Occupations in landscaping and horticulture
Many newcomers have experience in agriculture and/or construction, which could provide a good background for an occupation in the landscape sector.
There is a wide variety of job opportunities in terms of both type and size of employer, ranging from the small owner-operated company to larger organizations offering the full range of landscaping services.
Both men and women work in these industries, with women working on par with the men on a job site.
Working in this sector, however, is most often likely to involve unpredictable schedules due to seasonality, inclement weather, and volume and duration of customer contracts. The work year (or season) usually runs from April to the end of November – or even late December for companies involved in complex construction. Taking advantage of when the weather is good, work days may be long.
Depending upon the type of employer, work location may vary frequently and involve significant commuting time, with public transit being an option for entry-level labourers.
In order to advance beyond entry-level and especially to a supervisor level, having a driver’s licence is likely very important, whether to drive one’s own car to a company yard, where equipment and material are stored, or to drive a company vehicle.
In all cases, at the entry level, a degree of physicality is required, relating to strength, stamina, periods of standing and outdoor exposure.
Workers are expected to provide their own work clothes, including appropriate steel-toe boots, rainwear and cold weather gear, in winter.
The most common job roles in landscaping and horticulture are described on the website Green Careers Canada and these include:
- Crew member/labourer
- Crew leader/foreperson
- Landscape technician
- Landscape technician specialist
- Landscape designer
- Landscape manager
- Heavy equipment operator
- Nursery/greenhouse worker
- Garden centre/nursery sales supervisor
- Garden centre salesperson
- Garden centre/nursery manager-grower
For a more in-depth discussion of job opportunities in the landscaping sector, see the website of Green Careers Canada. The types of employers, as outlined on that website, include:
- Nursery and Field
- Irrigation Contracting
- Grounds and landscape maintenance
- Garden Centre & Retail Nursery
- Golf Courses
- Interior Plantscaping
- Parks and Recreation Systems
- Landscape Contracting
- Suppliers to the Trade
- Botanical Gardens and Arboretums
- Education, Research and Government
- Landscape Construction or Maintenance
Other sectors closely related to landscaping
- Swimming pool installation and maintenance
Horticulture in the Nursery Trade
Employment in the nursery trade includes many different areas of specialisation, including unskilled work planting, transplanting, maintaining and organising nursery stock; loading and transporting stock to retailers and job sites; planting and transplanting large trees with heavy equipment, although the equipment itself, is handled by trained operatives.
Plant and tree nurseries are almost always located out of urban areas, on large acreage. Many of the larger nurseries employ migrant workers for the growing season, providing accommodation for their workers ‘on the spot’. A few workers carry through the whole year – seeding, potting and organising in greenhouses.
Retail outlets are usually closer to, or right in, town. Workers in retail mostly need good language skills, but ‘back-room’ workers who clean, organise and water plants and load/unload plants (some of which are large and heavy, requiring significant strength) may manage with lesser facility in English. These jobs are almost all seasonal.
For those with limited English language proficiency, living in an urban area such as Toronto, the best opportunities may be in:
- Landscape Construction
Construction and installation of ‘hardscapes’, such as decks, fences, outdoor kitchens, barbecues, fireplaces, retaining walls, fire pits, fountains, ponds, waterfalls, and stone patios. Also included is the installation of ‘softscapes‘, such as flowers, shrubs, grass, trees, and soil.
- Grounds/landscape maintenance
Maintaining all aspects of landscapes on residential, multi-residential, industrial, commercial, institutional and public properties. This includes care of lawns, trees, general plantings, soil fertility, and hardscape elements, such as pathways, steps, and drainage. Principal activities include mowing of lawns, pruning, fertilization, cultivation, soil amendments, and blowing clippings and leaves.
- Lawn Care
Keeping lawns weed-free and healthy, using expertise in soil nutrition, weed control and plant healthcare. Services include aeration, fertilization and weed and pest control.
Installation of residential irrigation systems, for which there is a need for labour to dig trenches with specialized machinery and install pipes, conduits, and controllers.
- Landscape lighting.
Installation of outdoor lighting on grounds and in trees, for which there is also demand for workers on crews to install wire, lights, and controllers.
The following articles, which were published in the Toronto Star, also highlight various career opportunities in landscaping and horticulture:
- A career in the gardening industry could grow from one of these seeds
- Horticulture blooming with job opportunities
Compensation in the GTA at unskilled, entry level, full-time landscaping and horticultural employment is likely to range from $14.00 to $18.00 per hour, with limited benefits, irregular hours, and seasonal unemployment. Working an average of 1,600 to 1,800 hours per eight month “year” (likely averaging 45 to 50 hours per week worked) would generate income of $22,400 to $25,200 per “year” at $14.00 per hour and $30,000 to $33,700 per eight month “year” at the $18.00 rate. Vacation pay at 4% would be on top of these earnings. Additional income from other sources might be earned during the remaining four months of the year.
For those with skills, such as carpentry, stone masonry, brick laying, electrical or plumbing knowledge or best practice horticulture, hourly compensation could be in the range of $20.00 to $26.00 per hour ($32,000 to $47,000 per eight month “year”.) Supervisors could make in the range of $26.00 to $30.00 ($41,600 to $54,000 per eight month “year”.) Vacation pay, at 4%, would also be earned.
Seasonality and winter months
During winter month layoffs, workers in this sector commonly do snow clearance or interior construction. Many collect unemployment insurance, provided that the required minimum number of weeks had been worked in the given year. Those planning a career in landscaping and related industries often attend training courses during the winter months.
Hiring periods during the year
Principal hiring in landscaping and related industries most commonly takes place early in the calendar year, as employers hope to have their team(s) ready to go in April as soon as the weather allows. That said, replacement or additional workers are frequently needed later in the season. it is also possible that extra hands are needed to complete a project on time, or to cover for a worker who is unable to work for a limited period. Leaving contact information with a prospective employer should be routine.
Prospective employees should make sure that an employer has workers’ compensation coverage that provides for workers in case of job site accidents.
Newcomer representation in this sector in the GTA
In the past, significant numbers of newcomers from Italy and Portugal went to work in the landscaping sector. More recently, there appears to be a wave of newcomers from Eastern Europe entering this sector, but no significant numbers appear to yet be coming from Syria, Iraq and other Arabic-speaking countries, nor from Africa or Latin America.
The landscaping and horticultural industries in the GTA do not have significant union representation, except for within some larger companies for the labourers and heavy equipment operators that they employ, which are represented by:
- Local 183 – LiUNA (Labourers’ International Union of North America)
- Local 793 – International Union of Operating Engineers
Is a job in landscaping right for you?
Consider the following questions to help decide if working in the landscape sector makes sense:
- Would you enjoy working outdoors in the heat of Summer, under a strong sun, as well as in the rain?
- As many landscape companies also offer snow and ice removal during Winter months, would you enjoy working outdoors in cold and very cold temperatures?
Physical stamina and abilities
- Do you have any problem stretching, bending down, or kneeling?
- Can you work on your feet for much of the day?
- Can you lift heavy weights?
- Can you do physical work for long periods of time, with only occasional breaks?
Working with equipment
- Are you comfortable:
- working with your hands and hand tools?
- using power tools that may cause noise and vibration?
- using mechanical equipment?
- having to be careful to avoid injury to yourself and others?
- Do you have a G driver’s licence or do you expect that you will be able to get one within a couple of years, in order to take on more responsibility?
- Do you mind working long hours, when necessary, in order to meet deadlines or make up for rain days?
- As landscape work in the GTA is seasonal, usually from April through November or early December, would you have other work, training, or things to do during the Winter months, if your landscaping employer did not also offer snow and ice removal services?
- Can you work well with little or no supervision, once you have been told what to do?
- Can you work well as part of a team?
- Are you comfortable working with deadlines and getting a certain amount of work done each day?
- Do you prefer doing the same tasks each day or do you prefer a variety of tasks from one day to another?
- Do you pay careful attention to detail?
Landscape contracting and landscape maintenance are highly entrepreneurial. After a number of years working in the field, a newcomer with sufficient English and good entrepreneurial skills and sales ability, might be able to launch his or her own business, especially related to residential garden maintenance. However, because there are no barriers to entry, competition is likely to be significant.
For one example of a Syrian refugee newcomer who started his own landscaping business, see: Syrian refugee leaves rubble behind to grow new life in Markham and the website of that business, Aleppo Landscaping, serving Richmond Hill and Markham, Ontario.
Need for English language proficiency
Even if one has prior experience and training outside of Canada, not speaking and comprehending English could be a significant impediment to entry and promotion.
Even to work as a Crew Member/Labourer or Nursery/Greenhouse Worker will likely require at least CLB 3 verbal English. (“CLB 2” refers to Canadian Language Benchmark and the third of 12 levels of language proficiency.) With prior skills and training, there would likely be better job opportunities and compensation at CLB 5.
There should be very good opportunities to enter and progress for those with CLB 7 and higher (including familiarity with sector-specific terms):
- Crew Leader/Foreperson/Supervisor
- Garden Centre/Nursery Sales Supervisor
- Garden Centre Salesperson
One occupation, for which registration as an apprentice is compulsory in Ontario and CLB 7 or higher English language proficiency is likely required, is:
Occupations for which there are no formal apprenticeship programs, but specialized post-secondary education and CLB 7 English or higher (including familiarity with sector-specific terms) are likely necessary:
- Garden Centre/Nursery Manager-Grower
- Landscape Manager
- Landscape Designer
- Landscape Technician
- Landscape Technician Specialist
- Heavy Equipment Operator
- Horticulture Scientist
- Organic Horticulture Specialist
- Environmental Landscape Manager
For those newcomers hoping to significantly improve their English on the job, opportunities to do so will depend upon the nature of the job. In many cases, much of the landscaping or horticultural work day may be spent in little conversation with co-workers and customers. At entry level, co-workers with whom there might be conversation, may themselves have limited English-speaking ability. Employers in this sector are unlikely to facilitate English instruction on the work site.
Regulation and certification
There is no regulation regarding entry of individuals working in landscaping in Ontario. While there are some college and university programs for horticulturists, arborists, and landscape technicians and designers, landscaping is a trade where individuals learn all or mostly on the job.
Training programs in the GTA
Foreign education and certification
As landscaping and horticulture are not regulated industries in Ontario, the value of foreign specialized education and certification is at the discretion of the employer. A newcomer who has any such experience or training should have his or her foreign certification and diplomas, as well as the requirements for their completion, translated into English, for submission with a job application.
There are currently no formal “bridge” programs in the landscaping and horticultural sectors in Ontario.
Post-secondary training: College and university programs
If a newcomer has sufficient English proficiency (likely at least CLB 7) and the financial resources to pursue full-time studies in this sector, the following post-secondary education courses in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) might be of interest, as outlined on the website of Green Careers Canada:
Humber College – North Campus
- Horticulture Technician Apprenticeship– 2 semesters in-class
- Horticulture Science Certificate
- Arborist Apprenticeship
- Organic Horticulture Specialist
- Landscape Technician Diploma
Ryerson University, Chang School of Continuing Education
Seneca College – King Campus
Unlike in the construction trades, for example, there are only two formal apprenticeship programs in Ontario in the landscaping and horticultural sectors: Horticultural Technician and Arborist.
As outlined on the Humber College website, the following steps need to be followed to enter an apprenticeship program:
- Get a job with an employer who is willing to sponsor you as an apprentice.
- Register as an apprentice. Contact the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to arrange for a training consultant to meet with an applicant and his or her employer, in order to register an apprenticeship. An apprentice must normally have worked for an employer for approximately a year before commencing classes.
- Register for class. Once an Offer of Classroom Training has been issued by the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, an apprentice must register into one of an authorized Apprenticeship class.
A Horticultural Technician works with plants and has knowledge and skills in ornamental horticulture and plant health care. Using tools and machinery, this person installs, grows, and maintains indoor and outdoor plants; builds urban and rural landscapes; maintains outdoor properties; cares for turf-grass and golf courses; and installs and maintains irrigation systems. See Humber College program description.
- to become a “Journey-person in the Trade”, apprentices must:
- complete 5,400 hours of on-the-job training, usually over three to four years;
- attend two – twelve week semesters at the training provider of their choice. These semesters are offered every year.
- 12 weeks / 3 Months(beginner)
- 12 weeks / 3 Months(advanced); and
- pass a Certificate of Qualification Exam (C of Q)
- Each twelve week semester will cost the apprentice approximately $650 in tuition plus the cost of a study manual. This amount reflects an 85% subsidy by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities towards tuition. Apprentices attending in-class training are eligible for some potential additional financial assistance.
An arborist is a professional with knowledge of tree biology and physiology, and experience in arboriculture – the cultivation, management and study of individual trees. See Humber College program description.
- a 12 week basic session and a 12 week advanced session, focusing on the planting, maintenance and removal of trees in urban settings. Lectures and labs are balanced with a major practical fieldwork component.
For further information regarding apprenticeships in Ontario, see:
- See: Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities Apprenticeship
- See also: Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities Employment Ontario Partners Gateway – Apprenticeship
- See also: Start an Apprenticeship.
Job market outlook
There is currently high demand in the GTA for both skilled and unskilled labour in the landscaping sector. However, work is most often seasonal.
Preparing for a job search in landscaping
For job searches in the landscaping sector, consider these sector-specific suggestions:
Job boards and matching service
Consider searching the job boards most often used by employers within the GTA in the landscaping and horticultural sectors:
- Filter results by job title, location, distance, salary estimate, and job Type (full-time; part-time; contract; permanent; temporary).
Another service to consider is Toronto-based WRKS, which describes itself as “the construction hiring network”, but includes some landscaping work. A job seeker creates an online account, provides information about education, skills, and certifications, and chooses up to five tags, describing areas of expertise. The service then matches the job seeker with employers, who have provided their own job profiles and search criteria. The service is not exclusively for newcomers, but they represent a very large percentage of its job seekers. The founder of WRKS has been a private sponsor of refugee newcomers. Many companies in the WRKS network are willing to train people. Newcomers who don’t have landscaping skills should select tags for whatever non-landscaping skills they may have. Examples: organization, management, communication.
Specialized English vocabulary
- Become familiar with as much specialized landscaping terminology in English, as possible. See the post on this website for a list of landscape-related terms to review: Specialized English work vocabulary – Landscaping.
In the GTA, there currently appear to be no occupation-specific English language instruction programs (ELT, OSLT, SLT or other) available.
- Be prepared to answer sector-specific questions an employer may ask, including “What kind of materials have you worked with in the past?”
- Bring any available photographs of past work that the newcomer has completed. If photographs of the newcomer’s own work are not available, consider bringing photographic examples from websites found through Googling.
- Be sure to visit the website of the landscaping/horticultural company and be able to demonstrate an understanding of what the particular business does and have questions to ask, such as:
- What amount of soft or hard landscaping does the company do?
- What is the routine in a normal day or week?
- How varied would the work assignments be?
- What would be the best opportunities for learning new skills?
- What are the backgrounds of the other crew members that the newcomer would be working with and what is their level of English?
- Where would the newcomer fit in one of the company’s crews?
- What opportunities would there be to continue improving English?
- What do the company’s employees do during the winter months?
- What measures does the company take to ensure safety?
- How variable are the work hours?
- Are a driver’s licence and a car required?
- When do the employees normally take their vacations?