26 Careers Working With Plants
Plants are seriously cool, so of course you want to find a career working with them. This article is designed to be a brief run-down of some of the different directions you can pursue depending on what you’re looking to get out of your work and where your natural talents lie.
Some roles require little training whereas some of the more technical roles will require a proper degree which will require a higher investment and barrier to start for you, the student. While you’re studying, why not take on a role as a labourer or garden maintenance officer part-time so that you can really get your hands in the soil and get another perspective on the life of plants.
According to Oxford online dictionary Lexico, a horticulturist is an "expert in or student of garden cultivation and management". They are professionals with a scientific understanding on how plants work and how to achieve desired outcomes with them.
A qualification in horticulture can lead to a ridiculously varied career in, production, amenity and research sectors including many of the following options within this list.
2. Parks & Gardens
A career in parks and gardens working for the council involves mowing, usually with a ride-on front deck or zero turn mower, as well as brushcutting, plant health diagnosis, pruning and weed control. Although it’s possible to study for a certificate in parks and gardens, it’s not always necessary to start working in the industry.
3. Landscape & Garden Maintenance
Most maintenance gardeners are either unskilled or are qualified with a relevant certificate ii or iii. It’s one of the easier roles to get into without experience and a great place to start your career or work part-time while you study.
Landscape and garden maintenance work involves mowing, hedging, weed control, plant health maintenance and soft landscaping. Many maintenance operators make the same mistakes regularly, such as mal-pruning, ring barking, etc. through lack of education but you can avoid many of the most common mistakes by reading through the articles within this website.
You may like to work for a small company or franchise that focuses on domestic properties, or you can also work for a company that focuses on commercial and council properties. Larger companies have more opportunities for career progression.
4. Landscape Architecture
This career focuses less on physically working with plants and more on designing spaces where other people can enjoy plants. If you love plants but your talents are more suited to working with on the computer than in the garden, landscape architecture may be the field for you where you’ll get to be imaginitive and creative but will still need to stay grounded in math and logic.
You may be working on projects for individuals on their domestic houses, companies or large communal spaces that millions of people will interact with over time.
Before you start an entry-level position you’ll usually need to at least need a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture.
5. Landscape Design
Although you can study for a bachelor’s in landscape design, there’s a lower bar of entry and you can get away with a certificate or diploma and a few years of experience in the landscape construction or maintenance field.
A landscape designer is a similar role to a landscape architect but usually on a smaller scale. You’ll be designing backyards instead of public spaces and may be doing some of the physical landscaping.
6. Landscape Construction
This role includes soft works such as planting and laying mulch, as well as hard works such as concreting and laying bricks. You don’t need a qualification to work as a labourer but you can study or do an apprenticeship in the industry to become a qualified landscaper.
There is sometimes an element of landscape design associated with landscape constructionists, though often they are the professionals that carry out works designed by an architect or designer.
7. Machine Operation
Landscapers and homeowners often hire bobcat drivers to help with earthworks; the driver may be a full-time employee of a landscaping company, a contractor for hire on job sites that have a bobcat, or a business owner with one or more machines.
I’ve had two friends that were bobcat drivers, and they both said the same thing about the role: it’s like a real-life computer game that takes a lot of skill and fine movements.
There are also other landscape construction and maintenance machines that require operators including dingoes, backhoes and ride-on mowers.
Whether you’re growing fruit and veg or pasture for livestock, agriculture is the science of farming. Even though you don’t need a qualification to start your own farm, it’s a good idea seeing as a farm is an enormous investment.
Your soil’s health will be one of, if not the most important factor and you can start your journey through my Soil series.
Farming with a focus on self-sustaining systems is called permaculture, typically with the use of no-dig methods and an avoidance of chemical usage. Permaculture fruit and veg are seen as superior to regular produce and attracts a higher price.
The farming of flowers for gardens and floristry is called floriculture. You'll be growing flowers for sale and may even find yourself attempting to breed new cultivated varieties.
Florists work in flower sales, arrangement and design. If you're a people person that loves flowers, you might be interested in studying for a certificate in floristry though no formal qualification is technically required.
Consider approaching your favourite florist before Valentine's day or mother's day and volunteering to work a few days for free for the experience and a good reference.
Nurseries are where baby plants are grown and sometimes sold. You might find yourself propagating and growing plants, or you might find yourself in a sales position which may not consist of a lot of true plant work.
A qualification may be needed but just a heads up: working in nurseries is not known to be one of the better-paid jobs in the industry.
Also known as tree doctors, arborists are horticulturalists that focus on trees; a lot of climbing (with equipment) is involved, so if you’re afraid of heights this is not the career for you. A qualified climbing arborist has been through rigorous training in the classroom and in the tree and is paid quite well.
A ground crew below puts the cut branches and wood discs through a chipper that spits wood chips into a pile or the back of a truck, and this is a good place to get a foot in the door without a qualification.
14. Turf Growing
Growing turf is a highly specialised horticultural role that focuses on running grasses that are sold for lawns. Depending on the company, you may be able to get started without a qualification.
You’ll be preparing the soil, planting, overseeing the growth and harvesting turf as well as maintaining the grounds.
Schools, resorts, retirement villages, and golf courses are large sites that may employ a professional gardener on their books. These sorts of roles can include varied work such as handyman services as well as general gardening, plant health, planting and turf management.
A qualification may not be needed, but a number of tickets are usually required such as chainsaw, chemical spraying, etc.
Sometimes living on-premises is part of the job, which might be the case if you're a groundskeeper on an island resort or retirement village.
Viticulture is horticulture for grapevines. Even though it is a specialised career, the work is quite varied and includes but is not limited to technical pruning, monitoring fruits, pest control and deciding when to harvest. You’ll usually need a relevant qualification or degree.
If you love wine just as much as you love plants you may end up opening a vineyard of your own down the line and continue working with the grape after it leaves the vine.
17. Research Science
A degree in horticulture, biology, ecology or a similar field can lead to a career as a scientist working in the lab. You’ll be conducting research for academic or commercial purposes and you might be working in the lab or outdoors in the field.
If you’re passionate about preserving natural ecosystems, a degree in conservation may lead you to your dream career. It’s a wide field consisting of roles in research as well as practical works such as revegetation and weed eradication.
19. Biology & Botany
A biologist studies living organisms including animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, etc. They are qualified with a degree and are highly educated on the complex inner workings of organisms. This knowledge is important widely and a biologist may end up working anywhere from agriculture to biochemistry.
A botanist is a biologist that focuses on plants rather than animals and other types of organisms. This means that they generally have a higher level of understanding of plants than other biologists.
The scientific study of ecosystems is called ecology and is concerned with the interactions between all organisms including plants. As an ecologist with a degree, you could end up working for developers, research institutes, environmental trusts or government.
You’ll be taking samples, collecting and analysing data, communicating your findings, performing site assessments and planning restorative projects.
There are multiple ways for you to work with cafes restaurants as a gardener. For starters, you can start a micro garden on your own land and sell the produce to local places to make supplementary or possibly even full-time income.
Some kitchens will have a garden of their own out back and employ a gardener to come by regularly. This gardener may have multiple other restaurants they work for and/or a part-time job.
There are no formal qualifications necessary to produce produce (not a grammatical error), though general and specific plant knowledge is required and you’ll need to jump through a few red tape hoops.
Being a labourer is a great way to get experience in an industry, especially when you’re young, but it’s hardly a position to aspire to. Use labouring roles while you’re studying or between jobs but be careful not to get stuck there for too long! If you have a brain, you can fill it with knowledge and upskill yourself.
23. Team Leader
Organisations often need leaders to mediate between management and the crew, especially garden maintenance businesses where there are two people per vehicle.
It’s not an easy job because you need to balance creating a chilled out atmosphere and a feeling of comradery with ensuring the job gets done to the correct standard within the timeframe.
A team leader position can lead to a management position within the right company or council. Depending on the company there may be a fair bit of desk work or time spent in a ute with a clipboard.
25. Business Owner
If you aren’t satisfied working for an employer, you can start a business in your chosen field. I’ve written a series on starting a lawn care business, whether you have a lot of money to invest or not.
Once you’ve worked in the industry for a couple of decades you can re-brand yourself as a consultant and spread the knowledge you’ve accumulated. Some examples of roles are consulting arborist, landscape consultant and consulting ecologist.
Life is long and there are going to be opportunities for you to change and grow into new roles throughout your career. Just because you start out mowing lawns doesn’t mean you won’t eventually become a research scientist or consulting arborist.
Where To From Here?
If you’re interested in becoming a lawn and garden care business owner with little experience working in the field, I recommend visiting my Entrepreneur series to get an overall idea of how to succeed.
Plant identification skills come in handy no matter which sector you end up in; I’ve written an Identification series for you to learn the basics as well as a Families series where I introduce you to many of the main plant families, subfamilies and genera we work with every day in Aussie gardens.
There are a few general principles when it comes to pruning, and with knowledge you can dictate the way plants grow (at least to some extent). Try this article which goes through the basics.