Foundation Certificate in Horticultural Studies

Course CodeVHT002A
Fee CodeFC
Duration (approx)300 hours

Expand your Horticultural Skills

This course is a mid level certificate, higher than a certificate II  but less than the standard certificates offered by ACS Distance Education. Nevertheless, this is still a substantial foundation in horticultural studies that sets a solid foundation for either further specialised studies or for working in any sector of the horticulture industry.
It involves the first half of our long established Certificate in Horticulture (VHT002). The second part of that course involves 'specialist' studies focussed on one or another industry sectors. If you wish, you have the option to do those specialist studies and upgrade your qualification later on.
Content and Structure of this Course 
The content of this is spread over six modules or parts as follows:
1. Introduction to Plants
The purpose of this study area is to explain the binomial system of plant classification and demonstrate identification of plant species through the ability of using botanical descriptions for leaf shapes and flowers.

  • Describe the relevant identifying physical features of flowering ornamental plants.
  • Demonstrate how to use prescribed reference books and other resources to gain relevant information.
  • Dissect, draw and label two different flowers.
  • Collect and identify the shapes of different leaves.
  • Demonstrate how to identify between family, genus, species, variety and cultivar.
2. Plant Culture
The purpose of this study area is to demonstrate the ability to care for plants so as to maintain optimum growth and health while considering pruning, planting, and irrigation.


  • Describe how to prune different plants.
  • Demonstrate how to cut wood correctly, on the correct angle and section of the stem.
  • Describe how to plant a plant.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of different irrigation equipment, sprinklers, pumps and turf systems available by listing their comparative advantages and disadvantages.
  • Demonstrate competence in selecting an appropriate irrigation system for a garden, explaining why that system would be preferred.
  • Define water pressure and flow rate and how to calculate each.
  • Explain the need for regular maintenance of garden tools and equipment.
  • List factors that should be considered when comparing types of machinery for use in garden maintenance.

3. Soils and Plant Nutrition
The purpose of this study area is to provide students with the skills and knowledge to identify, work with, and improve the soil condition and potting mixes, and to evaluate fertilisers for use in landscape jobs to maximize plant growth.


  • Describe the soil types commonly found in plant culture in terms of texture, structure and water-holding and nutrient holding capacity.
  • Describe methods of improving soil structure, infiltration rate, water holding capacity, drainage and  aeration.   
  • List the elements essential for plant growth.
  • Diagnose the major nutrient deficiencies that occur in ornamental plants and prescribe treatment  practices.
  • Describe soil pH and its importance in plant nutrition.
  • Describe the process by which salting occurs and how to minimise its effect.
  • Conduct simple inexpensive tests on three different potting mixes and report accordingly.
  • Describe suitable soil mixes for container growing of five different types of plants.
  • List a range of both natural and artificial fertilizers.
  • Describe fertilizer programs to be used in five different situations with ornamental plants.
4. Introductory Propagation
The purpose of this study area is to improve the student's understanding of propagation techniques with particular emphasis on cuttings and seeds. Other industry techniques such as grafting and budding are also explained.


  • Demonstrate propagation of six (6) different plants by cuttings and three from seed.
  • Construct a simple inexpensive cold frame.
  • Mix and use a propagation media suited to propagating both seed and cuttings.
  • Describe the method and time of year used to propagate different plant varieties.
  • Describe and demonstrate the steps in preparing and executing a variety of grafts and one budding technique.
  • Explain the reasons why budding or grafting are sometimes preferred propagation methods.

5. Identification and Use of Plants
The purpose of this study area is to improve the student's range of plant knowledge and the plant use in landscaping and the ornamental garden, and the appreciation of the different optimum and preferred growing conditions for different plants.


  • Select plants appropriate for growing in different climates.
  • Select plants appropriate to use for shade, windbreaks, as a feature, and for various aesthetic effects.
  • Categorise priorities which effect selection of plants for an ornamental garden.
  • Explain the differences in the way plants perform in different microclimates within the same area.
  • List and analyze the situations where plants are used.

6. Pests, Diseases and Weeds
The purpose of this study area is develop the student’s ability to identify, describe and control a variety of pests, diseases and weeds in ornamental situation, and to describe safety procedures when using agricultural chemicals.


  • Explain in general terms the principles of pest, disease and weed control and the ecological (biological) approach to such control.
  • Explain the host‑pathogen‑environment concept.
  • Describe a variety of pesticides for control of pests, diseases and weeds of ornamental plants in terms of their active constituents, application methods, timing and rates, and safety procedures.
  • Photograph or prepare specimens, identify and recommend control practices for at least five insect ests of ornamental plants.
  • Photograph, sketch or prepare samples, identify and recommend control practices for three non‑insect ornamental plant health problems (e.g. fungal, viral, bacterial).
  • Describe the major ways in which diseases (fungal, viral, bacterial and nematode) affect turf, the life cycle features that cause them to become a serious problem to turf culture and the methods available for their control.
  • Identify, describe and recommend treatment for three different weed problems.
  • Collect, press, mount and identify a collection of ten different weeds, and recommend chemical and  non-chemical treatments which may be used to control each.
  • List and compare the relative advantages and disadvantages of different weed control methods.

Lesson Structure

There are 15 lessons in this course:

  1. Plant Identification (Unit 1 Introduction to Plants)
    • Botanical/Horticultural Nomenclature
    • Common Names
    • Scientific Names
    • Binomial System
    • Plant Family and Species Names
    • Hybrid, variety and cultivar names
    • Plant Name Pronunciation
    • Flowering Plants (Dicots and Monocots)
    • Lower Plants
    • Meanings behind plant names
    • Understanding Scientific Language
    • Collecting and Preserving Plant Samples
  2. Parts of the Plant (Init 1 Introduction to Plants)
    • How to Increase Plant Identification Skills
    • Leaf Types -terminology
    • Structure and Arrangement of Leaves and leaflets
    • Flower Structure and floral parts
    • Types of Inflorescence (eg. spike, raceme, panicle)
    • Bisexual, Unisexual, Monoecious, Dioecious Flowers
    • How Seeds Form
    • Understanding Stems, Leaves and Roots
    • Fruits
    • Morphological Change in Maturing Plants
    • Plant Cell structure and components
    • Cell Types
    • Photosynthesis
    • Understanding Respiration and Transpiration
    • The Nitrogen Cycle
  3. Planting (Unit 2 Plant Culture)
    • Environmental influences on newly planted plants
    • Potting up
    • Common Plant Establishment Mistakes
    • Terminology
    • Criteria for Plant Selection
    • Ongoing Costs after Planting
    • Planting Procedure
    • Fertiliser on newly planted plants
    • Staking young plants
    • Bare Rooted Planting
    • Time of Planting
    • Mulching
    • No Dig Garden Planting
    • Planting a lawn
    • Grass varieties
  4. Pruning (Unit 2 Plant Culture)
    • Difference between fruit and vegetative growth buds
    • Reasons for Pruning
    • Control of growth type
    • Control; of plant size and shape
    • Rejuvenation
    • Removing dead and diseased tissues
    • Pruning Rules
    • Pruning and Training Fruit Trees
  5. Irrigation and Machinery (Unit 2 Plant Culture)
    • Irrigation Objectives
    • Irrigation Feasibility
    • Soil, Water and Plants
    • Understanding the movement and retention of water in soil
    • Water infiltration and drainage
    • Flood Irrigation
    • Sprinkler Irrigation
    • Trickle Irrigation
    • Estimating water needs
    • Determining water deficiency or excess
    • Types of Power Tools
    • Power Tool Care and Maintenance
    • Buying Power Tools
    • Chain Saws
    • Mowers
    • Mulching Machines
    • Hedge Trimming
  6. Soils and Media (Unit 3 Soils and Plant Nutrition)
    • Soil Composition and structure
    • Peds, texture, colloids, etc
    • Soil Sampling
    • Potting mixes
    • Chemical Properties of Soil
    • Improving Fertility
  7. Soils and Nutrition (Unit 3 Soils and Plant Nutrition)
    • The Nutrient Elements
    • The Macronutrients
    • Nitrogen
    • Phosphorus
    • Potassium
    • Calcium, Magnesium and Sulphur
    • Micronutrients
    • Soil Ameliorants
    • Total Salts
    • Salinity sources and Control
    • Sodicity
    • Water and Air in Soil
    • Soil Temperature
    • Diagnosis of Plant Nutrition Problems
    • Composting
  8. 8. Seeds and Cuttings (Unit 4 Propagation)
    • Seed Propagation
    • Propagation and Hygiene
    • Seed Germination
    • Seed Sources
    • Seed Storage
    • Dormancy and Breaking Seed Dormancy
    • Cutting Propagation
    • Types of Cuttings
    • Plant Breeding: Genotype vs Phenotype
    • Producing Hybrid Seeds
    • Maintenance of Genetic Identity
  9. Other Propagation Techniques ((Unit 4 Propagation)
    • Plant Division
    • Budding
    • Grafting
    • Types of Layering
    • Natural Layering -runners, suckers, offsets, crowns
    • Propagation from specialised stems and roots
  10. Landscape Application (Unit 5 Identification and Use of Plants)
    • Plants in the landscape
    • Plant selection for landscaping
    • Trees
    • Shrubs
    • Groundcovers
    • Plants for Different Situations
    • Review of Many Common Plant Genera
  11. Problem Situations (Unit 5 Identification and Use of Plants)
    • Size and Age of Tree
    • Container Type of tree being planted
    • Physical Protection Methods for Trees being Planted
    • Review of a large number of genera
    • Growing Plants in Containers Outside
    • Street Trees
  12. Indoor and Tropical Plants (Unit 5 Identification and Use of Plants)
    • Plants for Different Light and Temperature Conditions
    • Why Indoor Plants Dies
    • Transplanting between pots
    • Stopping roots growing into soil
    • Perched Water Tables
    • Ferns
  13. Pests (Unit 6 Plant Health)
    • Preventing or minimising Pest problems
    • Review of Common Pests
    • Non Chemical Pest Control
    • Integrated Pest Management
    • Understanding Chemical Pesticides
  14. Diseases (Unit 6 Plant Health)
    • Review of Common Plant Diseases
    • Diagnosing Disease Problems
    • Understanding Fungal Infections
    • Tree Problems
  15. Weeds (Unit 6 Plant Health)
    • What is a Weed
    • Weed Control Methods
    • Non Chemical Weed Control Options
    • Understanding Weedicides
    • Types of Weed Problems
    • Common Weeds

Learn What Every Budding Horticulturist Should Know

This course does two things:

  1. One is to give you a foundation or fundamental understanding of the science and methodology that underpins all good horticultural practice. In doing so you are more aware when you encounter any unfamiliar challenge, and better prepared to decide a sensible way to proceed.
  2. The other gives you specific knowledge of how to approach some of the most common jobs any gardener, grower or horticulturist will face; from pruning and planting to pest control and weed management.


Learn How to Transplant a Large Bush or Tree Correctly

If you want to do some reorganising, late autumn is a good time to transplant established trees and shrubs. Contrary to popular opinion, natives can also be transplanted. For larger trees, the weight of the root ball is likely to be too much for an individual to move. You'd most likely need at least four people to move a root ball just one metre wide, so you're most likely going to need to call in professionals for anything larger.

  1. In early autumn start by estimating the spread of the root ball to be saved. Use a spade to feel for roots or as a general guide mark out a circle about 4 times the diameter of the trunk from the tree. Dig down vertically with your spade to sever the roots. Leave the plant now for another 6 weeks - it will grow some more roots within the root ball.  
  2. When it's time to transplant, prepare the new hole first. Dig this twice as wide as the root ball so you can backfill with good quality soil, or you can loosen the existing soil and add some well-rotted compost to make it easier for roots to penetrate. Don't have the hole deeper than where the plant is currently growing.
  3. Ensure soil is damp, and not wet or dry. With a spade, cut into the circle you made around the tree or shrub. Dig a narrow trench around the outside this circle. Now get the spade under the plant using the trench and sever the roots below. Gently rock the plant and lift to free any remaining roots.
  4. Continue to rock the plant whilst positioning some ropes beneath it to use as levers. Alternatively, use strong hessian, plastic sheeting or other material. Hoist plant out of the hole.
  5. Position the plant in the new planting hole ensuring that it does not sink below the soil level. Stake the plant to stop movement if necessary, and back fill with soil. Water well, and keep moist for the first few weeks. 


Who Benefits From This Course?

  • School Leavers - Young people leaving secondary school, contemplating a career in horticulture, will often be uncertain if this is or is not a good career for them.  This course will provide skills to help get a job or start a business; and an awareness of horticulture that enables a young person to make important life decisions (eg. If horticulture is what they want to do. What type of horticultural job they want to do).
  • People Changing Career - Changing careers is the norm in today's world. Sometimes change is forced by a redundancy; other times it is chosen. You may have purchased a horticultural business, or be seeking to turn a hobby you love into a source of income.
  • Anyone Working in Horticulture, with Limited Time to Learn - Some people find themselves working in horticulture, but lacking the knowledge, skills, awareness and self confidence to be really successful. It is the ideal situation to overcome a career road block.




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