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Become a Horticulture Specialist: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a horticulture specialist. Learn about the job duties and check out the step-by-step process that can help you start a career in horticulture.

Becoming a Horticulture Specialist

Horticulture specialists, or horticulturalists, choose and care for plants in public or private areas. They identify and treat sick plants, trees and shrubbery. Horticulture specialists can work for landscapers, municipal governments, schools, farms, greenhouses or golf courses, among other places.

These professionals spend a great deal of time out of doors, and their work can be physically demanding and repetitious. They are sometimes at risk of injury from gardening equipment or weather.

Career Requirements

A certificate in gardening and/or horticulture may be required to work in this field. Some employers may prefer candidates with a degree in horticulture or related field. They may also look at candidates who have at least 1 year of horticulture experience. Other credentials include a driver's license and pesticide license. Some optional professional certifications may be available.

In general, horticulture specialists should have good communication and interpersonal skills, as well as basic computer skills and experience with software like Microsoft Word and Excel. They should also be able to operate landscaping tools and equipment.

In June 2016, Payscale.com reported that horticulturists earned a median annual salary of $40,362.

Career Steps

Step 1: Earn a Certificate or Degree

Potential employers usually prefer some level of formal instruction, which may be completion of a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree program. In a certificate program, students take introductory courses in botany, plant identification and garden ecology. Students who choose an associate's degree program take general education courses in math and English and horticulture certificate courses. In a bachelor's degree program, students have a chance to take more coursework in horticulture, as well as chemistry and botany.

Success Tips:

  • Build computer skills. Although a horticulturalists work primarily outside, having the basic computer skills necessary to operate within an office setting can be beneficial, especially if one is interested in becoming a supervisor. Programs like Excel may be used in budgeting and documenting plant inventories.
  • Complete an internship. Even with a degree, employers may require that candidates have experience. Some programs require an internship, while others may not. An internship will provide horticulturalists in training with hands-on experience.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Horticulture specialists can obtain entry-level positions in the field by starting out as grounds maintenance workers. In these positions, horticulturalists can gain experience caring for plants and identifying plant species and diseases. Entry-level experience may help horticulturalists build communication skills and learn how to safely use equipment.

Success Tip:

  • Build leadership skills. Horticulture specialists may be required to lead a crew, and therefore leadership skills are important to the job. Horticulture specialists can build leadership skills on the job by learning to effectively communicate with clients, peers and management, as well as learn to motivate others by words and actions.

Step 3: Get Licensed

Individuals who apply pesticides are required to become licensed in most states. A state's agricultural or environmental protection board usually issues licenses. Although licensing requirements vary by state, individuals usually have to pass an exam. They may also be required to re-certify on a regular basis.

Step 4: Become Certified

Certification is optional. However, it can demonstrate to employers that horticulturalists have a particular skill set and level of experience. The American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) offers certification for horticultural specialists with three years of experience or less depending on one's level of education. There are also other state-based associations that offer certifications.

Step 5: Maintain Certification and Licensure

State-issued pesticide applicator licenses must be maintained and renewed on a regular basis. This typically requires continuing education, although some states may only require specialists to retake the licensing exam. Continuing education courses are offered through state organizations and university cooperative extension programs.

Many certifications, including the ASHS Certified Horticulturist credential, require continuing education classes to maintain certification. Continuing education credits for professional certification can be acquired in a variety of ways, including attending conferences or serving on community boards related to horticulture.

Step 6: Advance Your Career

Horticulturalists who earn a bachelor's degree can advance their careers by becoming eligible for year-round jobs with higher pay and benefits. They can also move into more specialized areas of horticulture. Earning a master's degree or PhD is another way to advance towards research and teaching positions in the field.

If you're still interested in becoming a horticulture specialist, remember you may need a certificate in gardening and/or horticulture to enter the field. Programs leading to an associate's, a bachelor's, or even a master's degree, can help you advance in the field, where you can earn a median annual salary of $40,362.

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