Horticulture and landscape students will compete head to head at Colorado State University alongside industry experts and local FFA chapters.
Photo courtesy of NALP

The Rocky Mountains will be the backdrop for hands-on learning, networking and friendly competition this year as the 43rd Annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition kicks off at Colorado State University. The event, which takes place March 20-23, offers college students the chance to show off their skills and rub elbows with industry professionals and suppliers.

CSU has hosted the event four times, and CSU professor Zach Johnson says they’re fortunate to welcome students to the campus once again.

“It’s exciting to be able to show the profession and the industry what we do in Colorado and also what we do specifically at Colorado State University,” Johnson says. “It’s one of these things where you want to demonstrate how proud you are of what you’ve done, what you’ve built and the students that you’re preparing on a daily basis.”

At CSU, Johnson teaches students in the Landscape Design and Contracting program, but the university offers several other hort-related trajectories as well. Programs range from a heavy focus on the business of the industry to sports turf management and landscape design. Six design studios are also available to the students on campus.

Hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, the NCLC focuses on harboring the talents of the green industry’s next generation. This year at CSU, competitors will be tasked with a series of landscape, hardscape, tree care and irrigation challenges.

Moving from state to state each year means there’s a variation in the challenges due to the types of plants and materials that are available in each region.

“Last year it was in North Carolina and that was more of what we might call a southern state in terms of the plant material, the location and the weather. This year in Colorado, it will be different to that extent,” Johnson says.

NALP has once again invited local FFA groups to join the horticulture students as part of the industry career initiative.

“Some of these students have been in school since they were 4 years old and this is the end game.” Zach johnson, professor, CSU

The FFA members are high school students, and the winning Nursery/Landscape CDE (Career Development Event) teams from National FFA Convention and Expo are invited to compete alongside college teams.

Other local FFA groups are invited along with their advisers to network with peers and get a glimpse into the potential opportunities the industry has to offer. “It’s really eye-opening for these students,” says Jenn Myers, director of workforce development for NALP.

The competition is also home to a career fair catered specifically to horticulture and green industry jobs. This year, Johnson estimates more than 100 companies from all over the country will be present at the career fair.

“The career fair does a multitude of things,” he says. “At the basic level, it allows students to go through and talk to companies and learn about the profession and internships are a big part of this. I would say the vast majority of companies that will be part of the career fair will be offering internship opportunities.”

For many participating in the event, this is the “end of the road” as far as their education goes. Plenty of them are seniors with their sights set on graduation and finding employment.

“Some of these students have been in school since they were 4 years old and this is the end game,” Johnson says. “They graduate and move on and they get a job and this is a chance for students to look at opportunities all across the nation in everything from basic design/build and landscape management to a horticulture and water management and really everything in between.”