Wednesday, February 28, 2024
For a career in retail, it helps to have sound horticultural knowledge (Image: Karen Smith)

Nursery retail careers: Between the grower and the garden

By Daniel Fuller

The average gardener often thinks that the nursery they buy their plants from is the same nursery that grows them, but that is rarely the case. In fact, there’s a whole sector of the nursery industry that exists between those that grow plants and the end user, the gardeners, that we call the retail nurseries.

There are three types of nurseries: production, wholesale, and retail. Production nurseries are where the plants are propagated sexually or asexually, wholesale nurseries are where plants are sold in bulk, and retail nurseries are where the general public and landscapers can pick up what they need for their current project.

Usually a production nursery will also be a wholesale nursery that sells to retail nurseries, but that’s not always the case. Some nurseries focus on being the middle-man as an exclusive wholesale nursery, and there are even examples of production nurseries that will sell to the public.

In this article, we’re going to focus on the retail sector of the horticulture industry, which includes places like big box stores as well as your local garden centre that often has a cute little cafe. You’ll see potted plants that have labels of all different colours, indicating the range of places they source their plants from.

Professionals working in a nursery setting are often called nurserymen, although some people prefer to use a non-gendered term like nursery operator or nursery professional.

If you have ever worked in a regular retail setting in a shopping centre, you’ve got half an idea of what to expect. There are customers with questions that need tending to, stock to present in an aesthetically pleasing way, and a constant smile to maintain.

But the level of product knowledge expected of you in the nursery industry far exceeds what you’ll experience in a regular retail job. To be successful in a retail nursery role, you’ll have to have a deep understanding of the plants you’re selling, the types of environments they thrive in, and the potential health threats they’re likely to experience.

You’ll need to be able to look at a photo of a plant health problem and be able to troubleshoot solutions. A typical conversation might involve a customer asking something like “what’s wrong with my lemon tree, why isn’t producing lemons?”

You’ll need to be able to ask the right questions to start narrowing down the potential issues until you find the correct answer. An unskilled retail nursery professional will simply say “you need to fertilise the plant” before checking for other issues like pests and diseases, sunlight, water, soil and other cultural conditions.

Some retail nurseries are home to a vast variety of plants, from herbs and shrubs, to trees and beyond. Meanwhile, other nurseries niche down on a particular type of plant, such as carnivorous plants, natives, or edible plants. Depending on your horticultural interests, you might prefer working in one type of nursery over another.

A formal qualification isn’t required for a job in many retail nurseries around the country, especially during this staff shortage crisis when employers are getting desperate for staff. However, a Certificate III in Horticulture or Nursery Operations is the industry standard.

A Diploma in Horticulture Management includes core electives revolving around budgeting and management. This incorporates higher-level horticulture units to help elevate your resume above the crowd if you’re looking to get into the management side of a nursery retail business.

Recently, I interviewed Bruce Durant from Arborgreen on my podcast about nursery industry secrets. He shared a lot of wisdom that I simply don’t have space for in this article, including typical logistical challenges, innovative products, and career advice. If you’d like to learn more about a career in this sector of the industry, I’d encourage you to listen to our chat.

The nursery retail sector plays a vital role in the horticulture industry, acting as a bridge between the growers and gardeners. Working in a retail nursery requires a combination of retail skills and extensive plant knowledge, as well as a personality that’s capable of being ‘on’ all day. Combine your passion for plants with retail skills for a job in a fulfilling and dynamic work environment by searching for a retail nursery job today.

Daniel Fuller

M: 042 6169 708




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