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Attractively designed, healthy, and well-maintained lawns, gardens, trees, and shrubbery create a positive first impression, establish a peaceful mood, and increase property values. A growing number of individuals and organizations rely on the services of gardeners and groundskeepers to care for their landscaping.
Some landscape gardeners work on large properties, such as office buildings and shopping malls. Following plans drawn up by a landscape architect, gardeners plant trees, hedges, flowering plants, and turf areas and apply mulch for protection. For residential customers, these workers install lawns, terrace hillsides, build retaining walls, and install patios, as well as plant flowers, trees and shrubs.
Gardeners working for homeowners, estates, and public gardens feed, water, and prune the flowering plants and trees, and mow and water the lawn. Some landscape gardeners, 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 full range of duties, 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, as well as practice integrated pest management techniques.
Groundskeepers, often classified as either grounds managers or grounds maintenance personnel, maintain a variety of facilities including athletic fields, golf courses, cemeteries, university campuses, and parks. Grounds managers usually participate in many of the same tasks as maintenance personnel but typically have more extensive knowledge in horticulture, landscape design and construction, pest management, irrigation, and erosion control. In addition, managers usually have supervisory responsibilities.
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 proper composition to allow proper drainage and 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 are called greenskeepers. They 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.
Cemetery workers prepare graves and maintain cemetery grounds. They dig graves to specified depth, generally using a back-hoe. 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.
Gardeners and groundskeepers 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.
In winter months, especially in the North, gardeners and groundskeepers may work removing snow from driveways, roadways, and parking lots.
Many of the jobs for gardeners and groundskeepers are seasonal, mainly in the spring and summer, when cleanup, planting, and mowing and trimming take place. Gardeners and groundskeepers work outdoors in all kinds of weather. They frequently are under pressure to get the job completed, especially when they are preparing for scheduled events, such as athletic competitions or burials.
They work with pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals, and must exercise safety precautions to prevent exposure. They also work with dangerous equipment and tools such as power lawnmowers, chain saws, and power clippers.
Gardeners and groundskeepers held about 707,000 jobs in 1994. About 40 percent worked for lawn and garden service companies. More than 10 percent each worked for firms operating and building real estate and amusement and recreation facilities such as golf courses and race tracks. Others were employed by government, including parks departments, schools, hospitals, cemeteries, hotels, retail nurseries, and garden stores.
Almost 1 of every 4 gardeners and groundskeepers was self- employed, providing landscape maintenance directly to customers on a contract basis. One of every 3 worked part time, most likely students working their way through school. Others working part time were older workers who might have been cutting back their hours as they approached retirement.
There usually are no minimum educational requirements for entry level jobs as gardeners and groundskeepers. Four in 10 workers do not have a high school diploma, although a high school diploma is necessary for some jobs. Experience can be obtained through home gardening or working in a nursery, a lawn care business, or a tree service. High school students may gain experience in the Future Farmers of America and other associations.
There are no national standards for gardeners and groundskeepers, but most States require certification for workers who apply pesticides. Certification requirements vary, but usually include passing a test on the safe use and disposal of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
Employers prefer 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, since many gardeners and groundskeepers work with little supervision.
Courses in agronomy, horticulture, and botany are helpful for advancement. There are many 2- and 4-year programs in landscape management, turfgrass management, interiorscape, and ornamental horticulture. Courses include equipment use and care, landscape design, plant biology, and irrigation. There are cooperative education programs in which students work alternate semesters or quarters for a lawn care or landscape contractor.
Generally, a gardener or groundskeeper can advance to supervisor after several years of progressively responsible experience, including the demonstrated ability to deal effectively with both coworkers and customers. Supervisors can advance to grounds manager or superintendent for a golf course or other athletic facility, a cemetery, a campus, a school system, or manager of a lawn maintenance firm. Many gardeners and groundskeepers become landscape contractors.
The Professional Grounds Management Society offers certification to those managers who have a combination of 8 years of experience and formal education beyond high school.
Those wishing to become gardeners and groundskeepers should find excellent job opportunities in the future. Because of high turnover in this occupation, a large number of job openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. This occupation attracts many people who are trying to make money but who are not committed to the occupation. Some take gardening or groundskeeping jobs to earn money for school, others only take these jobs until a better paying job is found. 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 gardeners and groundskeepers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005 in response to increasing demand for gardening and landscaping services. Expected growth in the construction of commercial and industrial buildings, shopping malls, homes, highways, and parks and recreational facilities should stimulate demand for these workers. Developers are increasingly using landscaping services, both interior and exterior, to attract prospective buyers and tenants. In addition, owners of many existing buildings and facilities are upgrading their landscaping. Also, a growing number of homeowners are using lawn maintenance and landscaping services to enhance the beauty and value of their property and to conserve their leisure time. Growth in the number of parks, athletic fields, golf courses, cemeteries, and similar facilities also can be expected to add to the demand for these workers.
Employment opportunities in landscaping are tied to local economic conditions. During economic downturns, many individuals turn to landscaping as a second source of income or a new career. At the same time, demand for landscaping services often slows as corporations, governments, and homeowners reduce spending on all nonessential expenditures, increasing the level of competition for available jobs.
Median weekly earnings of gardeners and groundskeepers were about $287 in 1994; the middle 50 percent earned between $222 and $379. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $184, and the top 10 percent earned more than $508 a week.
Gardeners and groundskeepers perform most of their work outdoors. Others whose jobs may be performed outdoors or are otherwise related are botanist, construction workers, landscape architects, nursery workers, farmers, horticultural workers, tree surgeon helpers, and forest conservation workers.
For career information, contact:
Associated Landscape Contractors of America, Inc., 12200 Sunrise Valley Dr., Suite 150, Reston, VA 22091.
Professional Lawn Care Association of America, 1000 Johnson Ferry Rd. NE., C-135, Marietta, GA 30068.
For career and certification information, contact:
Professional Grounds Management Society, 120 Cockeysville Rd., Suite 104, Hunt Valley, MD 21031.
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