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Average Salary: $30,860

Expected Lifetime Earnings: $1,288,000

Gardeners see quite a bit of green at work, but not on their paychecks. Landscape maintenance is one of the least lucrative of the horticultural industries. Yes, a few landscape maintenance companies do rather well, and rake in a bit of money while raking leaves. These successful businesses often provide benefits for their employees. Most landscape maintenance companies though are rather mediocre, only making good money for those who own the businesses. Oh, Capitalism, you merciless beast.

The industry is loaded with cheap competition. It is hard to compete with those who settle for minimum wage without benefits. Because we currently have an economy that has rotted more than an unwatered fern, most customers are going to stick with what is cheapest. Those who take their work seriously and want to get paid adequately for it are at a serious disadvantage.

Those starting out must often settle for minimum wage until they get through their probationary period, when they get an insulting token pay raise from minimum wage to minimum wage plus a few cents. After several years, with minimal token pay raises every six months or so, gardeners are lucky if they are earning as much as an insurance agent’s secretary. Employers that pay enough for a slightly better lifestyle early on are rather rare. If you are fortunate to hook up with one of these, hold on and never let go. Unless they tell you their leg is cramping, in which case you may want to loosen your grip.

After gaining considerable experience, gardeners can eventually earn $25k or so annually. It takes many more years to earn $30k or more. Only the most valuable employees, like account managers and certified arborists, make much more than this. College educated horticulturists can make upwards of $55k at the more reputable businesses, but rarely earn what they are worth. There is simply not much money in plants and flowers, which is surprising when you consider how much one can pay for wedding florals.

We hope you and these flowers will be very happy together.

The exceptions are those who score the most desirable jobs at big gardens and parks, or work for municipalities. They earn the best rates of pay, often exceeding $55k in a few years for recent college graduates. The benefits are also much better here. Business owners can earn a decent living if their businesses are successful. Just like the cheap laborers they hire, they also need to compete with the cheapness of the collective industry. It is hard to market real professionalism when no one takes gardening seriously anymore. Although it is tough to keep a straight face when looking at a voodoo lily.

There are landscape maintenance companies out there trying to capitalize on all sorts of trends, but they often get lost in the crowd. Gardening with natives is a great concept, but clients are stubborn and resistant to change; they really do not want anything different from what they are familiar with, even if it would work better. Drought tolerant landscapes, xeriscaping, sustainable gardening, and low maintenance gardening are likewise all good ideas (except that they do not need gardeners as much), but are hard to sell. There have been way too many trends that did not work in the past…not because they were bad ideas, but because the ideas were not executed properly by the landscape professionals (or unprofessionals, whatever the case may be) marketing them. Gardening, like so many other horticultural industries, really needs a good shot of professionalism to restore respect for those who do it.

Most people in the other horticultural industries do not mind the low pay so much because the work is so enjoyable. However, landscape maintenance is not quite as enjoyable as other horticultural work, and is actually less lucrative. One of those lose-lose situations we’re always hoping to find ourselves in. Yes, it has its advantages. However, it can be too degrading, monotonous, and unrewarding for real professionals. Those determined to enjoy gardening really need to make their own way and do something different from what everyone else is doing. Like the first moon garden, or a house made out of hedges. Okay, not quite that different.