Development and early assessment of an organic land care extension program for landscapers

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SUMMARY. This article presents findings from the first 3 years of implementing an organic land care training program for landscapers, including landscaper attitudes, lessons learned, and the potential role of extension. Results of a needs assessment as well as discussions with organic practitioners provided evidence that New Jersey lacked in-depth training needed to assist practitioners in determining acceptable practices when offering organic services to their clientele. As a result, Rutgers University convened an organic land care working group and developed a certificate program for professionals with the long-term goal of promoting healthy soil, enhancing biodiversity, and reducing polluted runoff from managed landscapes. Thus far the program has been attended by 63 landscapers with 48 fulfilling the program requirements. Follow-up surveys with participants of the first 2 years showed that 38% of the 1163 acres (470.6 ha) under their management are either in transition or have been completely converted to organic management. Respondents reported a significant decrease in use of synthetic fertilizers and significant increase in use of organic fertilizer. Median synthetic pesticide usage decreased by 40%. Respondents reported since attending the program they were more effective at a number of practices including removing invasives and installing native plants, installing rain gardens, reducing stormwater runoff, and reducing irrigation. Focusing on the science, patience in transitioning, and understanding there are no “one size fits all” organic programs have been important lessons learned by experienced practitioners. Clientele acceptance, product efficacy, and finding skilled staff were cited as consistent challenges. These results indicate that extension can play a lead role in conducting applied research and providing relevant, effective educational programming for landscapers in the organic land care field.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)89-96
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Horticulture


  • Best management practices
  • Compost
  • Integrated pest management
  • Native plants
  • Natural
  • Sustainable landscaping
  • Turfgrass


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