Licensing & Certification for the Green Industry Professional
Green industry professionals work on residential and commercial landscapes, in garden centers and production nurseries, and more. The work can be varied and involve specialized skills in pruning, mowing, irrigation maintenance/installation, pesticide and fertilizer application, etc. Sometimes what begins as a lawn-mowing business can evolve into a more full-service landscaping service. As businesses grow, it isn’t always easy to know which licenses may be required for new services. The decision to add services needs to be made carefully, weighing in the costs of any required licensing and the value of optional professional certification. This article will discuss some benefits of licensing, steps to become licensed, and resources to learn more about voluntary professional certifications. First, let’s look at when a license is required for green industry landscaping professionals working in the state of Florida.
Do I need a license?
Did you know that in order to apply fertilizers or pesticides (including herbicides) commercially (for-hire), you must be licensed in the state of Florida? Commercial pesticide and fertilizer applicators must be licensed.
Per Chapter 482 of the Florida Statutes, commercial (for-hire) fertilizer applicators must have a valid Limited Urban Commercial Fertilizer Applicator Certificate, issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Commercial personnel applying pesticides in yards and other landscaped areas around buildings must either work under the supervision of a licensed Lawn and Ornamental Pest Control Operator, or they must carry their own FDACS Limited Certification as either:
- Lawn & Ornamental, making applications at their own business or their employer’s property; or
- Commercial Landscape Maintenance, making applications to plant beds (not turf) on a for-hire basis.
Please note that pesticide applicators holding Limited Certifications cannot supervise unlicensed applicators. Unless they are working under the supervision of a licensed Lawn and Ornamental Pest Control Operator, the person actually making the pesticide or fertilizer application must be licensed.
Applicators working with restricted-use pesticides on golf courses, upland preserves, right-of-ways, wetlands, or lakes are governed by Chapter 487 of the Florida Statutes. They must hold a FDACS 487 license applicable to the sites in which they work. Alternatively, they may work under the supervision of a 487 license-holder.
What is the value of licensing?
By taking the steps to obtain required licensing, you are investing in your career as a green industry professional and expanding the services you can offer. The average hourly wage in Florida for pest control workers and pesticide handlers/applicators ($17.61) was substantially higher than for regular landscaping and groundskeeping workers ($14.53), based on 2020 estimates available from the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation. The wage difference also exists for entry-level and experienced workers. Assuming an average of 2,000 hours worked yearly, the average wage differential ($3.08) would represent about $6,160 greater annual income ($3.08/hr x 2,000 hrs/year) for the licensed pesticide applicators, compared to the regular landscaping workers.
Licensing demonstrates to your clientele that you are a responsible and knowledgeable professional. In a 2020 study by UF/IFAS Extension Martin County, the majority of our survey respondents valued licensing, as well as certifications. Licensed commercial lawn and ornamental pesticide applicators must carry insurance, a layer of protection for clientele and your business. Licensed applicators have demonstrated knowledge of best practices to protect people and the environment from the harmful effects of misapplied fertilizers and pesticides. After obtaining their license, green industry professionals (i.e., landscapers, pesticide/fertilizer applicators, etc.) are required to stay current with research, through continuing education. Professionals continually develop their skills to:
- Use pesticides and fertilizers safely;
- Apply Integrated Pest Management and Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM practices to keep plants healthy and avoid excessive use of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation;
- Identify common pests and how to most effectively treat them;
- Understand how irrigation, fertilization, pruning, mowing and other landscape practices affect plant health and pest levels; and
- Protect our water resources.
How can I get licensed?
First, consult the publication, Finding the Correct Pesticide Applicator License in Florida. This handy guide can help you determine which license applies to your work, find out what is needed in order to qualify for the license, determine which exams are required, and locate exam study materials. You can also reach out to your local UF/IFAS Extension office or the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for assistance. Once you have determined which license you need, you can use the guide or other resources to:
- Check for license prerequisites, including any required work experience, and take the steps needed to meet the prerequisites.
- Determine which study materials are recommended for your license. Most study guides can be purchased through the UF/IFAS Bookstore.
- See if training is listed as a prerequisite to your license. Whether you are seeking required or optional exam prep training, reach out to your local UF/IFAS Extension office for help finding a class.
- Determine which exam(s) are required for your license. Then, use the statewide online Pesticide Certification Exam system to apply for and schedule the required exam(s). Available exam sites and upcoming dates are posted on the website under “Testing Centers and Schedules”. Some exam prep classes will also offer an opportunity for attendees to take the exam after class. Your Extension Agent will be able to provide details on available classes.
What about voluntary professional certifications?
Many landscape professionals choose to expand their credentials through professional certifications offered by the Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM Program, FNGLA, International Society of Arborists, Irrigation Association, and other industry organizations. To learn more about the certifications, who they are for, and what they require, check out the links provided above.