Become a Horticulturalist: Education and Career Roadmap

Aug 26, 2018

Learn how to become a horticulturalist. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in the field of horticulture.

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Should I Become a Horticulturalist?

Horticulture is the study of plant physiology and propagation. Horticulturalists apply their knowledge of botany, plant, and soil science to areas like landscape design or crop management. They work directly with plants, overseeing all aspects of breeding, selection, planting, care, and production. Some are involved in the growing and selling of food crops, while others work with ornamentals. Those with advanced degrees often teach at universities, in addition to completing research. Many horticulturalists spend considerable time outdoors, but some work in greenhouses or laboratories. Work in this field can be physically demanding and repetitious, and may be performed in all types of weather. Travel may also be required depending on the job.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree for entry level position; master's degree for advancement
Degree Field Horticulture, plant science, soil science
Experience Employers may require 2-5 years' experience
Licensure and Certification Licensure may be required in some states, voluntary certification is available
Key Skills Knowledge of plant physiology, plant identification, plant cultivation, interpersonal skills, organizational skills, statistical analysis, graphics software, data management software
Salary (2016) $42,155 per year (median wage for horticulturalists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Purdue University College of Agriculture in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Higher Education Programs, (September 2012), North Carolina Board for Licensing Soil Scientists, Soil Science Society of America, Certified Crop Adviser.

Let's take a look at the steps required to become a horticulturalist.

Steps to Become a Horticulturalist

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Becoming a horticulturalist begins with a bachelor's degree program in horticulture, botany, or a related field. Most bachelor's degree programs last four years and begin with introductory courses in botany, chemistry, and soil science. Some courses require participation in laboratory experiments that allow students to gain insight into plant cultivation and breeding. As students advance in the major, they might have the option of specializing in specific fields, such as urban forestry or production horticulture.

Additionally, students who actively participate in an internship program while in college have the opportunity to work in the field and gain valuable skills. Duties performed during an internship provide first-hand experience.

Step 2: Find a Job

Horticulturalists can find employment in several sectors, including landscape construction companies, university research departments, and government agencies. Accordingly, their job functions vary based on location and job title. For example, horticulturalists working for landscaping construction companies could specialize in planting and maintaining gardens, and those working for research departments might conduct experiments on plant genetics and breeding. Some horticulturalists spend their time in an office planning garden arrangements, while others travel to farms, offering recommendations to improve crop yields.

Some states require horticulturalists working as soil scientists to be licensed. Although licensure requirements vary by state, most include completing a bachelor's degree program in an industry-related field, having several years of working experience and successfully passing a state licensing exam. Most states that regulate licensure require professionals to participate in continuing education in order to keep their licenses current.

Step 3: Consider Certification

Horticulturalists can earn credentials, such as those designated by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) or the Certified Crop Advisers (CCA), in order to improve employment opportunities. SSSA candidates must have a Bachelor of Science degree in addition to five years of experience. The SSSA mandates certified professionals complete 50 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain their credential. Credit is awarded for attending SSSA seminars and participating in other approved events.

Professional horticulturalists interested in advanced positions in crop management or consulting could consider becoming CCAs. CCA applicants must have completed a bachelor's degree program coupled with two years of work experience or accrued four years of experience in the field. Candidates who have met these requirements and successfully completed the two certification examinations qualify to earn the CCA designation.

Step 4: Advance Your Career

Experienced horticulturalists wishing to advance their careers can move up to managerial and supervisory positions or pursue advanced degrees. Some careers, such as those in research or academia, require a master's degree or PhD. Students could earn a Master of Science (M.S.) in Horticulture or an M.S. in Plant Science to increase employment opportunities or qualify for management and teaching positions. These programs typically allow students to create a curriculum appropriate to their interests. For example, a student wishing to pursue a career as a crop consultant would study topics in pest management and soil science.

Horticulturalists need a bachelor's degree in plant science, social science, or horticultural studies and a minimum of a master's degree is needed for field-specific research and teaching positions.

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