Career Guide for Grounds Maintenance

Grounds maintenance workers mow lawns, rake leaves, trim trees, plant flowers, and perform other tasks to make a pleasant and functional outdoor environment. Grounds workers work for a variety of private and government organizations.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career as a grounds maintenance worker.

Grounds Maintenance Worker Summary

  • Most grounds maintenance workers need no formal education and are trained on the job; however, some workers may require formal education.
  • Occupational characteristics include full-time and part-time jobs, seasonal jobs, physically demanding work, and low earnings.
  • Job opportunities are expected to be good.

Working as a Grounds Maintenance Worker

Grounds maintenance workers perform a variety of tasks necessary to achieve a pleasant and functional outdoor environment. They mow lawns, rake leaves, trim hedges and trees; plant flowers; and otherwise ensure that the grounds of houses, businesses, and parks are attractive, orderly, and healthy. They also care for indoor gardens and plantings in commercial and public facilities, such as malls, hotels, and botanical gardens.

These workers use handtools such as shovels, rakes, pruning and handsaws, hedge and brush trimmers, and axes. They also use power lawnmowers, chain saws, leaf blowers, and electric clippers. Some use equipment such as tractors and twin-axle vehicles.

Grounds maintenance workers can be divided into several specialties, including landscaping workers, groundskeeping workers, pesticide handlers, tree trimmers, and grounds maintenance supervisors. In general, these specialties have varying job duties, but in many cases their responsibilities overlap.

Landscaping workers create new functional outdoor areas and upgrade existing landscapes, but also may help maintain landscapes. Their duties include planting bushes, trees, sod, and other forms of vegetation, as well as, edging, trimming, fertilizing, watering, and mulching lawns and grounds. They also grade property by creating or smoothing hills and inclines, install lighting or sprinkler systems, and build walkways, terraces, patios, decks, and fountains. Landscaping workers provide their services in a variety of residential and commercial settings, such as homes, apartment buildings, office buildings, shopping malls, and hotels and motels.

Groundskeeping workers, also called groundskeepers, usually focus on maintaining existing grounds. In addition to caring for sod, plants, and trees, they rake and mulch leaves, clear snow from walkways and parking lots, and use irrigation methods to adjust water consumption and prevent waste. These individuals work on athletic fields, golf courses, cemeteries, university campuses, and parks, as well as many of the same settings as landscaping workers. They also see to the proper upkeep and repair of sidewalks, parking lots, groundskeeping equipment, pools, fountains, fences, planters, and benches.

Groundskeeping workers who care for athletic fields keep natural and artificial turf in top condition, mark out boundaries, and paint turf with team logos and names before events. They mow, water, fertilize, and aerate the fields regularly. They must make sure that the underlying soil on fields with natural turf has the required composition to allow proper drainage and to support the grasses used on the field. In sports venues, they vacuum and disinfect synthetic turf after its use to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, and they remove the turf and replace the cushioning pad periodically.

Groundskeepers in parks and recreation facilities care for lawns, trees, and shrubs; maintain playgrounds; clean buildings; and keep parking lots, picnic areas, and other public spaces free of litter. They also may erect and dismantle snow fences, and maintain swimming pools. These workers inspect buildings and equipment, make needed repairs, and keep everything freshly painted.

Workers who maintain golf courses are called greenskeepers. Greenskeepers do many of the same things as other groundskeepers, but they also periodically relocate the holes on putting greens to prevent uneven wear of the turf and to add interest and challenge to the game. Greenskeepers also keep canopies, benches, ball washers, and tee markers repaired and freshly painted.

Some groundskeepers specialize in caring for cemeteries and memorial gardens. They dig graves to specified depths, generally using a backhoe. They mow grass regularly, apply fertilizers and other chemicals, prune shrubs and trees, plant flowers, and remove debris from graves.

Pesticide handlers, sprayers, and applicators, vegetation mix herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides and apply them through sprays, dusts, or vapors into the soil or onto plants. Those working for chemical lawn service firms are more specialized, inspecting lawns for problems and applying fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals to stimulate growth and prevent or control weeds, diseases, or insect infestation. Many practice integrated pest-management techniques.

Tree trimmers and pruners, sometimes called arborists, cut away dead or excess branches from trees or shrubs to clear roads, sidewalks, or utilities’ equipment, or to improve the appearance, health, and value of trees. Some specialize in diagnosing and treating tree diseases, and in performing preventive measures to keep trees healthy. Some may plant trees. Some of these workers also specialize in pruning, trimming and shaping ornamental trees and shrubs for private residences, golf courses, or other institutional grounds. Tree trimmers and pruners use handsaws, pole saws, shears, and clippers. When trimming near power lines, they usually work on truck-mounted lifts and use power pruners.

Supervisors of landscaping and groundskeeping workers oversee grounds maintenance work. They prepare cost estimates, schedule work for crews on the basis of weather conditions or the availability of equipment, perform spot checks to ensure the quality of the service, and suggest changes in work procedures. In addition, supervisors train workers; keep employees’ time records and record work performed; and may assist workers when deadlines are near. Supervisors who own their own business are also known as landscape contractors. They also often call themselves landscape designers if they create landscape design plans. Landscape designers also design exterior floral displays by planting annual or perennial flowers. Some work with landscape architects.  Supervisors of workers on golf courses are known as superintendents.

Work environment. Many grounds maintenance jobs are seasonal, available mainly in the spring, summer, and fall, when most planting, mowing, trimming, and cleanup are necessary. Most of the work is performed outdoors in all kinds of weather. It can be physically demanding and repetitive, involving bending, lifting, and shoveling. This occupation offers opportunities for both part-time and full-time work.

According to BLS data, full-time landscaping and groundskeeping workers, tree trimmers and pruners, and the supervisors of these workers experienced a much higher than average rate of work-related injury and illness. Those who work with pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals, as well as dangerous equipment and tools such as power lawnmowers and chain saws, must exercise safety precautions. Workers who use motorized equipment must take care to protect their hearing.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most grounds maintenance workers need no formal education and are trained on the job. However, some workers may require formal education in areas such as landscape design, horticulture, or business management.

Education and training. There usually are no minimum educational requirements for entry-level positions in grounds maintenance. In 2008, most workers had no education beyond high school. A short period of on-the-job training generally is sufficient to teach new hires the necessary skills, which often include planting and maintenance procedures; the operation of mowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, small tractors and other equipment; and proper safety procedures. Large institutional employers such as golf courses or municipalities may supplement on-the-job training with coursework in subjects like horticulture or small engine repair. A bachelor’s degree may be needed for those who want to become specialists.

Supervisors may need a high school diploma, and may receive several months of on-the-job training. Formal training in landscape design, horticulture, arboriculture, or business may improve an applicant’s chances for employment. Landscape designers may be required to obtain such training.

Licensure. Most States require licensure or certification for workers who apply pesticides. Requirements vary but usually include passing a test on the proper use and disposal of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Some States also require that landscape contractors be licensed.

Other qualifications. Employers look for responsible, self-motivated individuals because grounds maintenance workers often work with little supervision. Employers want people who can learn quickly and follow instructions accurately so that time is not wasted and plants are not damaged. Driving a vehicle is often needed for these jobs. If driving is required, preference is given to applicants with a driver’s license, a good driving record, and experience driving a truck.

Certification and advancement. Laborers who demonstrate a proficiency in the work and have good communication skills may advance to crew leader or other supervisory positions. Becoming a grounds manager or landscape contractor may require some formal education beyond high school in addition to several years of experience. Some workers with groundskeeping backgrounds may start their own businesses after several years of experience.

Certification from a professional organization may improve a worker’s chances for advancement. The Professional Grounds Management Society offers voluntary certification to grounds managers who have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant major with at least 4 years of experience, including 2 years as a supervisor; an associate degree in a relevant major with 6 years of experience, including 3 years as a supervisor; or 8 years of experience including 4 years as a supervisor, and no degree. Additionally, candidates for certification must pass two examinations covering subjects such as insects and diseases, soils, trees and shrubs, turf management, irrigation, and budgets and finances. This organization also offers certification for grounds technicians. Candidates for this program must have a high school diploma or GED as well as 2 years of work experience as a grounds technician.

The Professional Landcare Network offers six certifications for individuals with varying levels of experience, in landscaping and grounds maintenance. Each of these programs requires applicants to pass an examination, and some require self-study course work. The Tree Care Industry Association offers five levels of credentials. Currently available credentials include Tree Care Apprentice, Ground Operations Specialist, Tree Climber Specialist, Aerial Lift Specialist and Tree Care Specialist, as well as a certification program in safety. These programs are available to individuals with varying levels of experience, and require applicants to pass training courses.

Employment as a Grounds Maintenance Worker

Grounds maintenance workers held about 1.5 million jobs in 2008. Employment was distributed as follows:

Landscaping and groundskeeping workers 1,205,800
First-line supervisors/managers of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers 217,900
Tree trimmers and pruners 45,000
Pesticide handlers, sprayers, and applicators, vegetation 30,800
Grounds maintenance workers, all other 21,100

About 36 percent of all grounds maintenance workers were employed in companies providing landscaping services to buildings and dwellings. Others worked for educational institutions, public and private. Some were employed by local governments, installing and maintaining landscaping for parks, hospitals, and other public facilities. Around 402,000 grounds maintenance workers were self-employed, providing landscape maintenance directly to customers on a contract basis.

Job Outlook

Employment is expected to grow faster than average, and job opportunities should be good.

Employment change. Employment of grounds maintenance workers is expected to increase by 18 percent during the 2008—18 decade, which is faster than the average for all occupations. In addition, grounds maintenance workers will be among the occupations with largest numbers of new jobs, with around 269,200. More workers will be needed to keep up with increasing demand for lawn care and landscaping services both from large institutions and from individual homeowners.

Major institutions, such as universities and corporate headquarters, recognize the importance of good landscape design in attracting personnel and clients and are expected to continue to use grounds maintenance services to maintain and upgrade their properties. Homeowners are also a growing source of demand for grounds maintenance workers. Many two-income households lack the time to take care of their lawns so they increasingly hire people to maintain them. Also, as the population ages, more elderly homeowners will require lawn care services to help maintain their yards.

Employment of tree trimmers and pruners should grow by 26 percent from 2008-18, which is much faster than the average. In order to improve the environment, municipalities across the country are planting more trees in urban areas, increasing demand for these workers.

Job prospects. Job opportunities are expected to be good. Openings will arise from faster-than-average growth and the need to replace workers who leave this large occupation.

Job opportunities for nonseasonal work are best in regions with temperate climates, where landscaping and lawn services are required all year. Opportunities may vary with local economic conditions.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Grounds maintenance workers 1,520,600 1,789,900 269,200 18
First-line supervisors/managers of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers 37-1012 217,900 250,300 32,400 15
Grounds maintenance workers 37-3000 1,302,700 1,539,500 236,800 18
Landscaping and groundskeeping workers 37-3011 1,205,800 1,422,900 217,100 18
Pesticide handlers, sprayers, and applicators, vegetation 37-3012 30,800 36,300 5,400 18
Tree trimmers and pruners 37-3013 45,000 56,800 11,800 26
Grounds maintenance workers, all other 37-3019 21,100 23,600 2,500 12
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Grounds Maintenance Workers

Wages of grounds maintenance workers are low. Median hourly wages of landscaping and groundskeeping workers were $11.13 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.09 and $14.01 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.98 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $17.57. Median hourly wages in the largest employing industries of landscaping and groundskeeping workers in May 2008 were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools $13.70
Local government 12.65
Services to buildings and dwellings 11.11
Other amusement and recreation industries 10.01
Employment services 9.92

Medial hourly wages of pesticide handlers, sprayers, and applicators, vegetation were $14.31 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.61 and $17.86 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.53 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $21.59. Median hourly wages in the services to buildings and dwellings industry were $14.51 in May 2008.

Median hourly wages of tree trimmers and pruners were $14.41 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.50 and $18.18 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.62 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $22.34. Median hourly wages in the services to buildings and dwellings industry were $14.04 in May 2008.

Median hourly wages of first-line supervisors/manages of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers were $19.19 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $15.22 and $24.90 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12.57 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $31.33. Median hourly wages in the largest employing industries of first-line supervisors/managers of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers in May 2008 were as follows:

Local government $22.84
Other amusement and recreation industries 20.82
Services to buildings and dwellings 18.50

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