Get Ready, Get Set, Grow!

BYU hosted the National Collegiate Landscape Competition this spring.
Here's a look inside the event.

It’s an extraordinarily bright Friday afternoon in Provo and the majority of BYU students are enjoying a day off classes. For a swarming group of motivated outdoor and plant enthusiasts, however, BYU campus is the place to be. Why? For the first time since 2006, BYU is hosting the National Collegiate Landscape Competition. This competition is a way to showcase months of preparation for students like Adam Hastriter. With a clipboard and magnifying glass in his hand, the landscape management major competes with students from across the country in identifying both the common and scientific names of tables upon tables of turf and weed samples. It would be safe to say this unsuspecting room in the Harman Building has never seemed so important.

For those unfamiliar with the world of competitive landscaping, this annual three-day event may sound somewhat esoteric. After all, how do you compete in Irrigation Troubleshooting or Woody Ornamental Plant Identification? What these people also may not know is that the National Collegiate Landscape Competition is the largest national competition and career recruitment event for college students studying horticulture and landscaping. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal. Not only does the competition allow landscape industry companies to recruit up-and-coming landscapers, but it also provides opportunities for students to learn, gain official certification, build camaraderie and showcase their talents. This year, the event featured 29 individual competitions with approximately 850 participants from 60 four-year institutions and two-year community colleges.

Hosted for the first time in 1977 at Mississippi State University, the event has since grown exponentially, and now features competitions ranging from Business Management to Arboriculture Techniques to Computer Aided Landscape Design. Although these titles may not seem exciting for some, don’t be fooled; Arboriculture Techniques, for example, includes a competition in tree climbing, a guaranteed crowd favorite. Based on individual and team performance in the different events, a single university is designated the overall champion. In addition, an individual student—regardless of his or her university—is essentially deemed the number one collegiate landscaper in the nation. For those with competitive zeal, the event is a great way to engage in the learning process. Marco Crosland, a landscape management major from Preston, Idaho, says, “I have always enjoyed a little competition and NCLC is a wonderful way to demonstrate the skills that I have been developing in my classes.”

In order to represent their respective institutions, students spend considerable time preparing for their events. To compete as a BYU student, your major doesn’t matter. Nevertheless, most BYU competitors study landscape management or environmental science. Landscape management students benefit from hands-on preparation by working on BYU Grounds Crew as part of a required class for the major. Other classes include projects such as 25 hours of pruning experience and seemingly endless hours of deck installation—all of which indirectly prepare students to compete in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition. During the event, students also participate in workshops hosted by various industry leaders. This year, workshops covered topics such as Environmental Sustainability, Small Engine Repair and 3D Exterior Landscape Design.

While competing students come from diverse backgrounds, all seem to have something in common: the constant itch to be outside. Kira Magnusson, a BYU student from California studying landscape management, says, “We hate being inside. We are always the ones by the window and we want to get outside as fast as we can.” Fellow student Ellie Gillett chose landscape management because she loves to “beautify the areas around [her]” but also because she knows she can make a decent living doing what she fell in love with as a child. In fact, the chronic workforce shortage in the landscape industry offers BYU landscape management majors plenty of opportunity post-graduation in terms of industry, location and hours. The discipline also provides students the flexibility to customize their career path. While some students may hope to open a floral shop, for example, others may want to start their own landscaping company or pursue a graduate degree. The event’s career fair provides an environment where students can meet professionals and explore career possibilities across the nation. According to Gillett, “Networking is huge in this event and has provided countless opportunities for me and my fellow students.”

It was a privilege for BYU to host the competition, as hosting provides ease of participation for local students and affords many of them the opportunity to network with industry professionals. On the other hand, the diversity of location of the event allows students from other universities to gain experience in a different environment. Although it certainly isn’t easy to host the event, the competition provides the host university and surrounding community with invaluable exposure to the national world of landscape. In addition to being exposed to the host location’s horticultural environment, visiting participants are thus also exposed to the location’s people and culture. Taylor Jolley, a student from Orem, Utah, studying landscape management, says, “This is an incredible opportunity for BYU. This industry is full of people who have never had interactions with the [LDS] Church. It is great that they are able to be exposed to our members, as well as the culture here in Provo. Also, we have [one of] the top programs in the nation in landscape management, so this is a great way for people to observe how we run our program here.”

This year, it appears BYU students’ extensive preparation paid off: after three days of mingling, competing, and constantly hydrating, BYU was crowned the overall winner of the competition, taking home the coveted first-place trophy and $5,000 prize. Having taken fifth place last year, BYU successfully edged out the reigning champion, Michigan State University. Of course, for the students who participated, the competition is about more than just bragging rights. The experience gained, the contagious school spirit and the beginnings of the quintessential landscaper farmer’s tan provide the students with lasting memories and BYU with continued recognition. Crosland says, “This competition is truly amazing. It has helped students and professionals of the landscape industry in so many ways. Connections have been built, dreams created and opportunities revealed. Hosting NCLC at BYU is a privilege. [It allows BYU] to give back to the industry, show others the professionalism and spirit of BYU and involves as many students in this life-changing experience [as possible].”