UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the last leaves fall from their branches, professional landscapers face a well-deserved slower winter season ahead. To help landscapers get the most from their off-season, Penn State Extension developed a series of online landscape skills courses.
Along with appealing to garden enthusiasts, these courses are ideal for green industry professionals, including landscape contractors, landscape maintenance professionals and horticulturists. In an industry with high turnover for entry-level positions, the courses can benefit people seeking employment in landscape design, installation and maintenance, and landscape businesses wanting to provide additional training for experienced employees.
“Landscape professionals are busy from spring through the fall with little time for professional development,” said Ruth Benner, commercial horticulture extension educator based in Erie County. “Training during the slower months of winter will help these employees be well prepared for the coming season by increasing their knowledge and skills.”
The course library includes training in plant identification, pruning trees and shrubs, plant biology and taxonomy, and pest and disease management, among other areas.
Benner explained that the topics were selected based on the results of an industry survey, interviews with owners and supervisors at landscape contracting companies, and through discussions with the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association and extension educators about common landscape challenges across Pennsylvania. This revealed the topics of greatest priority for training.
Eichenlaub Inc., a large landscaping company in Pittsburgh, has utilized several courses to train its employees. The company’s staff development coordinator, Diane Ferrari, said she found the courses about pruning and plant identification particularly useful. Eichenlaub purchases course seats for their employees, an investment that helps workers stay engaged during the slow winter months, Ferrari noted.
Those interested in registering employees for courses should look for the “Register a Group” button on the online course product page. This allows the group leader or manager to purchase multiple registration seats in a course and then assign them to individuals in a group, team or entire organization as needed.
“In a market with short labor supply, employers are utilizing professional development as a tool to attract and retain employees,” said Michael Masiuk, Penn State Extension assistant director for horticulture programs. “The landscape skills online courses were developed in collaboration with the industry to provide high-quality training companies can access 24/7.”
Additionally, the courses enable landscapers to catch up on Pennsylvania Pesticide Applicator recertification credits. Many courses also qualify for Pennsylvania Certified Horticulturist continuing education credits.
This fall, Extension launched three new online courses: “Plant Identification and Usage: Coniferous Trees,” “Weed Management for Ornamental Landscapes” and “Plant Identification and Usage: Deciduous Shrubs.”
In the course “Plant Identification and Usage: Coniferous Trees,” landscapers learn the identification features of 35 common coniferous trees of the Northeast, the cultural requirements of coniferous trees, common insect and disease problems, basic pruning requirements and timing, and how to select coniferous trees for the landscape.
In “Weed Management for Ornamental Landscapes,” landscapers learn how to identify and manage weeds in the northern United States using integrated pest management and herbicides.
“Plant Identification and Usage: Deciduous Shrubs” teaches landscapers how to identify 43 common deciduous shrubs of the Northeast, the cultural requirements of deciduous shrubs, common insect and disease problems, and basic pruning requirements.
“I’m looking forward to reviewing the new courses and incorporating them into our trainings,” Ferrari said.
Sandy Feather, a green industry extension educator in Allegheny County, explained that the courses teach information that will be reinforced by work in the field. They help landscape companies set up new employees for success.
“Well-trained employees can work efficiently and boost a company’s bottom line,” Feather said.
For Ferrari, the courses are an excellent training tool. “We’ve developed in-house training, but that takes time and effort,” she said. “These courses are already there.” She praised extension educators for being reputable and possessing “true green industry knowledge.”
“I trust Penn State Extension to put out a good product,” she said.
More information and registration for Extension’s library of “Green Industry Professional Development Courses” can be found at https://extension.psu.edu/
These courses were supported by contributions from the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association.
–Penn State Extension