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Duration (approx) 600 hours
Qualification Certificate

Understand the principles and practice of organic plant growing

Learn the practice and principles of organic plant growing with this in depth qualification.  

  • Study plants, plant culture, soils, nutrition, plant identification and much more.
  • Start the course at any time and work with industry experts to learn more about organic plant growing.








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Learn the practice and principles of organic plant growing with this in depth qualification

  • A 600 hour course focusing on the mainstream fundamentals of horticulture in the first half of the course and leads on to organic plant growing methods in the second half.
  • This combination is rarely offered through other institutions.

Organic growing is the way of the future.

Understanding established methods of plant growing and how main stream horticulture deals with this, for example, the pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers and general growing methods used, is of fundamental importance for a shift to organic growing.

To be truly informed, you need to know all the traditional and 'accepted' methods of plant growing as well as organic methods. This knowledge enables you to make informed and important decisions (for example) during farm conversion and understand what impact 'conventional' farming has on the land you farm, and on the health of the community and the ecology. At the very least it will enable you to understand, and convey to others, why you prefer organics as your chosen method of plant culture.

This course is similar to other VHT002 horticulture certificates in its introductory (core) units, but devotes 50% of the course to topics specifically related to organic growing. The Core Units comprise fifteen lessons covering: Introduction to Plants, Plant Culture, Soils and Nutrition, Plant Identification and Use & Pests, Diseases and Weeds. A fantastic course for the Horticulturalist who sees organic growing as the right way to grow.



The Core Units comprise 15 modules that are divided into the following sections:

  • Introduction to Plants
  • Plant Culture
  • Soils and Nutrition
  • Plant Identification and Use
  • Pests, Diseases and Weeds

Students must complete and pass all of these core units.  A summary of the core unit content is as follows:-


1. Introduction to Plants (40 hours)
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 (60 hours)
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 (50 hours)
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 (40 hours duration)
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 (60 hours)
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 (50 hours)
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 pests 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



The Organic Plant Growing Stream is divided into the following:-

Plus 2 of the Following Modules:



Fees do not include exam fees

There are 2 exams for the core and 3 for the stream (1 for each stream module)


Composting Hints from our Horticulture Tutors

The first scientific method of composting was the Indore method devised by Sir Albert Howard. The average pile for Indore composting is 2 metres wide, 1 - 2 metres high and 3 - 5 metres long. A 15 cm layer of plant waste is spread over the area to be covered by the pile. This layer can include spoiled hay, straw, sawdust, leaves, garbage or wood chips. Then a 5 cm layer of manure and bedding is added. This is followed with a layer of topsoil of approximately 0.5cms depth. On top of this layer of earth is spread a sprinkling of lime, phosphate rock, granite dust, or wood ashes to increase the mineral content of the heap. Lime is not added if an acid compost is wanted. The pile is then watered and then the process of layering is continued in the same manner until the desired height is reached. The heap should not be trampled down as aeration can be impeded.

Vertical ventilator pipes made of tubes of wire netting are placed along the centre of the heap approximately 1 metre apart. Within a few days the heap will begin to heat up and start shrinking in size. The heap is turned 2 - 3 weeks after being made, and again 3 weeks later. During turning, you should place the outer parts of the heap on the inside, so that they can fully decay. The heap will heat up to almost 65 degrees C. at the beginning. After the first turn the temperature will again rise, but it will then settle to a steady temperature of about 55 degrees C. The compost is finished in about 3 months.

This is a method that was devised by scientists at the University of California. In the 14 day method, all material going into the compost pile is ground or shredded. The grinding process has several effects on the compost.

Grinding means the surface area of material on which microorganisms can multiply is greatly increased, and aeration of the compost is improved because shredded material has less tendency to mat or pack down. Moisture content is also improved, and turning of the heap is much easier.

No layering of material is used in the 14 day method. The material is mixed either before or after shredding, then piled into heaps no more than 1.5 metres high. After three days, the heap is turned. Turning continues at two to three day intervals. After 12 to 14 days, the heat of the pile has dropped, and the compost is sufficiently decayed to use on the soil. Compost made by the 14 day method is thought to be better than compost that has been allowed to stand out in the weather for many months, as less nutrients are leached out when the compost is made quickly.

Although this is a method that is more of a farm practise, it can be used on a new block of land. The area may have to be lightly cultivated in order to sow a green manure crop such as soybeans, clover or cowpeas. After the green manure has germinated and before the nitrogen rich plants reach maturity, compost materials are spread over the area. Low nitrogen materials such as sawdust, corncobs and wood chips can be spread without any fear of causing nitrogen shortages later on. After spreading, the whole mass is worked into the soil, preferably with a rotary hoe. The aim should be to incorporate the organic material evenly into the top 10 cms of soil. It is also a good idea to add limestone, phosphate rock, granite dust, or other natural mineral fertilizers along with the other sheet compost ingredients, since the decay of the organic matter will assist the release of the nutrients locked up in those relatively insoluble fertilizers.

Compost bins are useful as a clean and less smelly way of making compost. In direct sun, the plastic can trap heat, speeding the decomposition process. The plastic bin also holds in moisture well.

A large heavy duty plastic garbage bag can be used to make compost easily anywhere, anytime. Place a couple of shovel fulls of food scraps or other compostable material in a bag, sprinkle with fine cover of lime and fertilizer. Repeat -put more organic material, then lime and fertilizer and keep repeating until the bag is full. Add water to each layer. Keep the smell down by tying the top. Place in direct sunlight in cool areas/months to keep warmer.

When earthworms breed, they work with raw materials and turn them into a rich fine compost. Given the right conditions and materials it is possible to produce compost in 60 days. In addition, the compost is rich in castings or manure of the earthworms which is superior to animal manures.

Composting with earthworms is usually done in wooden cases of about 1 metre square and about 0.5 metre high. A mixture of raw materials is placed in the boxes, typically containing about 70% weeds, leaves, grass clippings etc., about 15% manure and 12% topsoil. If no manure is available, table wastes can be substituted. All the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and then placed in the boxes. It is advisable to use purchased worms as they thrive best under domestic conditions. Tiger worms or red wrigglers are two of the best varieties. Before placing the worms into the boxes, check that the heaps have not got too hot, or else the earthworms will either leave or perish. The material in the boxes should be piled to a height of about 0.5 metres and kept sufficiently watered. Care should be taken not to add too much water otherwise air will be excluded from the heap. It is the combined action of the earthworms, bacteria and fungi that produces the best kind of compost.

The whole process takes about 60 days. Remove half a box of material and fill it with the raw materials. In 60 days the new material will be completely composted. It is advisable to feed the worms with something equivalent to chicken mash, but you can make your own feed using ground corn and coffee grounds.

There are several advantages to compost making in a hole or trench.

By burying compost, it can be kept out of sight, insulated from above ground temperature fluctuations and protected from the drying affects above ground.

You can start the course at any time.

It is studied by distance learning, so you can study in the comfort of your own home. But this doesn't mean you are all alone in your studies.  Our highly qualified and friendly tutors are there to help you every step of the way.  If you have any questions at all, they are always happy to help.


  • You can start the course at any time and study at your own pace.
  • Fit your studies around your own busy lifestyle - we provide full tutor support for all the time you are studying.
  • Study where you want to - online studies offer the flexibility for you to determine where and when you study.

Any Questions?

Our Horticulture Tutors are more than happy to answer any questions, so please click here to ask.

Courses can be started anytime from anywhere in the world!

Meet some of our academics

John Mason (Horticulturist)Horticulturist, Nurseryman, Landscaper, Garden Writer, Parks Manager and Consultant. Over 45 years experience; working in Australia and the UK. He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 100 books and editor for 4 different gardening magazines. John has been recognised by his peers being made a fellow of the Institute of Horticulture in the UK, as well as by the Australian Institute of Horticulture.
Maggi BrownMaggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more than three decades. Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .
Yvonne Sharpe (Horticulturist)Started gardening in 1966, studied a series of horticulture qualifications throughout the 1980's and 90's, culminating in an RHS Master of Horticulture. Between 89 and 1994, she worked teaching in horticultural therapy. Founded the West Herts Garden Association in 1990 and exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show in 1991. In 1994, Yvonne joined the staff at Oaklands College, and between 1996 and 2000 was coordinator for all Amenity Horticulture courses at that college. Since leaving Oakland she has been active as a horticultural consultant, retail garden centre proprietor and sessional lecturer (across many colleges in southern England). In 2000, she also completed a Diploma in Management.