Nursery and Greenhouse Workers - What They Do

Nursery and greenhouse workers plant, cultivate and harvest trees, shrubs, flowers and plants, and serve nursery and greenhouse customers. They are employed in indoor and outdoor nurseries and greenhouses.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Prepare soil; plant bulbs, seeds and cuttings; graft and bud plants; and transplant seedlings and rooted cuttings
  • Monitor plants for healthy growth and potential weed, insect, disease, and fertilizer problems in greenhouse crops
  • Spray trees, shrubs, flowers and plants to prevent disease and pests
  • Position and regulate greenhouse and outdoor irrigation systems to water plants and fields
  • Dig, cut and transplant trees, shrubs, flowers and plants and prepare them for sale
  • Provide information to customers on gardening, the use of various garden tools and products and the care of trees, shrubs, flowers, plants and lawns
  • May operate tractors and other machinery and equipment to fertilize, cultivate, harvest and spray fields and plants
  • Maintain inventory and order materials as required
  • Clean working areas.

Job titles

  • forest nursery worker
  • greenhouse worker
  • hothouse worker
  • hydroponics worker
  • nursery worker
  • horticulture worker
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school may be required.
  • Completion of college courses in horticulture or a related field may be required.
  • On-the-job training is provided.
  • A provincial licence to apply chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides may be required.

Essential Skills


  • Read instructions and warnings on labels, e.g. read storage instructions on labels affixed to fungicides and pesticides. (1)
  • Read reminders and short notes from co-workers, e.g. read short notes from supervisors to learn about upcoming meetings. (1)
  • Read short comments on a variety of forms, such as bills of lading and inventory control forms. (1)
  • Read a variety of memos and meeting minutes, e.g. read memos to learn about changes to store hours and minutes from joint health and safety committee meetings to learn about changes to spraying procedures. (2)
  • Read a variety of instructions and procedures, e.g. read step-by-step instructions to learn how to use personal protective equipment and mix and apply fertilizers. (2)
  • Read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to learn how to safely handle fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other dangerous chemicals. (2)
  • May read brochures and magazine and website articles, e.g. read magazine and website articles to learn about new silviculture trends and techniques. (3)
  • Read reference and equipment manuals, e.g. read reference manuals to learn about essential plant nutrients and instructions on the operation of potting and labeling machinery. (3)
  • May read instructions for the operation of point-of-sale equipment, such as scanners, scales, touch-screens and cash registers. (3)
  • May read standards and regulations, e.g. read standards issued by workers' compensation boards to learn the rules governing the application of pesticides. (4)

Document use

  • Recognize symbols located on labels and material packaging, e.g. observe hazard symbols on container labels to learn about the dangers of fungicides. (1)
  • Enter data into log books, e.g. enter data, such as dates, times, frequencies and amounts, into activity logs. (1)
  • Locate data in a variety of lists, e.g. view lists to locate data, such as names, species, sizes and prices. (1)
  • Locate data in charts and tables, e.g. locate specifications, such as application rates, in herbicide charts and product application-rate tables. (2)
  • Enter data into forms, e.g. enter data, such as dates, times, costs and quantities, into invoices and inventory forms. (2)
  • Interpret landscape drawings to determine the location of trees, shrubs, plants and design features, such as retaining walls and ponds. (3)


  • Write brief entries in log books, e.g. write brief comments in log books to describe work performed and incidents that may have occurred. (1)
  • Write short notes to co-workers, e.g. write short notes to co-workers to inform them about items that are out of stock. (1)
  • Write short comments in forms, e.g. write planting instructions on invoices. (1)
  • May write short reports, e.g. write short reports to describe incidents that resulted in damaged property and injuries to workers. (2)
  • May write short notes to customers, e.g. write email messages to follow-up on customers' questions. (2)


  • Receive cash, debit and credit card payments and make change. (1)
  • Measure and weigh products and goods, e.g. measure the height of trees and bushes using tape measures. (1)
  • May compare measurements to specifications, e.g. compare the height of shrubs to contractor specifications and to price classifications to determine their retail prices. (1)
  • Estimate the ratio of fertilizer to earth when mixing different soils for seedlings and plants. (1)
  • May calculate amounts owed by customers using factors, such as costs, discounts, taxes and currency exchange rates. (2)
  • May count cash and calculate the value of credit and debit card transactions. (2)
  • May establish pruning, watering and fertilizing schedules for plants at particular points in their growth cycles. (2)
  • May calculate material requirements, e.g. calculate the amount of concentrate needed to prepare plant food solutions according to proportions outlined on labels. (2)
  • May manage inventories of supplies, e.g. reduce inventory counts as consumables, such as herbicides and pesticides, are used. (2)
  • Estimate the amount of fertilizer required for lawns of various dimensions. (2)
  • May generate and analyze production statistics, e.g. analyze growth rates of plants to determine the effectiveness of various pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. (3)

Oral communication

  • Listen to announcements made over two-way radios and public address systems. (1)
  • May speak to suppliers to learn about products, prices and delivery schedules. (1)
  • May greet customers and provide them with information about products and services. (1)
  • Exchange information with co-workers, e.g. talk to supervisors to learn about job assignments and to coordinate activities and schedules. (2)
  • Participate in group discussions, e.g. discuss nursery arrangements and customer service procedures during staff meetings. (2)
  • May talk to customers about a wide range of topics, e.g. talk to customers about product choices, gardening tips and the appropriateness of plant selections. (2)
  • May provide detailed instructions, e.g. experienced nursery and greenhouse workers provide detailed verbal instructions to first time users of personal protective equipment and pesticide applicators. (3)


  • Encounter material shortages, e.g. find they do not have enough fungicides and fertilizers. They inform supervisors of the shortages and contact suppliers to arrange deliveries. They perform other work until the necessary supplies arrive. (1)
  • Select gardening methods, e.g. decide how much to prune shrubs and water plants. (1)
  • Find information on the operation and maintenance of equipment, such as air respirators, by reading instruction manuals and by speaking with suppliers and co-workers. (1)
  • Encounter unhealthy trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants, e.g. find plants that are withering or dying. They assess the reasons for the problems and take corrective actions, such as increasing waterings. (2)
  • Deal with unsatisfied customers, e.g. deal with customers who blame problems with their plants on the nursery. They assess damage to the plants and explain the factors that may have caused them, such as over or under watering, too much exposure to the sun or insect infestations. They attempt to resolve the complaints to the customers' satisfaction. (2)
  • Experience delays due to equipment breakdowns, e.g. find frozen pipes in the greenhouse in the winter. They inform supervisors and repairers about the breakdowns and perform other work until repairs are completed. They may attempt to troubleshoot and repair the equipment themselves. (2)
  • Select order of tasks and their priorities, e.g. decide which tasks to complete first by considering priorities and customer requests. (2)
  • May decide to accept returns, make exchanges and offer refunds to customers. (2)
  • Judge the safety of work sites and procedures. They observe risks posed by working at heights, equipment, such as shears, and the application of toxic chemicals. (2)
  • Evaluate the condition of equipment. They consider how the equipment operates and the results of physical inspections. (2)
  • Judge the effectiveness of products, such as fungicides, fertilizers and herbicides. They consider plant growth and other outcomes of the product's use. (2)
  • Plan their days in conjunction with greenhouse managers and owners who set out general daily and weekly goals. The workers prioritize tasks themselves to meet those goals. Although they have many diverse tasks to perform, such as planting, potting, watering and fertilizing, they must plan their duties so that customer needs come first. This may mean co-ordinating their activities with co-workers to ensure that someone is always available to meet customers. Planning varies with the season, with spring and summer being hectic. (2)
  • May find information about diseases and pests by conducting research over the Internet and by speaking with exterminators, suppliers, co-workers and colleagues. (2)
  • Find information about new products and equipment. They read trade magazines and marketing materials, such as brochures. They also discuss new products with suppliers, co-workers and colleagues and conduct research over the Internet. (2)
  • May decide how much nursery stock to order for the coming seasons. They take into account factors, such as available storage space, past sales and anticipated sales. (3)

Digital technology

  • May send text messages to customers and co-workers. (1)
  • May use calculators and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices to complete numeracy-related tasks, such as calculating material requirements. (1)
  • May operate point-of-sale equipment, such as electronic cash registers, bar scanners, scales and touch-screens, to complete financial transactions. (1)
  • Use two-way radios to communicate with co-workers. (1)
  • May use spreadsheet software to enter inventory counts and monitor quantities of supplies, such as fertilizers. (2)
  • May use databases to retrieve contact information, dates, inventory numbers and equipment maintenance schedules. (2)
  • May use communication software to exchange email with suppliers, co-workers and customers. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access bulletins, weather alerts, industry news and equipment specifications. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by trainers, suppliers, employers and associations. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access blogs and forums to seek information from experts about unusual plant diseases and treatment options. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Nursery and greenhouse workers work independently most of the time, co-ordinating activities with co-workers as required. In the fall and winter, they may work alone, answering the phone, tending stock and dealing with customers. They work with partners when doing heavy work, such as unloading trees. They may also work in teams of three or four workers when, for example, they are potting plants.

Continuous Learning

Nursery and greenhouse workers receive training in the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). They may attend sessions or workshops on gardening topics or on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They also keep up-to-date through on-the-job training, learning from supervisors and co-workers and reading reference books.