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How to Get a Job at a Nursery and Garden Center

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Have you always dreamed of working at a nursery?

It's not about age or experience, anyone can do the job. You just have to be aware of the expectations before you sign up.

1. The pay: You're never going to get rich or make anything close to 6 figures. Most nursery jobs, especially entry level can expect a pay rate that is just above minimum wage all the way up to $15 per hour (DOE, of course). This is truly a job for someone that loves to work with plants and people.

2. Your experience: If you know an annual from a perennial; or that Hosta's belong in shade and Black Eyed Susan's like the sun... you're valuable to a nursery. A cashier is a good entry position. You can fatten up your resume by taking the Master Gardener Class from your counties local extension (but, be warned, Master Gardeners are a volunteer based organization and you will be expected to give back some of your time).

3. The physical: No, not the one from a doctor. As you already know, gardening can be a physical activity and working in a garden center is no different. Raking leaves, planting containers, sweeping, cleaning... those are light duty. Unfortunately, garden centers are frequented by customers who are physically limited (the older crowd, bad backs, people who just don't touch anything that is dirty) it's a fact of life at a nursery. You'll have to lift some heavy plants, bags of soil, end even stones or rocks. Don't be totally discouraged, no nursery wants employees getting injured on the job, you can always ask for help for the items that are truly heavy or awkward. But, if you are physically limited yourself, how much can you really help customers? What if you have 200 customers a day during the month of May?

4. The timing: One last little nursery secret: most nurseries have done all of their hiring for the season by the end of March. So, get your applications in by February or wait until next year.

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Go through the phone book and decide who you might like to work for. Take a note on why this nursery sounds appealing to you; it'll come in handy during your interview.

Visit the website, if they have one. Many nursery websites have online job applications. Since you have your resume finished and handy, it'll be easy for you to fill out the application. If you're not finding a site, call and ask if they are accepting applications? Yes, they are? Go fill one out and take along your resume, it always looks nice to staple a good resume to your application.

Follow up with a phone call or even visit the nursery on a Tuesday or Wednesday (typically slower days for the nursery manager). Dress in nice jeans or khaki's with a nice fleece pull over. You want to look Gardener/outdoorsy, not like an accountant or a high school cheer leader. Introduce yourself to the person who hires. Be charming (but not like a stalker), outgoing (but not hyper), and tell them why you love this nursery and why you want to work here. Be memorable, but not in a bad way. And one more tip for the ladies, don't paint on a lot of make-up! Come on, you want to work at a nursery; you're supposed to be more of a naturalist. Do you really paint on the rouge between shoveling manure and pulling dandelions at home?

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It's O.K. to follow up one more time, without looking aggressive. Sometimes they'll say no, just ask that they keep your info on file.

You've gotten the interview. Great job. Prepare yourself by finding out some back ground on the nursery (online is a good start). Remember why you like this nursery and want to work there. Have some examples in the back of your mind, of times you shopped at this nursery and how impressed you were. Khaki's are good, a casual button up shirt (extra points if you bought it at REI or EMS), and nice clean shoes. Clean natural hair and light on the make-up. Smile and be yourself, the worst they can say is "no thanks" but you'll be even more prepared for the next one.

Tip

It's good to know your plants, at least by the common names, but you'll learn so much more once your working at a nursery. You'll be amazed at how you can become an instant expert by simply reading the plant tag. I've taught 16 year old girls who are only hired to water, if they ask you about a particular plant (size, bloom color, light, etc.) you can pretty much pluck the tag out of the pot and read it for them. That's all it'll take. It's really, really good to know people! Without you making the sales, you don't have much of a need for plants.

Warning

Be prepare to do some hand holding. Some people just expect to be catered to and tended to like children, and they are often you very best customers. Don't be surprised if someone comes into your nursery and squeezes out as much information from you as they can only to exit without buying (they're what we call "the big box shoppers"). You'll start to recognize them and learn to manage your time with them. I'm not saying ignore them, but know when to excuse yourself politely. Don't stir the pot!!! I can't figure out why some of these places that employ no more then a dozen people seem to be so overcome with politics. It's easy to avoid though, just mind your own business and do your job!