What is a Horticulturist?

Most people understandably assume that horticulturalists work in garden centers, but the field is actually quite broad. Some potential career paths are environment-focused, and deal with things like water waste reduction or chemical-free methods of pest management, but others are business-focused and deal with landscape design and PR-friendly sustainability.

An Introduction to Horticulture

Horticulturalists apply their knowledge to fruits, vegetables and other plants to maximize their growth and maintain their health. Some design commercial landscapes or manage sports turf and golf courses. Most horticulturists work in plant production, but some work in research, education, marketing and management. Some horticulturists are self-employed entrepreneurs who run their own nurseries, greenhouses, landscape design companies and plant production organizations.

The demand for horticulturalists is steadily growing because of urbanization and sustainability trends. The typical horticulturalist works outside in a nursery, garden center or landscape setting. Horticulturalists are exposed to smells and contact with chemicals and fertilizers. They may also be exposed to plant, pollen and chemical allergens. The Bureau of Labor Statistics  states that horticulturalists are a type of specialty farmer or agricultural manager.

Horticulture Careers

Horticulturalists who specialize in urban forestry or ecological sustainability create landscapes that provide standard ecosystem functions, such as reducing erosion, stabilizing slopes, improving air and water quality and reducing building energy usage. These horticulturalists design parks, business property or botanical gardens. Horticulturalists who specialize in ecological and sustainable production act as advisers to companies that produce agricultural products, such as orchards, vineyards and Christmas tree farms.

Many horticulturists who specialize in viticulture own their own winery or vineyard and provide consultation services to growers part-time. The horticulturalists who specialize in turf management oversee the turf for golf courses and sports fields. Those who focus on pest management help agricultural suppliers, manufacturing companies and regulatory agencies with pest control methods. A small number conduct research in horticultural science, such as experimenting with ways to improve drought resistance, food processing results and overall harvest yields.

Employment Information

Horticulturalists may teach others through developing various horticulture-related educational programs for the general public and specific groups. They train and supervise garden staff in operations and demonstrate the proper methods of handling plants. For example, they may train ground personnel how to prune, dress wounds, repair damage and brace trees and shrubs. Some horticulturists prepare and execute maintenance programs to control plant diseases and insects.

They create and control inventory maps and label plants for maintenance and instructional purposes. Others provide professional advice on ordering and selecting flowers, shrubs, trees and grasses. They may be asked to prepare customized fertilizer programs for each type of plant. They may help business owners prepare orders for various types of seeds and plants to support annual planting plans and objectives. Those who work in the field may confer with landscape architects and staff in the selection, planting and care of plants.

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Horticulturalists will need a college degree in the horticultural sciences, or in a related field like botany or the agrarian sciences. They may be asked to maintain a thorough knowledge of horticultural techniques, plant propagation and the principles of landscaping or nursery management.