California Native Plant Society

CNPS Certified Native Landscape Specialist (CNLS) Program

Times are changing. Stay successful.
The drought is here and you'll be in great demand as a CNL Specialist.

California Native Landscape Professional Certification Public agencies, businesses, and private clients all need reliable professionals to design, install and maintain their water-thrifty landscapes. This all-native, 30-acre Reata Park belongs to the City of San Juan Capistrano and was established in 2013.

With the CNLS program, you'll learn all the basic principles you need to succeed with California native plants. Plus, we'll help you market your business and yourself as a Certified Specialist.

CNL Specialists know how to:

  • Create and maintain beautiful, thriving outdoor environments
  • Save water, time and money for their clients
  • Succeed with a broad range of landscape types
  • Protect the health of our communities through responsible landscaping practices

All information is subject to change. Please sign up for email updates to stay informed.


Get certified in 2 steps

Complete classwork

  • Class schedule TBD
  • Choose your certification level: CNLS-1 or CNLS-2
  • Classes will be offered in multiple locations throughout California
  • Dates, times, locations will be announced through CNPS, all state/water agencies, professional organizations (CLCA, PAPA, DPR, etc.) and other CNPS partners
  • Curriculum includes 8 sections; there will be quizzes and evaluations along the way
  • Each class will involve hands-on training, and memorizing most popular and commonly used native landscaping plants in your region

Curriculum Sections

  1. Overview & Leveraging Your CNPS Certification
  2. Introduction
  3. Soils
  4. Watering Principles
  5. Site Preparation
  6. Installation
  7. Early Establishment & Maintenance
  8. Troubleshooting & Case Histories

Take the final test

  • Final test will be offered 1 week after class is completed
  • All classwork must be completed before taking final test
  • If you work as a landscape contractor or maintenance gardener, you must have a Qualified Applicator Certificate (QAC) issued by the Department of Pesticide Regulation, Category B or Maintenance Gardener Q (or have an application in process) before taking the exam
  • All students from each class take the final test together in a location to be announced
  • Final test is pass/fail
  • Any failed test section can be retaken once
  • Once you pass your final test, we will mail your CNPS Landscaper Certification card to you

You're certified!

  • Use your CNLS card to assure clients and employers of your knowledge and skills in native plant landscaping
  • Your CNLS is valid for 3 years
  • Create an online profile at as a marketing page
  • We will incorporate your marketing page into our publicly searchable database of native landscape professionals on Calscape

Stay certified

  • Recertification is required after 3 years with continuing education classes (details coming)
  • Continuing education classes can also be applied to other professional certifications and designations (CLCA, DPR, Master Gardeners, etc.

Certificación en Español Pronto vendrá mas información


Frequently asked questions:

Why is native landscaping so important in California?

  • Native landscaping uses 50%-100% less water than conventional landscaping. At least 60% of our potable water ends up on the ground for landscaping, and natives are an ideal way to meet (and exceed) Gov. Brown's mandatory 25% water use cuts.
  • Native landscapes need little to no pesticides. The average gardener uses 20 times more pesticides than the average farmer. Excessive and incorrect pesticide use can be harmful to our health, the health of our children and pets, and the environment.
  • Native landscapes promote soil health and permeability. In contrast to landscapes that are dependent on imported water and chemical fertilizers, properly planned and well managed native landscapes promote chemical free landscapes. They support healthy soils and reduce pollution in urban runoff. Pollution from urban runoff is California's number one source of river and ocean pollution.
  • Native plants promote the health of beneficial animals better than non-natives. The future of our edible gardens depends on healthy pollinators. Native pollinators are the most effective, and they thrive best in native environments.
  • California native landscapes celebrate California's uniqueness. We owe our enviable "California lifestyle" to our wonderful climate. Also thanks to our climate, we have a wonderfully diverse palette of native plants. It's time to express our pride in their beauty and benefits to the world by embracing them in our landscapes.

Who can get certified?
Anyone can get certified as long as they fulfill the requirements. In particular, we recommend the following groups:

  • Landscape contractors: large and small companies, owners and workers
  • Independent maintenance gardeners
  • Staff maintenance gardeners: such as for school districts, nurseries, public agencies
  • Landscape architects and designers: basic native plant horticulture can guide you to use best practices for designs that result in healthier landscapes
  • Public agency and water district educational staff

Is any previous experience required?
We recommend that you have some basic knowledge of landscaping techniques, but professional landscaping experience is not necessary.

Where can I use my certification?
Your certification will be recognized throughout all of California. The CNLS Program is a statewide program with one standardized curriculum. View our list of partners below to see what major entities are already waiting to employ CNL Specialists.

California Native Landscape Professional Certification Built on fill dirt, this yard refused to support plants of any kind. The designer patiently coaxed it to life with natives and it's now a paradise haven for the owners and a thriving habitat for hundreds of beneficial animals.

How can the CNLS Program help me succeed?
You will be able to take advantage of a growing demand for native landscapes and have greater client appeal based on your ability to:

  • Succeed with all types of landscape plants, above and beyond natives
  • Confidently recommend and implement environmentally sustainable landscaping practices that benefit your and your clients' health
  • Save water and other resources for your clients
  • Fulfill any potential contract requirements calling for verification of native landscaping qualifications
  • Advise on basic design principles for environmentally responsible landscaping

Plus, you will be able to take advantage of CNPS resources that include a job board, your profile in our statewide publicly searchable database, and marketing through our extensive network of state/regional partners and 35 chapters.

Who is creating the curriculum?

  • Chris Soltis: Owner of Soltis Landscapes
  • Ellen Mackey: Senior ecologist & co-author of Care and Maintenance manual
  • Frank Simpson: Landscape consultant & instructor at UCLA Extension, Landscape Architecture
  • Ken Lee: Horticulture and Landscape Design faculty at Saddleback College
  • Mike Evans: Owner of Tree of Life Nursery
  • Nick Basinski: Agricultural biologist
  • Orchid Black: Garden designer & Sustainable Garden Practice instructor for Horticulture and Gardening program at UCLA extension
  • Vic Claassen: Research soil scientist at UC Davis Dept. of Land, Air, and Water Resources


Our Partners

Water agencies & staff

  • Celeste Cantù General Manager, Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA)
  • City of Fresno
  • Gregory Plumb: Water Agency Programs Specialist Sonoma County Water Authority
  • Irvine Ranch Water District
  • Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • Moulton Niguel Water District
  • Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District
  • San Dieguito Water District
  • Vallecitos Water District
  • Western Municipal Water District

Public entities & staff

  • Arlene Hopkins: Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Bakersfield City School District
  • Brian Leahy: Director, California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR)
  • California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
  • California Natural Resources Agency
  • Department of Water Resources (DWR)
  • Frances Spivy-Weber: Vice-Chair, State Water Resources Control Board
  • Mission Resource Conservation District
  • Resource Conservation District, San Diego
  • Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District
  • Russell Ackerman: Sustainability Analyst, City of Santa Monica
  • Think Blue San Diego

Landscape industry businesses and nonprofits

  • California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA)
  • California's Own Landscape
  • Soltis and Company, Inc.

Other nonprofits & staff

  • California Native Grasslands Association
  • Greg Weber: Executive Director, California Urban Water Conservation Council
  • Local Government Commission

Public gardens/staff & nurseries

  • Carol Bornstein: Director of Nature Gardens, Natural History Museum of LA County
  • Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
  • Theodore Payne Foundation
  • The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
  • Tree of Life Nursery
  • Water Conservation Garden

Universities/colleges & staff

  • Brett Hall: Director of Collections and Conservation, UC Santa Cruz
  • Don Schulz: Director, Ornamental Horticulture Department at Cuyamaca College
  • Kassim Al-Khatib: Director, University of California Integrated Pest Management (UCIPM)
  • Stephanie Landregan: Program Director, UCLA Extension Landscape Architecture Program


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