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A nursery worker is someone who works outdoors or in a greenhouse, and whose job it is to plant, grow, water, transplant, prune, and generally care for plants, shrubs, and trees. Workers are responsible for maintaining the quality of the greenery under their care, and determine the environmental conditions necessary for optimum growth and development. They also monitor the whole process from the initial planting to harvest.
Duties vary depending on the employment location, but tree farms are one of the major employers in this area. Nursery workers determine varieties and quantities of trees and shrubs and follow planting and care schedules. In the greenhouse they prepare the beds and plant the seedlings. As the plants grow and develop, workers must prune, weed, and water them. Caring for trees can also involve staking young saplings, tying and wrapping them, and packing them for transportation, as well as digging up shrubs and trees and moving them from greenhouse to field.
Most farms use some form of pest management system, so the nursery worker must develop and implement the plan. This includes identifying and controlling insects, rodents, birds, weeds, and diseases. If pesticides are used, safe handling, storage and disposal practices must be followed. Workers on organic farms must be familiar with organic farming procedures and natural pest control methods.
The horticultural industry often employs large numbers of seasonal workers, so the nursery worker may be responsible for supervising these staff in planting, transplanting, pruning, and feeding perennials, shrubs, trees, and seedlings of all types. Staff is often comprised of migrant workers who speak another language, so supervisors must find effective communication methods.
On large operations, irrigation may be controlled with computer systems, so workers must be proficient in programming and managing these. Nursery workers provide customers with information to help them select and care for trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants. The job can also include record keeping, preparing budgets, development of marketing plans, and preparation of trees and shrubs for sale or shipment.
The workplace is generally outdoors, working in fields, in shade houses, or in greenhouses. Weather conditions can be challenging and plants must be protected from damage during inclement weather. The seasonal nature of the work means long and irregular work hours are usually required, particularly in spring and summer. Things can be hectic at times and dealing with customers may be stressful.
Strenuous physical labor is usually part of the job and some heavy lifting is involved. Workers must bend and crouch and do heavy field work. Very large greenhouse operations and tree farms are often highly mechanized. In some workplaces, a variety of farm equipment is used and workers must operate a wide range of machinery: harvesting machines, tractors, fertilizer spreaders, and assembly-line equipment. Exposure to pesticides can be a health risk and workers must adhere to safety regulations.
Seasonal and migrant workers who move from location to location have unsettled lifestyles and may experience extended unemployment, which creates financial stress. Competition in this field is increasing due to increased global demand and factors such as trade agreements with countries in Central America and China.
Traditionally nursery workers were able to learn on the job and work their way up. Increasingly, however, greenhouses and farms are becoming large industrial-type operations and workers are expected to have much higher skill levels and education.
In the U.S. and Canada, there are a number of educational programs offered, ranging from a two-year horticulture diploma to a post-diploma bachelor of applied science in production horticulture. Courses in agriculture and plant genetics can also be helpful in this profession. Students wishing to enter these programs need strong marks in english, chemistry, biology, science and math.
Continuing education is important in this field, as mechanization of tree farming, research into improved growing methods and new horticulture technologies contribute to changes in how nurseries operate. A nursery worker needs to stay abreast of environmental issues and current trends towards organic methods of pest control. Many countries have trade associations that offer ongoing education and horticulture workshops.
Some of the personal characteristics that are helpful for nursery workers include:
Customer service is part of the job, so workers should be comfortable dealing with the public courteously and efficiently. A thorough knowledge of the plants, trees, and shrubs under the worker's care is essential. Perhaps most importantly, a nursery worker must love greenery and growing things.