Nursery Growers Course

Course CodeVHT101
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Want to start a small business growing and selling plants from home?

This course is designed to help you do just that! This is the way many plant nurseries start. If you want to avoid some of the big pitfalls, and minimize the chances of wasting time and money; a course like this is a very wise move before you begin.

This course is the first step to developing your knowledge and skill in horticulture.  It can provide you with a very solid framework for developing your knowledge and experience. It will point you on a professional path and show you possibilities you might never have thought of before.

The course is designed for people who are in the position of growing plants, on a small scale, under contract to a nursery.  If you want to get the greatest benefit from the course; you are urged to use your tutors. Ask questions and do not hesitate to contact the school and seek advice whenever you need it.

Lesson Structure

There are 6 lessons in this course:

  1. Plant Identification and Culture. How plants are named, scientific and common names, watering, weed control, when and how to use a glasshouse/shadehouse.
  2. Plant Propagation. Overview of propagation techniques, propagating mixes, pots, hormones, propagating structures and aids.
  3. Soils and Nutrition. Soil structure, soil additives, major nutrients, minor nutrients, nutrient deficiencies, salt toxicity, soil mixes, fertilisers.
  4. Seed Propagation and Nursery Business. Handling seed, pre-germination treatments, handling seedlings, propagating selected species.
  5. Cutting Propagation. Stem cuttings, leaf cuttings, leaf bud cuttings, propagating selected species by cuttings.
  6. Pest and Disease. Identifying a problem, insects, fungal diseases, nursery hygiene.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Understand plant identification and culture.
  • Describe a range of growing structures including a greenhouse, glasshouse and shadehouse.
  • Understand the differences between sexual and asexual plant propagation.
  • Have and understanding of basic nursery management principles.
  • Understand the uses of a range of different materials used in plant propagation.
  • Explain the main components of common potting mixes and how they contribute to the final product.
  • Describe seed sources and how to store a range of different seeds for maximum viability.
  • Explain how to overcome dormancy in seeds.
  • Understand a range of cutting techniques including hardwood cuttings, softwood cuttings, semi hardwood cuttings, tip cuttings, heel cuttings, nodal cuttings, can cuttings and basal cuttings.

What You Will Do

  • Develop a budget for a hypothetical nursery operation
  • Name a soil based on criteria given in the course
  • Create a potting mix using a given recipe
  • Assess a number of plants for growing profitability
  • Prepare a pot of cuttings and estimate the cost of production for each cutting produced
  • Prepare a range of different types of cuttings
  • Find plants with insect damage and determine the problem and possible remedies.
  • Collect information on various chemicals used in the nursery industry.
  • Assess plant ill health caused by agents other than insects.

Growing Plants in a Greenhouse

A greenhouse is only as good as its user! You can grow all sorts of plants in a greenhouse, and achieve all types of things, which you might not be able to achieve otherwise, whether growing as a hobby or commercially.
However the greenhouse is only a tool which enables you to keep your plants a little warmer and perhaps control a few other aspects of their growing conditions. You must know what conditions the plant needs and try to create those conditions with your greenhouse. Greenhouses are very labour intensive you must watch the greenhouse carefully and adjust the way you are managing it if the conditions start to vary from what is desired. In the summer this may mean monitoring it every day, particularly if the greenhouse does not have automatic watering and ventilation systems.
You need to decide what you will grow in the greenhouse, and be aware that different plants have different requirements. It may not be possible to grow a great variety of plants in the greenhouse and get the very best out of each one - if each of those plants has different growth requirements.

The Greenhouse System
Thinking of a greenhouse as a system, rather then a structure, will help to reduce problems in the future, consider the following points before choosing a greenhouse system:

  • Site- is it accessible? Take into consideration delivery of materials, access to (and for) customers, available light, wind and other climatic factors i.e. snow, topography, drainage, restrictions through local government by-laws and regulations, what planning permits do you require?.
  • Environmental control systems including heating, ventilation and the ability to conserve energy.
  • Water supply and irrigation systems
  • Availability of other services such as electricity and gas
  • The plant production system- including the inputs and outputs of the system
  • The availability of labour 
  • What system will you implement for handling of materials?

The Components of a Greenhouse Facility
The components of a greenhouse system should be determined by the size of the business operation and financial constraints. Some systems may be operated successfully with a fully manual system through appropriate plant choice others will require more sophisticated equipment.

The following is a guideline:

  • The floor or foundation- i.e. concrete/gravel (concrete is more generally used to control disease and for ease of movement throughout the larger structure. Walkways in these facilities are usually around 3m wide to facilitate larger machinery.
  • The structure- takes into account the type of production system, the plants grown i.e. hanging baskets may determine specific gutter heights, the physical constraints of the site. All these factors may determine bay width, length, glazing, ventilation etc.
  • Ventilation and cooling system – either natural through side walls and/or roof vents or automated, choice will be dependent on the plants grown.
  • Heating system- choice is important as production of a uniform crop is dependent on the heating system
  • Thermal screens- an increasingly popular addition as they also provide screening from summer sun
  • The growing system- takes into account the ease of movement throughout the greenhouse that enables fast movement of stock
  • Environmental control system- measures and controls the air and soil temperatures through a computer system. Advanced systems can also record data and evaluate plant performance.
  • Water supply- mains or dams
  • Irrigation systems- i.e. micro, ebb and flow, misting etc.
  • Electrical installations within the greenhouse- install power at construction phase to eliminate extra cost later. Some large operations require a back-up system such as a generator.
  • Fertiliser injection systems- used in larger operations to automatically apply fertiliser at set rates.
  • C02 injection, distribution and extraction systems are used in larger operations
What Can You Grow?
A greenhouse may be heated or unheated and have a fully manual ventilation system. The unheated greenhouse is the simplest to manage. However it must be remembered that although a cold greenhouse will trap heat from the sun during the day, thereby extending the growing season, temperatures within the structure overnight can be as cold as the temperature outside. Plants that are frost sensitive cannot be grow in an unheated house over winter. Heating systems will add to the cost of running a greenhouse however simple systems are available for the small grower. Ensuring that the temperature within the house does not fall below 5-7º Celsius will extend the range of crops that can be grown.

Greenhouses are normally used for one of the following. There may be other uses, but these are the main ones:

  • To propagate new plants in provide the ideal conditions for seeds to germinate or cuttings to initiate the growth of roots.
  • To grow tropical plants in cooler climates.
  • To protect plants sensitive to cold or frost.
  • To grow vegetables, cut flowers or berry fruits out of season or faster than what might be achieved outside.
  • To grow nursery container plants over winter when there may not be much growth in the outside environment.

It is not usually advisable to try to use the greenhouse for more than one of the above purposes. This may be acceptable for the hobbyist, but not for the commercial grower. The hobbyist who uses his greenhouse for multiple purposes must resign himself to the fact that he will not be able to get the best from his greenhouse in all areas of use.


Who Will Benefit From This Course?

  • A beginner to get started in the nursery business
  • Those working in the industry wanting to extend their knowledge
  • Wholesale nursery workers


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