National Collegiate Landscape Competition

01 The Announcement
Cincinnati State beat Michigan State and Colorado State 

Alumni among our readers will enjoy a shout-out to the Horticulture Club over at Cincinnati State, who competed at the National Collegiate Landscaping Competition. The event began in 1977 between the professors of Mississippi State, Michigan State, and Ohio State to see whose students were the most talented. Today, it has grown into an industry event with more than 64 schools, 844 competitors, and major sponsorships from big names. This year, Cincinnati State posted their best ranking in over two decades, fourth place, beating out powerhouses like Colorado State and Michigan State. “It felt pretty good,” said Nathan McCain, a Cincinnati student.

Cincinnati bested a number of big schools but this is more than simply a grip-and-grin story with a hearty slap-on-the-back for a job well done. Instead, we want to focus on why these students chose horticulture, how local companies assisted in their success, and how the full event—the training and competition—reaffirmed their career decisions. 

02 Team Cincinnati
Cincinnati State celebrates in orange “Got Milkweed?” t-shirts designed by student Kat Meza


Well, you set up events centered on specific tasks, and you make them difficult. Some events are team-driven, like irrigation or arboriculture or business management, and some events challenge individuals, like plant identification or computer-aided design. Some events require study materials; some events involve practice on machinery. The competition tests a gamut of real world experience, but it also works as an eye-opener with a job fair, industry mixers, and an opening ceremony. Experts in the field from industry giants like Stihl and John Deere form the panel of judges.

Schools collect points by fielding as many events as possible. Bigger teams have an advantage, but up to a point. Each event allows only one, two, or three students from each school, so doing well across a broad spectrum is crucial. Once points are totaled up, the schools are ranked. Students’ scores are also tallied. They participate in a maximum of five events, but all five are not required. Kids going for superstar status try to do their best for the full five, which sets a grueling schedule. Bragging rights are baked into the competition.

03 It Begins
Two students practice hardscape installation at Werbrich’s Landscaping (Miamitown)—more important than donations, Kevin Werbrich helps 30+ students learn how to operate skid loaders and master other installation skills

Each year, Cincinnati State enters someone into each and every field. The school can capture the maximum possible points this way, but the strategy is not guaranteed. Eight of the events have pre-qualifying exams, and only a select few pass on to the actual competition. Here, hard work paid off. They began training back in December when the Horticulture Club selected participants. “We chose to put someone into every event,” said student Lynn Lorio, “and we passed every pre-qualifying event. That was a celebration in and of itself.”

The achievement meant that Cincinnati had its full team deployed on the field with all their participants pulling for top ranking.

08 Lynn Lorio
Lynn Lorio receives the TruGreen Environmental Scholarship—the staff and facilities at the Cincinnati Zoo, Spring Grove Cemetary, and Boone County Aboretum helped her with plant identification and individual study

#05 out of 844 students / 3rd place Annual and Perennial Plant Identification / #08 Interior Plant Identification / #09 Employee Development (2-person team) / TruGreen Environmental Scholarship winner

Lynn is an older student, a career-switcher. Her previous field was Sports Medicine with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, but she found the work unsatisfying and took up gardening to balance the stress. Three years ago, she made the decision to go back to school. “Oh, wow! There is a career filled with plants,” she exclaimed when she browsed the Cincy web site. She left her corporate job and will receive her Hort degree in December.

“I now know 200+ plants by sight and memory, and I can apply that knowledge at my current job at the Cincinnati Zoo,” Lynn told us. She works in the production house and reports that her boss pulls her aside to explain how the garden designs work at the Botanical Gardens. She also uses her Plant ID skills at the Imago Earth Center, which rehabilitates 16 acres of urban land within Cincinnati. Lynn also practices her work at home, growing some phlox, serviceberry, apples and a pear tree, blackberries, bee balm, and asclepias. She likes what plants bring to life—herbal, medicinal, wildlife, and food—and reports that she is much happier.

04 Mental
Joe Muldoon competes in Irrigation Design—all the events stress strong mental skills in math, science, and problem-solving; eight of them require pre-qualifying exams

#15 out of 844 students / #03 in Irrigation Design / #10 in Wood Construction (3-person team)

“To be honest, the first team to finish almost never wins,” Joe said when describing his experience in the Irrigation Assembly event. He and teammate Brad Miller were given a plan, parts, and tools. “They judge you on accuracy. They make sure all the cuts are the right lengths, you’ve got everything up to spec, and that your water is actually spraying the way it is supposed to.”

Joe is passionate about the green industry, but it was a different story two years ago. He thought about getting out of the business. “I would have gotten a job doing something else.” Although he enjoyed the work, he was not certain he could make a good living, or make a difference. Last year’s participation in the Landscape Competition changed his mind, and this year’s success re-confirmed it. He points to all the examples of successful people and careers at the shows, along with the enthusiasm of the students who attended.

“I tell people that I study horticulture and I am going to be a landscaper and they tell me, ‘Really? Do you think you can do anything with that? Will you be able to support your family with that?’ and I say, ‘Yeah, I know I can. I’ve seen people who have, and I know what kind of success I will be able to have.’”

07 Judging Irrigation
A judge evaluates one of the irrigation installations during competition—Cincinnati State placed well in three irrigation events and landscape lighting because of Sean Mullarkey of Tri-State Waterworks, who worked with four teams covering five events

Joe cited the important help and inspiration he got from Sean Mullarkey of Tri-State Waterworks. “They showed us the basics of irrigation, practicing with glueing and cutting. They brought in all the tools and pieces so we could practice on them, and they showed us how to do it. They drew up a practice plan somewhat similar to what we would see and said, ‘Can you put this together?’ and they helped us figure it out.”

Joe and Kat also got support from Joe Shaw and Rick Hannah from Davey Tree in Milford for the Arboriculture competition. They donated equipment and showed the team how to throw lines and climb around safely. Joe currently works through the co-op program at Holscher and Hackman, a garden center with a landscape operation on the west side of Cincinnati. He’s interested in bridging the two through landscape design, but he feels his future is open. Right now, “I like what my boss tells me to like,” he says.

06 Skill
Terry Gillam levels out paving stone during the Hardscape Competition

#03 in Small Engine Troubleshooting / #05 in Wood Construction (2-person team)

Nathan points out that he had never worked with small engines before, so placing third in the nation meant “I felt pretty good that I could put my mind to something. I could put in the effort to learn it and make it happen.” Ken Morrison and the staff at Bryan Equipment (Loveland) provided training support. “We went out to their training center and we broke down a few blowers. He showed me the checklist and gave me some resources to study,” said Nathan. “As far as small engines go, that aspect really, really helped me. I felt pretty confident about what I knew.”

Nathan began last year after a pause in his college career. He started in mechanical engineering and did a year in IT, but he did not find them satisfying. Why horticulture? “It speaks to me. I feel I can do something worthwhile that is beneficial to the ecosystem and the people around me. Food production is something I am particularly interested in.” He points out that the field is pretty large, so there is no lack of opportunity.

13 Dorothy Woodbury
Dorothy Woodbury plans her electrical runs for outdoor lighting—Sean’s excellent training and her meticulous care garnered a second place ranking nationally; she is proud that she now has these skills

#02 in Landscape Lighting

Dorothy was an actress at the beginning of her career. She looked around for seasonal jobs to match the seasonal nature of her gigs, but she discovered that she really likes landscape work and decided to go back to school. She is especially interested in green roofs and the impact of plants on the public welfare. Rose Seeger of Green City Resources gave her a lot of guidance in school and coursework.

For the competition, Sean at Tri-State Waterworks helped her learn the basics of outdoor lighting: skills, tools, and safety procedures. Dorothy augmented her learning with online courses and any other lighting information she could find on the web. She credits the broad base of knowledge for giving her the confidence to complete the task well. “The judges really want you to be thoughtful, thorough, and detail-oriented.” She was among the last to finish, but her cords were tucked away, the stakes were hammered all the way down, and the lights went off at the right time.

Now Dorothy thinks that acting will be the side gig to her career in green goods. She has another year to go, but she is already promoting horticulture to her acting friends as a great industry with good jobs.

05 Physical
Joe Shaw and Rick Hannah of the Davey Tree Expert Company (Milford) helped the arboriculture team practice their skills during team retreats; Davey Tree annually grants Arbor Day scholarships to individual students


All the competitors discussed the impact of the Landscape Competition on their attitude toward the green industry. “Just seeing how broad the field is, it really inspires me to see what all there is out there,” said Nathan. “Kind of opened my eyes.”

Joe feels “the biggest thing for me coming out of the week is that I am really fired up to do what I love with the landscaping industry. I know that there is actually a future, and I have a career.” Lynn pointed to the passion of the people in the Horticulture Department as well. “They care and want to see us do well.”

10 Team Sponsors

We know that passion is shared by the business community and we recognize the names on the back of the sponsorship t-shirt. Linda Schaffeld is the Dean for Business Technologies, who also attended the event. Steve Knizner graduated from the program and now works for the Cincinnati Parks. He loves to tweet “this is my office today” while standing in one of the city’s parks. Rose Seeger of Green City Resources talks to students about stormwater management. Many of these businesses helped to replace lost material when the greenhouse cooling system failed last August. They also participate in the co-op program, or hire graduates from the program.

12 2019 NCLC Team


Front Row, left to right
Lynn Lorio, Heather Augustine (instructor), Dasha Ferguson,
Linda Schaffeld (Dean of the Business Technologies Division), Dorothy Woodbury, Hannah Carter

Second Row, left to right
Tim McDowell, Jackson Hamann, Kathy Mountain, Kat Meza,
Jacob Melvin, Chloe Paul, Jonathan Heflin, Rachel Stothfang, Austin Mobley

Third Row, left to right
Mark Deacon (instructor/program chair), Brian Walsh, Jack Schaefer, Ed Atkinson, Nathan McKain,
Brad Miller, Dan Vidourek, Cara Robinson, Brian Hooten (cooperative education coordinator),
Joe Muldoon, Kelly Wanstrath (greenhouse manager and faculty)

09 Rocky Mountain
The team had a chance to visit the Rocky Mountains and the Denver Botanical Garden while out in Colorado; the Horticultural Department accepts all ages—one of these kids is in her 50s


The glue that holds everything together is the Horticulture Department at Cincinnati State, which has ensured their participation in the competition for the past twenty years. Mark Deacon, the Program Chair, states, “Our program is very hands-on, so we use co-op agreements with area businesses to explore the career possibilities offered by the region.”

The NALP competition allows students to see that Cincinnati also plays on the national stage. “They meet other enthusiastic students, build friendships and networks, and connect with businesses who will become their peers or suppliers or customers. They see how they can make their mark on a national level if they want,” said Mark. Blended together, “the students see how the science, technology, biology, and chemistry work together to connect to real-world problems they get to solve. The intersection between class work, sports competition, and job opportunities turns out to be a really healthy mix for our students. They get good results in their lives, and those results are the ones we like to see.”

“I’ve heard multiple times that people in this field are not as cutthroat as other business fields,” said Nathan. “People are willing to help out, share information, share success and it was pretty evident from the competition. It felt like everyone there was invested in all of us having successful careers. It’s a very collegial atmosphere that really helps the green industry move along.”

11 Obstacle Course
Our favorite event: The Truck and Trailer Obstacle Course—it is the opposite of this year’s Daytona 500 in several ways


  • To see how all the Cincinnati State competitors did here is a PDF from the competition.
  • To see how your school stacked up against the others, or who did well in a competition you once entered, this page organizes the results by event or by school. You will also see a button for a photo gallery.
  • To support our local team, get involved in the co-op program, or provide support for the curriculum speak with Mark Deacon, the Chair of the Horticultural Landscape Technology Program at 513-569-1644 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This page talks about the Landscape program in general.
  • To get involved at the national level, this page spells out how to do so. If you are serious, you need to talk to Jessica (scroll down) at 703.429.4186. The next event will be held at Michigan State in March.
  • If you want to see who is behind the NALP, here is the Board of Directors.