Horticultural Scientist: Education Requirements and Career Info

Horticultural scientists require moderate formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and certification programs to see if this is the right career for you.

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Horticultural scientists are knowledgable about soil and plants. They may conduct research or consult about plant genetics, soil, or plant production. An undergraduate degree is the typical education requirement for this field.

Essential Information

Horticultural scientists, also known as soil and plant scientists, find new ways to improve crop production and minimize the effects of pests and weeds. They may conduct research in plant genetics and diseases, cross-breeding and methods for growing crops and vegetation. Horticultural scientists also advise and consult with crop and food developers about growing techniques. Generally, a bachelor's degree is required for entry into the field, though some research positions may call for a master's degree or higher.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 7% for all agricultural and food scientists*
Median Salary (2015) $60,050*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Educational Requirements for Horticultural Scientists

A bachelor's degree in horticulture, such as one that leads to a Bachelor of Science, is the minimum educational requirement for horticultural scientists. Learning outcomes include the ability to grow, manage and promote the sale of crops and flowers. Some undergraduate programs allow for specializations in horticultural science or production, plant molecular and cellular biology, environmental landscaping or organic crop production.

In general, undergraduate courses cover topics in biology, botany and entomology, which is the study of insects. Students can also take classes in plant conservation, pathology and physiology. Hands-on experiences can be obtained through campus lab work, internships or field trips to greenhouses and plant nurseries.

A master's degree in horticultural science may be required for some research positions, and aspiring professors or senior-level researchers usually need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). A Master of Science curriculum can include topics in environmental plant sciences, crop evolution, genetics and plant breeding. Individual programs may allow for a thesis or a non-thesis option and provide opportunities for original research.

Certifications

The American Society for Horticultural Science offers voluntary certifications for practicing professionals, including the Certified Professional Horticulturalist, the Associate Professional Horticulturalist and Certified Horticulturalist. Requirements for the professional and associate certifications include a bachelor's degree or higher in horticulture and 3-5 years of experience in the field. Candidates for the Certified Horticulturalist credential must pass a 4-hour exam that tests their information of fruit, ornamental plants, turf and vegetables. Exam topics also include landscape design, plant diseases and propagation.

Job Outlook and Salary

Job prospects for all food and agricultural scientists, including plant and soil scientists, are expected to grow by 7% from 2014 to 2024, as reported by the BLS. In May 2015, plant and soil scientists who worked for research and development companies earned an average annual wage of $73,530, while those employed by scientific and technical services had an average yearly salary of $64,560. During the same period, plant and soil scientists at local, state and private colleges and universities earned an average annual income of $57,850, also according to the BLS.

Horticultural scientists are scientists specializing in soil and plants. They may research and study growth patterns, crop production, soil, and other factors relating to plants and soil. An undergraduate degree in a related science is typically the minimum requirement, although a Master's Degree or PhD may afford further opportunities when it comes to research or teaching.

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