Tips for Working in a Plant Nursery in New Zealand

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Greetings from New Zealand! Are you considering working in a plant nursery during your stay in this beautiful country? Well, let me share with you the various job scopes and my personal experience working in a plant nursery. I’ve already completed six weeks of work and still have another six weeks to go to fulfill the 12-week horticulture/viticulture requirement for a visa extension.

To be honest, I haven’t made up my mind about the extension yet because it’s quite expensive, but I’d rather have the option open than regret it later. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that most people I’ve met here have extended their visas or are planning to. There’s just something about New Zealand that makes it hard to leave.

Now, let’s talk about the job scope in a plant nursery. I won’t mention the company’s name to maintain privacy, but they are one of the well-known plant nursery brands in New Zealand, selling their plants to stores like Warehouse and Bunnings.

Working in a plant nursery is tough. On my first day, I almost wanted to quit after just two hours. I was required to squat and kneel, doing one of the toughest jobs right from the beginning. However, after speaking to two other working holiday visa girls who had already worked three months in the nursery, they confirmed that this was indeed the toughest job they had encountered. I even wrote about my frustrations and pain in my Week 3 update on my blog.

But I persevered because I didn’t have many options, and finding jobs during winter is extremely difficult (I have another blog post about this). The advantage of working in a large plant nursery is that you may be rotated to different tasks and supervisors. This means you’ll be working different parts of your body, and it gives you the opportunity to meet and get to know more people.

Let’s dive into the list of job duties I’ve encountered during my time in the plant nursery:

Unloading

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This involves moving planter trays containing hundreds of seedlings from a rack to the floor. Depending on the layout rules of your glasshouse, you may have to squat or bend down to align the trays properly. This task can involve doing hundreds of squats in a day. Sometimes, you may be required to bend your back instead of squatting to be more efficient. Personally, I prefer squatting as it feels like a better posture and provides more of a workout. The trays can be heavy, so it’s important to figure out how to balance them on your palm to avoid palm or finger pain. It’s a physically demanding job, but you can chat with your colleagues while you work.

Grafting

Grafting is one of the more enjoyable tasks, especially in the beginning, as it’s mostly a sitting job. Grafting involves connecting one plant to another plant’s roots to create stronger and bigger plants. However, after about 30 minutes, your fingers, hands, and back will start to ache from the repetitive actions. It requires good hand-eye coordination and speed. The posture, similar to working in an office, can be bad for your back and neck as you’ll be looking down most of the time.

Transplanting

Transplanting involves transferring seedlings from planter trays to individual pots that will eventually be sold. Depending on where you are in the production line, you may also be responsible for grading the seedlings, picking out the good ones and eliminating any small, weak, rotten, or abnormal ones. This job doesn’t require much physical effort, except for hand-eye coordination, shoulder movement, and standing for long periods. There’s also a chance to earn more than your hourly rate if you’re on piece rate and working efficiently.

Spacing

Spacing is usually done for plants like tomatoes that require tender loving care. It involves arranging plant cubes or sponges in a neat and orderly pattern on the floor. This job requires a lot of bending and squatting, which many people don’t enjoy.

Pinching/Sticking/Clipping

These tasks are specific to tomatoes. Pinching involves choosing the better growth shoots and cutting away the weaker ones. Sticking requires inserting sticks into the foam to support the growing plants, and clipping involves using clips to join the plants to the stick. These tasks often involve bending and walking down tight lanes of tomatoes. It can be physically challenging and uncomfortable.

Loading

Loading can be similar to the job description of an “Order Picker” that I had originally applied for. I imagined myself packing small pots of strawberries, parsley, and daisies neatly for customers. However, I quickly realized that our customers were large corporations like Bunnings and Warehouse, and we were dealing with hundreds and thousands of the same species. This job involves kneeling/squatting/low-sitting on the ground, doing quality checks, grouping the plants, and loading them onto carts for shipment. It can be physically demanding and cause leg cramps.

Washing & Dumping

Washing and dumping are relatively easy tasks. Most of the time, you won’t have to think much. You’ll either put trays into a machine or retrieve cleaned trays from the machine and place them on pallets. Another task is dipping trays into a concentrate to eliminate bacteria and viruses. Dumping involves slamming trays onto skip bins to remove soil and removing sticker labels from the trays.

Weeding

At times, you may be assigned the task of removing weeds from the planter trays. Weeds are persistent and always find a way to grow, sometimes even better than the main plants. This job is relatively relaxed, and you may be seated in an isolated corner where you can listen to music, chat with colleagues, or simply take it easy. It’s more of a time-filler task than a critical duty.

That’s how I survived nine weeks in the plant nursery. I’ve now moved on to my next job in New Zealand, but I’ll be sharing more about that in my future updates. If you’re looking for jobs to extend your visa, good luck, and feel free to recommend anything you have in mind. I still need to complete three more weeks!

I hope this post gives you a better understanding of what it’s like to work in a plant nursery in New Zealand. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. And if you’re passionate about gardening like me, don’t forget to check out Tips Tree Planting for more helpful articles and advice.

Happy planting!

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