By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
You wouldn't knowingly go to an unlicensed doctor or take your taxes to an uncertified accountant. So why trust your landscape to an amateur?
"The lawn-care industry can be anything from a company that employs more than 100 workers to a high school student with a leaf blower and a mower," said Todd Hurt, a training coordinator with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. "You hire a CPA to do your taxes, and you should hire a professional for your landscape needs."
The Georgia Certified Landscape Professional Program was created in 1993 to train landscape contractors statewide. The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Georgia Green Industry Association, Metro Atlanta Landscape and Turfgrass Association and Georgia Turfgrass Association started the program.
More than 150 experts trained
"We now have 170 certified professionals in Georgia who have completed the GCLP training," said Hurt, who administers the program through the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture in Griffin, Ga.
Hurt admits the training program isn't easy. "Participants must study a 300-page reference manual, complete an 18-chapter, online study course and pass written and hands-on exams," he said.
The hands-on parts are taught at the UGA Research and Education Garden in Griffin. "They have to be familiar with more than 270 plants and be able to identify 50 plants during the exam," Hurt said. "They must recognize the plant from its leaves, flowers or fruit. The plant list includes trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers, herbaceous perennials, annuals, weeds and turf grasses."
Participants must also identify pests and know which chemical to use to control them. "They have to show that they know how to properly mix the chemical, too," he said.
Hands-on exams, too
Trainees must successfully complete nine hands-on tasks in demonstration stations. These range from sod installation and proper pruning techniques to grading and drainage.
Despite the intensity of the course, Hurt said landscape professionals are eager to attend and graduate from the program.
"This certification is something to add to their resumes. Many companies are giving automatic raises to employees that become certified," he said. "Our job is to help instill trust in our state's landscapers. And this program does that."
Hurt has seen firsthand how the program creates confidence in its graduates. "They can look their customers in the eye and answer questions and offer solutions with confidence," he said.
Find an expert
So how do you know whether a landscaper is GCLP certified?
Graduates are given a GCLP patch to wear on their uniforms and a logo to use on their company business cards. Their name is also entered into the GCLP graduates computer database.
You can find a GCLP graduate in your area or get more information on the GCLP program by contacting the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture at (770) 233-6107. Or see the program's Web site at http://apps.caes.uga.edu/urbanag/Industry/indexFS.cfm?pg=gclp.