ST. PETERSBURG — The Landscape Management program at the Pinellas Technical Education Center (pTEC) offers those with green thumbs a chance to be creative artists—with Nature as their canvas.
Available exclusively at the St. Pete campus of pTEC, the program takes about 11 months to complete and consists of 900 course hours. It is broken up into three courses, starting with the Landscape Specialist course, which includes industry-level training on landscape maintenance, installation, design and irrigation.
“We consider this our core training,” said instructor Fred Rodgers, one of three instructors in the program. “That’s where a lot of the basic concepts are learned.”
Students are introduced to concepts of plant growth and reproduction, pruning, plant identification and use of tools and equipment necessary to the horticulture industry. Rodgers said that after the core course students proceed to the second level course, which is less conceptual, as it involves more application of what they’ve learned.
“We do a lot of ‘hands on’ at the first level,” Rodgers explained, “but here it intensifies. They’re actually doing much more work where they’re managing small projects on the grounds here.”
There are several areas on the pTEC grounds on which the students get to put their maintenance and landscaping skills into practice. There’s even a small working nursery so the students can try their hands at a variety of projects. Rodgers noted that since the pTEC campus has been undergoing some new construction, it is the perfect opportunity for the students to get involved with design, installation and other areas of landscaping and horticulture. In addition, they have at times gone off campus to hone their skills.
“Every so often we’ll do a public service type of project,” Rodgers said. “We might do something at a school or one of the state or county facilities. They may be involved in the installation or design, or even both.”
Also during this part of the program the students will study for and take their Florida Certified Horticulture Professional exam, which is not only a certification that is recognized state wide and sponsored through the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA), but one that Pinellas Country requires for most types of grounds maintenance jobs, Rodgers said.
Rodgers said that the students start to take more of a leadership role in the second part of the program.
“What they’ve studied really starts kicking in,” he said. “They’re being asked to do it under not-so-careful supervision, where I step back and ask them, ‘What would you do and how would you accomplish it?’ It’s a variety of things, from maintenance to installation of plants or troubleshooting, like ‘Why are these plants yellow?’ They have to make a decision of what has to be done and we apply that solution if that is the correct one.”
He noted that pTEC also partners with the Local Food Park organization for some preliminary work in helping to develop community orchards in the county.
“We’re supposed to go out there and give our advice on the landscapes,” Rodgers said. “Can we put fruit trees there or can we put edible types of landscape? We’re helping to ascertain the land situation and also be involved in doing some training for the local community of how to care for those parcels.”
The Landscape Contractor course is the culmination of the program, in which the students get to pick a project to do in the community, in a state or county facility, or even a school.
“They choose the area, then they have to develop a plan for it,” Rodgers explained. “And once we approve the basic plan they have to price it out, come up with their price list and do an estimate as if they were giving the estimate to a customer.”
Once the students get the go ahead they actually do the installation, Rodgers said, which he believes is as close as they can get in a teaching situation to acquiring the experience a contractor would go through from start to finish on a landscape project.
Actual maintenance can include all sorts of jobs like pruning with shears and shaping hedges and shrubs to working with heavier material like loppers or gas equipment. The students even use caution level products for spraying.
“Any spraying they do is under special supervision,” Rodgers asserted. “We strive to make sure our students know how to work the equipment. We try to give them as much exposure as we can—mowers, lawn trimmers, skid steer, chain saws, power equipment that is pertinent to the industry.
Once the students complete the Landscape Management program, pTEC lends a helping hand in finding them work in their new careers.
“We do everything within our power to offer placement,” Rodgers said. “Since I’ve been involved with this program I’ve had very little problem with employers stepping forward and saying, ‘Yes, I can use good, well-trained employees!’”
He added that it is a bonus for the students that they graduate from the program with the FCHP certification because it means that they’ve put in a certain amount of study and hard work to attain that.
“My goal is when they have completed the program that they have the FCHP certification and they feel confident about what they’re doing when they walk out the door,” Rodgers affirmed, “because that’s what employer’s want—people with good background training and a willingness to work!”
If for whatever reason students only complete only one or even two parts of the program, they can always keep the credit they’ve earned should they decide to return.
“We do encourage them to stay for the whole program,” Rodgers said, “but the nice thing is if they do want to come back into the program, they can resume at the next level.”
Rodgers has been a member of the Pinellas County school system for 28 years, and finds the most rewarding thing for him as an instructor is seeing “the light go on” in his students.
“When they’ve been working hard and I know they’ve even been a little frustrated,” he admitted, “I say, ‘Hang in there!’ When that light comes on and it really starts making sense, they start going through the program in leaps and bounds because now they understand how to apply the concepts that they’ve been learning. That for me is the payoff. That keeps me coming back!”
If you’re interested in exploring Landscape Management, please visit myptec.org or call 727-893-2500. Financial aid is available. See ad below.