest or disease destroys some varieties, the others may survive. A process called crop rotation, growing a different kind of crop each year, is another good way to keep pests at bay.

    The above methods are rather passive, in that you are doing things to keep pests away, but you are not doing anything about the pests that already exist. To combat existing pests and diseases, farmers developed biological controls. For instance, ladybugs were imported into California to control the cottony cushion scale insect, a serious threat to the citrus crop.

    The most recent method for pest and weed control is chemical, also known as pesticides. The first important pesticide was DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethiane. It was discovered in 1939 by Paul Muller, a Swiss chemist. At first it was thought to be a miracle product because it was highly toxic to insect pests, while appearing to be safe for people and animals.

    In the early years, it was so effective at killing pests and boosting crop yields, as well as being very inexpensive to produce, that it quickly spread around the world. In 1944, Muller won the Nobel Prize for discovering it.

    Rachel Carson, a scientist, issued a severe warning in 1962 in the form of her book, Silent Spring, in which she warned the public about the use of pesticides. Her argument pointed out that DDT was highly toxic to fish and birds, which developers of DDT had not thought of as "nontarget" creatures. DDT was found to be directly toxic to fish, and the birds who died did so by eating the worms and insects that had been killed by DDT. By 1972, DDT production had ceased.

    Meanwhile, almost parallel to this increasing use of chemical controls, there was another movement, toward organic farming and gardening. Before the First World War in Germany, anthropologist R. Steiner developed a philosophy which said that humans are part of the universe and they must strive to live in harmony with the environment. This theory was applied to agriculture by H. Pfeiffer, who named the resulting system "biodynamic agriculture."

    After the Second World War, organic farming took hold in France. Doctors and consumers were increasingly concerned about the relationship between food and good health, and how growing practices affected the food. By 1968, there was a vast ideological upheaval in France and a growing sensitivity to ecological issues.

    The modern-day ecological movement took hold all over Europe and America through the 1970s, partly due to the DDT scare. The major national organic farming organizations all over the world joined forces to form IFOAM, Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. As a result, more consumers grew concerned about the widespread use of pesticides in the growth of their food and plants.

    Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, organic farming gained increasing acceptance by the public. Today, there is a corner of every supermarket produce section which is devoted to the sales of organically grown produce. And even in farmers' markets, people are asking their growers what kind of insect and disease control products they use.

    Today and in the future, experts predict there will be less emphasis on disease and pest control and more emphasis on creating better, more resistant plants. Scientists can now add specific traits to plants using biotechnology, making them more resistant to pests and disease. For instance, they are experimenting with inserting a bacterium into corn which can survive in the plant without hurting it, but it is toxic to the corn borer caterpillar.

    This issue will continue to be important as the world's population grows and its landmass stays the same. Experts estimate that one third of the world's food crop is destroyed each year by pests, weeds and diseases. If we are to feed the world, we need a solution.

    The Work You Will Do:
    Even if you like to grow flowers and plants, and you are good at it, that is no guarantee you will succeed in the landscaping/nursery business. When you transform your hobby into a career, there are many more concerns than what to plant and when. Finance, marketing and people management are just a few of the additional tasks you will need to handle.

    In order to find the ideal job for you in this varied career field, identify what you love most about working with plants. Even though the market may appear to be saturated, new companies can and do succeed by doing something better or different than everyone else.

    A Landscaper's Duties
    As a landscaper, it is your job to identify your clients' needs and desires and satisfy them to the best of your ability. If a client wants an ornamental pond and rock garden, then you must do everything within your power to deliver exactly the right one. Of course, you can always make suggestions if a client wants something unrealistic or unappealing or impossible to accomplish; you have an obligation to present the facts as you see them.

    Once the client approves your plan, it is your job to follow through in logical steps to make the plan a reality. You have to make sure the trees and shrubs are planted in the right sized holes and watered appropriately afterward. You must lay out the flowering plants according to the plan, with just the right amount of space as dictated by the species, then plant and water them well.

    If you will be reseeding a lawn, it is probably best to leave that till last so it won't be exposed to the risk of damage while the other work is going on. Sodding is a popular way to renew a lawn, but you must make sure the old grass is completely removed; if not, the old will grow right up through the new and choke it.

    Anyone who works on landscaping must use a variety of tools. Shovels, rakes, pruning shears, saws, hedge and brush trimmers and axes are some of the hand tools involved. Power tools include lawnmowers, chain saws, snow blowers and electric clippers.

    You can also specialize by working for a chemical lawn services firm. In this case, your duties might involve inspecting lawns for problems, then applying fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals which will help to stimulate growth or prevent weeds, diseases or insects from infesting the area.

    Individuals who work in the management area of landscaping use computers to develop plans and blueprints, to estimate and track project costs, and to maintain payroll and personnel information.

    To stand out from the rest, offer a product or service that others don't. For instance, specialize in a certain type of landscaping, such as night lighting, or develop your own hybrid of a popular plant and market that. Bedding plants in particular show unlimited popularity. One landscaper makes a good living as an indoor landscaper specializing in aquariums and water plantings.

    Another important duty as a landscape business owner is that of advertising and promotion. If you fail to advertise your business adequately, the business will eventually dry up, even if you have good word-of-mouth from previous customers. Promotions might include early bird discounts for those who contract for your services early in the year, or discounted rates for late plantings.

    As a landscape worker, it is your duty to follow the instructions of your supervisor with great accuracy. You must handle the plants with care at all times; if not, you might inadvertently damage them and cause them to die later.

    Your Own Nursery Business
    If you decide to establish a nursery business, consider the location carefully. You must consider the soil, climate, water supply, the market and supply of labor. A retail nursery business is not as mobile as a landscaping business, and if you pick the wrong location your business may not survive.

    If you are growing in containers, soil quality is not as important as it would be for field growth, but you still need somewhat level land with good drainage. As a beginner, you will need to learn how long it takes to produce marketable plants and how to arrange your schedule so the correct number of each species is ready for sale each year.

    The first step in deciding what to grow is to conduct a market analysis to define the opportunities which exist to sell plants locally. You will probably start with only a few acres and market within 50 miles of your location, unless you plan on growing for mail order or on contract. Find out what other nursery people have grown successfully in your region, and identify your competition.

    Decide who your customers will be, and determine what type and size plants they will want to buy. Keep abreast of what plants are currently popular, and what combination of plants will maximize your profits.

    The primary point of concern should be what to grow and how to market it. No one can afford to grow any crop without first considering how to sell it.

    If you decide to grow for mass merchandisers, such as home centers and supermarkets, you will be growing large volumes of a few types of popular plants. Such merchandisers purchase smaller plants, and they may not be overly particular about the specific plants. They are mainly interested in obtaining a good mix of fast-selling materials.

    The disadvantage to working with mass merchandisers is that they will want instant shipment, they will want to pay the lowest price for plants, and they often do not care well for the plants after purchasing them. If customers know these unkempt plants came from your nursery, you may develop a bad reputation.

    Even after your nursery is up and running, it will pay you to continue monitoring customer characteristics and their purchases. As with any business, you will never stop advertising and promoting your nursery.

    The Business Aspects
    Running a landscaping or nursery business will have many costs associated with it, including overhead, direct product costs and marketing costs. Overhead costs involve such things as taxes, depreciation, interest, rent, utilities, insurance, maintenance and repair, new construction, new equipment, supplies and payroll.

    Direct nursery business costs are the costs that can be assigned directly to a specific crop, such as seed for planting, potting soil and fertilizers. The only way to determine direct costs with any accuracy is through scrupulous record keeping.

    Direct landscaping business costs are similar: those associated with a specific job. What you pay for your plant materials, some labor costs, and supplies would be included.

    No matter how you document your costs, you will be responsible for controlling them. If your profits do not exceed your costs, you will lose money and eventually go out of business.

    The prices your nursery charges for your plants should reflect three factors: exact cost of producing the plants including a reasonable profit; the prices of your competitors; and the supply and demand for the plant.

    You can cut production costs by growing plants in smaller containers, thus reducing the cost of soil and the container itself. If you sell large quantities of plants at wholesale prices to mass merchandisers, you will receive less money for each plant, but you will also spend less time and money on marketing.

    One marketing strategy might include growing more unusual plants in order to provide your customers with a balanced and well-rounded inventory. You might choose to specialize in producing a few high quality plants or some plants other nurseries do not carry.

    The prices you charge for your landscaping service should fall within the range of other, similar landscapers in your area. If you underprice your services, you may be giving them away too cheaply. If you overprice your services, you may not get enough business. A good way to avoid these problems is to do a little homework by finding out what comparable landscapers are charging, then adjusting your prices accordingly.

    Cutting costs in a landscaping business to make it more profitable is a little harder than for a nursery business. You cannot cut costs on your plant materials, unless you grow your own, because you should always strive to get the best possible plants and they cost money. You can cut some personnel costs by hiring student part-time workers who need no benefits; the main problem with this may be the lack of experience.

    In any landscaping or nursery business, there are considerable business duties required of the owner/manager. Advertising and promotion are critical to the success of either business, and personnel issues cannot be underestimated. Give these matters as much weight as you give the quality of the plants and services you offer, and you should succeed.

    Where You'll Work:
    Most of the work you will do as a landscaper is done outdoors, regardless of the weather. It can be physically demanding and repetitive and, as any hobby gardener knows, it involves bending, lifting and shoveling. There can be some pressure to complete the work on a deadline, especially if the landscaping is being done in preparation for a special event, such as an outdoor summer wedding.

    Landscaping jobs in the northern United States are seasonal for the most part, with the bulk of the work taking place in spring, summer and fall. However, many landscape and nursery owners/operators maintain an indoor facility for houseplants and associated products, and some landscape workers spend the winter months working at snow removal.

    Individuals who work full time in the landscape/nursery industry generally put in 60-80 hour work weeks over a six to nine month period. During the winter, many take a month or more off, or they work at ski areas, plow snow, or perform indoor landscape/nursery work.

    As a landscaper, you will work at your clients' homes or businesses, either outside or inside. Your clients may include residential customers or commercial concerns. Some of the more common businesses which require both indoor and outdoor landscaping are the offices of corporations, banks, government offices, and malls.

    When you are not actually installing plants and related landscape accessories, you may be working on a computer at your home or office, doing bookkeeping, billing or landscape design. You can also do this work by hand, although the software available now can save you a significant amount of time.

    If you are in the nursery business, you will work in the fields and greenhouses and in the section of your nursery where you greet and sell to customers. You will make deliveries to landscape clients who use your plants in their designs. You may even have a special section of your greenhouse where you can experiment with the production of hybrid plants, looking for a different color flower or a juicier variety of peach.

    Part of your work as a business owner will be to attract clients. That means you will need to ask for referrals at the completion of each landscaping job or nursery sale. This request for referrals can take place anywhere from the house to the cash register to a follow-up phone call, but an important part of your business is to generate favorable word-of-mouth.

    If your landscaping/nursery business is operating in the Southern United States, your attention can be given to your plants and clients on a more year-round basis. That means more time in the clients' yards and more time in the fields and nursery, cultivating your plants.

    If you start a nursery business which offers landscaping services, there will always be something to do, indoors and out. At certain times of the year you will start seeds for the nursery plant products. At the same time, you might receive a commission to do an indoor waterfall for a new residential construction.

    In other words, whether your business is landscaping or nursery or both, you will work in a wide variety of locations throughout your career.
  3. ALarsh

    ALarsh LawnSite Silver Member
    from Midwest
    Messages: 2,412

    The Professionals Speak:
    I Am in the Landscaping Business
    "I work with a small group of nursery owners who provide me with the highest quality plants, and most of the time my clients are people who want to do the bigger landscape projects. It's nothing for me to oversee the installation of an inground pool as part of my contract.

    I've always been drawn to working with plants and gardens. It was a real kick when I planted my first fruits and vegetables in my parents' small backyard, and they actually came out edible!

    That's when I think I first knew I wanted to work with plants. When I was in high school, I worked in a local nursery close to our house. I enjoyed dealing with the customers, helping them choose the right plants for their yards. Then, the next year I worked for a landscaping business, and I knew I had found my ideal career.

    The next year I went back to work for the same employer, and I started learning everything I could about the business. I tried to save every penny I could manage for the day when I would start my own business. Finally, I saved enough to buy the tools I needed.

    At first, I worked on my own except for some help during the height of the summer months. I can't tell you how much I treasured those first few clients. And I still work for them sometimes. Another landmark was when I hired my first employee; I felt like my business was 'real'.

    With every new client, I first sit down and find out what they have in mind, what they hate about their yard, and what they love about it. I don't want to interfere with the features that they already love and use. Then we discuss what changes can be made, and what they will cost.

    I always make sure the homeowner has the option of doing some of the work, because that really makes a difference to the cost, sometimes thousands of dollars worth. I would rather keep them as a client and lose a little money, than lose them altogether as client and friend.

    From the first day I started doing landscaping, I couldn't imagine doing anything else, and I still can't."

    I Own a Nursery Business
    "My customers run the gamut from homeowners looking to buy a few shrubs for the front yard to landscaping contractors needing 30-foot trees. Most of the time I'm able to satisfy what anyone wants, but it wasn't always that way.

    I started out by growing plants as a hobby. It was an interesting hobby and a great way to relax. Plus, once I had grown a few, I had a great store of gifts to give to the people I love. Then one day someone looked at my plants and said, 'Why don't you sell them?

    That's what got me thinking about growing plants for a living. I took out a loan, set up a greenhouse and got to work. I can't tell you how anxious I was those first few years. Would I make it? Or would I go broke chasing my dream?

    My customer base didn't increase overnight, but pretty soon I noticed I was getting a steady flow of people in just about every day. And once in a while someone would tell me the name of someone else who had sent them to my nursery. I think that's when I knew for sure that I was all right.

    Now I turn a pretty good profit, and I manage to keep busy all through the year. My best time, of course, is from early spring right through to mid-December. I grow a lot of the plants myself, but I also have suppliers for some of the more rare items. For instance, my Christmas trees are grown by one of my farmers. It works because he gets paid for the trees he grows on his property, and my customers get Christmas trees they can buy close to home.

    All in all, I feel as though my business is a success. I may never be a millionaire, but I'm happier in this job than I ever was in any other."

    I Own a Nursery that Offers Landscaping Services
    "My primary customers come from my regular and referred nursery customers who need a little help in designing their yards, but who can't afford the higher cost of a landscape architect.

    There are many people out there who would like to give their property a lift, something a little special to make it stand out from the rest of the neighborhood. They're thinking about adding maybe an unusually pretty flowering shrub, not starting from scratch to remake their yard.

    It all started when the person who lives across the street from the nursery came to me one day and asked what I would do to brighten up the front yard. I looked around at the available plants in the nursery, drew up a simple plan, and took it to the homeowner. I can still look across the street and see my first handiwork in that yard.

    The landscaping end of my business certainly isn't primary, because most of my customers, old and new, simply come to buy their flowering shrubs or tomato plants. But it's a nice sideline, and it has given me something new to learn about plants in general.

    I guess the bottom line is that I like working with plants. They're living things that give so much to the human race, and anything I can do to make our relationship with them a little better is worth it."

    Personal Qualifications:
    Whether you work in the landscaping or nursery side of this career, you must like to work with plants, soil and with your hands. If you hate the outdoors, or you have a serious phobia about insects, you may wish to reconsider.

    The ability to get along with all types of people is essential, especially if you plan on being an owner/operator. Because you will work with little or no supervision, you must be responsible and self-motivated in order to get the job done.

    You must not be afraid of hard, outdoor work. Your hands may get calloused and your skin may get burned by the sun; certainly you'll sweat during the summer. It helps if you understand and can deal with all of this.

    Physical strength is important, or at least knowing how to use the strength you have. You must learn to lift with your knees and not with your back, and it helps if you are involved in some kind of physical exercise that can keep you strong. Some people use their job in landscaping as a means of getting even more exercise than normal.

    You must be willing to learn about new plants and how to care for them, about the latest planting techniques. You must also learn about the regional conditions where you will be working, how the seasons change and how those changes affect planting in general.

    When it comes to doing a landscaping job, you must be able to identify whether the soil in the target area is acid or alkaline. You must also know which plants respond best to such soil or, if you will be using other plants, how to alter the soil to suit them.

    You must take very seriously the proper use of tools, both hand and power. Even a blunt edged spade can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Especially if you are in a management position, it will be your responsibility to make sure you and others are using tools safely.

    In order to be the owner/operator of any business, you must be able and willing to issue orders and follow up to make sure they are obeyed. You should cultivate an air of authority, so people know you are knowledgeable; however, arrogance, putting others down or pretending you know more than you do, is never appropriate.

    The genuine desire to satisfy your clients is another important trait to cultivate. Whether you run a landscaping or nursery business, you are in business to help people beautify their homes and lives with plants. There is a very good reason why the phrase "The customer is always right" is still used so widely. If you operate your business according to this tenet, you will seldom go wrong.

    If you intend to be an owner/operator, it will help if you can handle doing more than one task at a time. In any given day, you may prepare a presentation for a potential client, prepare a cost summary for an upcoming project, process your payroll and supervise your employees. It is necessary to know how to change gears between tasks, how much time to allot to the average tasks, and how to keep from wasting time, which is a valuable commodity to a business owner.

    Attractive Features:
    One of the nicest things about operating a landscape or nursery business is the opportunity to work out-of-doors on a daily basis. When the weather is that perfect combination of the sun's warmth and a cooling breeze, it doesn't get any better than knowing you'll enjoy that all day long.

    Owning and operating your own business can give you a tremendous sense of freedom. After all, you are your own boss. Certainly you can't go to the beach every day if you're going to make a go of the business. But the only one you have to answer to is yourself.

    There is also a profound sense of pride which goes with owning and operating your own business. True, your employees and family may contribute to your success, but the ultimate accomplishment is yours.

    In the work itself, it can be very satisfying to transform a client's yard into a showplace by your own effort and creativity. Think how it must feel to say to prospective clients, "Here's a list of my clients. Please feel free to take a look at what I did for them." As you drive around town, you will be able to pick out the beautiful lawns and gardens which are your handiwork.

    Most people who commission landscaping projects are doing it for their own enjoyment and/or to increase property values. It's a powerful feeling to know that your work will add thousands of dollars to the value of a home. And it is enormously satisfying to know that your clients will come home every evening from work, looking forward to spending time surrounded by your creation.

    That's also one of the real benefits of being in the landscaping or nursery business, seeing a tangible result. If you are a stock broker, you can obtain a printout of the gains and losses you make in one day, but you won't actually touch either the stock shares or the money. But with landscaping and nursery work, you can experience your work first hand, dig your hands in the soil, stroke the petals of the flowers you plant.

    As the owner/operator of a nursery business, your clients will become your friends very quickly. You'll learn who wants what plants annually, and you can take special care with each plant so your customers are pleased. With such customer satisfaction, it should be no burden for you to ask them to tell their friends about you. Word-of-mouth referrals are probably one of the most powerful promotion tools.

    Many people find gardening to be fun. Being a nursery owner/operator takes this fun to a new level. Looking down rows and rows of beautiful, healthy plants will provide you with a real sense of accomplishment.

    After a few years, people may begin to talk about your nursery as the only place to buy plants. If that happens, landscapers from all over your area will seek you out. They are always on the lookout for good and reliable plant sources, and you will get to add a profitable additional customer.

    Un-attractive Features:
    One of the most unattractive features of working as a landscape or nursery operator is the fact that you will be working outdoors no matter what. Rain cannot be a deterrent when you're tilling the soil, and the fields need to be prepared in early spring and late fall when the temperature may be less than ideal.

    As a landscaper, you cannot afford to get too far behind in your projects, even if it rains every day for a week. Naturally, you won't have to be out in severe thunderstorms. But if a sudden shower erupts in the middle of your workday, you will need to shrug it off and move ahead.

    If you own a nursery and your plants die, you will be out some money, what it took to grow them and the profit you would have realized from selling them. As far as plants which die after the buyer gets them home, you must determine your return/refund policy before you open your doors for business. Plants will die, and not always through any fault of yours. You will need to protect yourself from nuisance returns.

    Landscapers whose plants later die are in much deeper trouble. The homeowner or business owner will definitely call to complain, and you may have to replace the plants out of your own pocket.

    That's why it's so important to find quality plant suppliers for your business. However, when you are just starting out, finding those suppliers will be more hit or miss. If the plants fail, you will just have to deal with it as best you can.

    Sometimes, the homeowner will approve a landscaping blueprint and hate the final result. While this doesn't happen often, it can happen and you will have to make changes if possible. Of course, if you have installed brick walls as part of the landscaping, you will not usually have to demolish them. But if a homeowner dislikes the shrub near the front door, you may have to move it.

    A particularly unattractive feature of the landscaping/nursery industry is the low pay for entry-level positions. Very often, the best way to get experience is through entry-level positions, but the wages will hardly pay your bills. It's best if you choose this route while still a student.

    A landscaper will typically receive a portion of the total fee up front, with the rest to be paid later, as arranged with the homeowner or business owner. However, if the client isn't happy with the final outcome, that final fee payment may never be forthcoming. This means you will be involved in the collections process, which is never fun.

    For particularly large or very late fees, you will need to involve an attorney or collections agency, which may cost you more than the fee you are trying to recover. The way around this is to offer the best customer service you can up front, but incidents do still occur.

    Besides all these people issues, there is also the issue of your own and your staff's safety. Landscapers and nursery workers must use tools, both hand and power, and they can cause injury. You should also remember to protect your hearing during the use of loud power tools, as they can significantly impair hearing if used over long periods of time.

    Likewise, any chemicals you must use should be treated with the utmost care and respect. Pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals represent real hazards to yourself and others. They must be handled correctly and as safely as possible.

    Education and Training:
    There are generally no minimum education requirements to get a job in the landscaping field, and most training is done on the job. Therefore, this is an excellent job to get while you are still in school. The downside is the low level of beginning pay, usually minimum wage or only a little better with no benefits.

    In order to get the job, you need some basic qualities that have less to do with education than with being a responsible person. You must be able to take directions. You must be willing to learn how to care for plants, as well as how to handle the various tools. A good driving record is essential, as well as the ability to operate a small truck.

    However, a high school diploma is required to obtain certain positions, and you cannot advance within the career without some additional schooling. For instance, if you wish to become a grounds manager or landscape contractor, you will need education beyond high school. Even if you open your own nursery on a few acres, you will want to take classes in planting and ecology and other horticultural subjects. Your years of work experience will also factor into this.

    As an owner/operator or in a managerial position in either landscaping or the nursery business, it is helpful if you learn about turf care, horticulture, ornamental plants, soils and erosion prevention. You must have some knowledge of how to use fertilizers and pesticides, and most states require you to be certified to actually perform the work. The certification requirements include passing a test on the proper and safe use and disposal of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.

    The business end requires you to know how to develop, install and maintain plants, estimate and track costs, and deal with personnel issues. There are many self-help books that can teach you about these matters, as well as community college classes in adult education. The Small Business Administration in your town or city also has volunteers who can help answer your questions and direct you to appropriate educational opportunities. These are people who have owned/operated nursery or landscaping businesses.
  4. ALarsh

    ALarsh LawnSite Silver Member
    from Midwest
    Messages: 2,412

    Most state universities offer courses in landscape contracting and design, and in horticulture, or the study of how plants grow. Choose a school in your immediate location, where you intend to work, so any regional courses will be suitable for your use. For instance, if you intend to work in Florida, don't take courses from a university in Maine.

    The Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) offers designations as Certified Landscape Professional or Certified Landscape Technician. You must meet education and experience standards and pass an ALCA test.

    The Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) offers a grounds manager certification to those who have eight years experience and formal education beyond high school, and who pass an examination on such subjects as equipment management, personnel management, environmental issues, turf care, ornamentals and circulatory systems. There is also a separate certification for groundskeepers who have a high school diploma or equivalent, plus two years experience in the field.

    Some of the top schools for are listed below

    Colorado State University
    Miami Dade College
    Penn State
    Tennessee Tech University
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    University of Maine
    University of Massachusetts - Amhrest
    University of Nebraska - Lincoln
    University of New Hampshire
    Vermont Technical College

    In the landscaping and nursery industry, earnings vary widely, ranging from minimum wage in some entry level positions to more than $25 an hour for managerial jobs.

    Median hourly earnings are about:

    $13.50 for lawn service managers
    $13.50 for nursery and greenhouse managers
    $11.50 for pruners
    $11.50 for sprayers and applicators
    $9.54 for landscaping and groundskeeping laborers
    Wages for beginners are low and the work is physically demanding, so employers often have trouble finding and keeping enough workers. This also means huge availability of jobs, however, even if they don't pay all that well.

    Employment in the landscaping/nursery industry will grow in the coming decades. As residential, commercial and industrial building continues, the demand for landscape professionals will also grow.

    If you decide to become the owner/operator of either a landscape contracting or nursery business, your earnings will be directly related to your market, desire to earn, abilities, resources, and other factors. As with any business, the first few years may be hard as you struggle to expand your client base, but eventually the financial rewards will begin to show. It is reasonable for the owner of a mid-size operation to expect personal annual earnings of $50,000 to $75,000. If your nursery/landscaping service grows very large and successful over time, your personal earnings could top $100,000.

    As a landscape contractor, you should do everything in your power to maintain and enhance the good reputation you have. Through your reputation, you will earn new customers, and in turn you will earn money. If your reputation is good enough, you can pretty much set your own fees and make an excellent living.

    The nursery business, on the other hand, is dependent on the reputation of your plants as much as yourself. Therefore, you should work to produce the finest possible specimens in order to gain the best local reputation as a noteworthy and reliable nursery operation. Your plants will sell themselves and you will make money.

    Be sure that your prices will be enough to cover your staff salaries and other operating costs you may incur, plus earning a profit for you. When you are running your own business, earnings aren't just what you bring home each week to live on. Earnings must cover your entire operation if you hope to stay in business.

    Your prices must directly relate to the area of the country in which you are based. Those who live and work in communities with a higher standard of living can afford to charge more because the average person has more disposable income. In poorer states, you must adjust your prices accordingly; pricing yourself out of the market is a quick way to failure.

    The good news is that in lower income areas, your smaller earnings will go further. It's all a matter of the cost of living in any given location. So don't panic if you don't make a lot of money in your business. But always do try to sell as many of your products and services as possible, at the fairest prices, both to yourself and your clients.

    More than one million people hold landscaping/nursery jobs, with the majority filling landscaping and groundskeeping positions. The smallest concentration of workers is in nursery and greenhouse management.

    One third of the total workers in this field are employed by companies providing landscaping and horticultural services. Other firms employing these workers include real estate builders and operators, amusement and recreation facilities, and retail nursery and garden stores. Governments hire workers to maintain the grounds of schools, hospitals and other public facilities.

    One fifth of landscape workers are self-employed, contracting with individual customers to provide landscape maintenance on a regular basis. About one of every six workers is employed part time, and many of these are still officially classified as students.

    The turnover rate in the landscape and nursery industry is quite large, so there are usually many jobs available at any given time. Workers regularly transfer or leave the profession altogether, and they must be replaced.

    A further demand for workers will result from the ongoing maintenance of existing landscape and grounds, as well as indoor gardens.

    You may progress from landscape worker to crew leader, if you demonstrate your willingness to work hard and quickly, if you can get along with people and communicate effectively, and you have an interest in the business.

    Opportunities are also related to areas of the country. If you live in an economically depressed area, the demand for landscape contracting may be limited. On the other hand, the demand for reasonably priced nursery products may be quite good. It is important to understand the economic conditions in your particular location.

    Naturally, in regions of the country where the weather is temperate year-round, landscaping services are not seasonal. You will probably find something to do in landscaping or nursery work even in the middle of winter. On the other hand, if you live where the winters are long and hard, it is best to seek out alternative opportunities when the business is slow, such as more indoor landscaping contracts or snow removal services.

    A large number of residential and commercial facilities prefer to hire one landscaping service that will create and maintain all facets of the landscape, for a regular maintenance fee. Their duties include mowing, edging, trimming, fertilizing, dethatching and mulching.

    There are numerous opportunities in the profession, but the best way to ensure a significant income is to own your own business, rather than work as a laborer for someone else. When you own and operate the business, you make your own opportunities.

    The way you do this is through intelligent advertising and promotion of your business. If you feel uncertain about how to do that, you may have to spend a few dollars to get a professional's help, but it's well worth the price. Shoppers are instinctively drawn to "specials" and coupons, and judicious use of both could boost your business significantly.

    As long as people want to beautify the places where they live and work, there should be excellent opportunities for those wishing to get into the landscape contracting or nursery business.

    Getting Started:
    One of the best ways to get started in the landscaping or nursery business is to get an entry-level job. Landscape contractors are always looking for young people with strong backs to work on landscaping jobs. Likewise, nursery managers hire students to tend their plants, run the cash register, and perform other chores. There's no better way to learn the day-to-day operation of each business.

    If you are not yet ready to get a job, you might want to start at home. You can help your family by caring for the house plants, and you might already be doing this, mowing the lawn. If you are lucky enough to have a good-sized back yard, try portioning it off as a vegetable or flower garden.

    Then, before you plant a single seed, head to the library. There is a wealth of information on how to grow just about everything. Another good source of information is the Internet. The Internet is especially useful in putting you in contact with others who are trying to learn about plants and gardening and, even more importantly, with the experts willing to share their information.

    Once you feel you know enough to get started, decide what to plant. It all depends on when you are planting, of course, and whether you want to grow from seed or seedling plants. If you are seriously interested in exploring this business, better start with seeds to get the true growing experience.

    Don't forget to check out fertilizers and pest control products, because you'll want to keep your plants healthy and safe from pests. Another good idea is to put some kind of fencing around the garden to keep out rabbits and other animals that might want to eat what you grow.

    Finally, it's an excellent idea to keep a garden journal, a diary of when you do what to your garden, such as fertilize, spray for pests, and how often you water. Note how the plants look, the yield of flowers or fruit, and other statistics. When you return next year to plant your garden again, you will have this valuable information as a guide.

    If you are growing flowers or fruits or vegetables, you might try to sell them to friends or neighbors, especially if they are handsome specimens. After all, you've put in a lot of work to grow them, why not reap a little benefit? Be sure you ask your customers' opinion about the items you sold. Even if it's not the high praise you had hoped for, it will help you in your future endeavors as a gardener.

    After you become more confident about your growing abilities, you can branch out to more difficult plants. Each year you have a garden, try something new and unusual to broaden your experience.

    Then, when you are finally ready to get a job with either a nursery or a landscaper, you will already know quite a bit about growing and planting and cultivating, and you will undoubtedly get the job over another, less qualified person.

    Listed below are some prominent trade associations and websites of interest:

    Associated Landscape Contractors of America
    Professional Grounds Management Society
    Professional Lawncare Association of America
    Irrigation & Green Industry
    Massachusetts Nursery & Landscaping Association
    Tree Care Industry Association
    Ohio Nursery & Landscaping Association
    Listed below are some trade periodicals

    The Growing Edge
    Landscape Trades
    Lawn & Landscape Magazine
    Ornamental Outlook

    Careers Research Monographs Copyright 2007 by The Institute For Research CHICAGO

    Have fun reading... Don't worry you have all winter *trucewhiteflag*
  5. GreenT

    GreenT LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 42,962

    Good post ALarsh.

    Knowledge is power.

    BUCKEYE MOWING LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,169

    Great Post !!
  7. Clapper&Company

    Clapper&Company LawnSite Bronze Member
    from NE Ohio
    Messages: 1,291

    Good Post The longest but good lol

    THRIFTY LawnSite Member
    from (913)
    Messages: 208

    Good read!

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