A horticultural degree will prepare you to work with plants from both production and aesthetic standpoints. Though there are commonalities between the two, selecting an emphasis is required once you begin to study for a bachelor's degree. An undergraduate degree will enable you to pursue entry-level careers in gardening, agriculture and similar studies, while graduate programs will prepare you for careers involving in-depth research or teaching in the field of horticulture. Coursework at every level will highlight subjects such as plant physiology, horticultural biology, molecular plant science and crop development.
A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for a bachelor's degree, while a minimum GPA, work mentorship agreement and letters of recommendation are required for a master's degree. Doctorate candidates must take comprehensive science tests. These tests will be reviewed by academic committees that may decide if you should take further specific courses in weak areas prior to being accepted into the program.
Program specializations include plant breeding, pomology, turfgrass management, floriculture, landscape design and urban horticulture, among others.
Bachelor's Degree in Horticulture
Horticulture is a green science that encompasses everything from soil composition to resource sustainability. You'll learn about the genetic makeup of plants and the relationships between different types of plants. You'll also learn how plants are affected by natural and man-made influences. Focuses at this point include floral studies, landscape design, crops and soils, urban horticulture studies and turfgrass sciences. Depending on the focus, some bachelor's programs offer the opportunity to participate in hands-on courses in working horticultural environments. At a bachelor's level, most courses are held in the classroom or lab and may cover the following topics:
- Plant biotechnology
- Study of pesticides
- Asexual breeding
- Plant diseases
- Greenhouse studies
- Environmental and horticultural biology
Certificate Programs in Horticulture
Early in the course of horticulture studies, several certificate programs are available. At the bachelor's level, you may take courses towards certificates related to greenhouse production, landscape design and landscape management. If you elect to pursue further study at this point, there are two options. You may opt to continue on towards a master's degree or choose to enter a postbaccalaureate certificate program. Certificates are available for areas such as soil management and protection of crops. Colleges also offer graduate certificates in such things as floricultural and pomology (fruit cultivation) studies.
Master's Degree in Horticulture
A non-thesis master's degree in horticulture will include an internship period of study designed to give you real-time experience in the challenges of this field. The thesis option, on the other hand, is designed for students headed towards horticultural research. Extensive research in greenhouse environments is required of both options. Both lab work and classroom studies play a large part at this educational level.
Depending on your focus, this program requires between 32-36 hours of coursework. Some programs allow you to spend some time studying abroad in approved programs such as the Peace Corps. Some of the subjects studied are:
- Horticultural photosynthesis
- Chemical element analysis
- Physiology of plants
- Urban ecology
- Applied crop physiology
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Doctorate in Horticulture
When you apply for a doctoral degree in horticulture, you should already have chosen an area of specialization, whether that's germination, genetic modification of crops or tropical plant classification. Lecture, seminar and laboratory-style classes are part of this final phase of horticulture education. A dissertation will be required in order to receive the doctorate.
Classes for horticulture doctoral students can be highly concentrated and individualized according to their research interests. An example of the level of focus included in these courses can be seen in the types of classes offered, such as:
- Tropical fruit research and production
- Food and health phytochemical studies
- Physiology of seeds
- Molecular breeding markers in plants
- Ecophysiology in plants
Popular Career Options
Attaining a bachelor's degree in horticultural arts or sciences will prepare you for entry-level positions in gardening and agricultural fields. Some of the opportunities available are in the industries below:
- Landscape design
- Floral event planning
- Crop development
- Plant genetics
Advanced career options in science, research and teaching are open to those with master's degrees in horticultural studies. Some of the fields chosen by horticulturalists at this level are:
- Horticultural biogenetics
- Landscape architecture
- Molecular plant science
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Many of those with doctoral degrees go on to teach in some capacity, either in a scholastic environment or as part of an outreach project in areas where plant growth is challenging for those reliant on local resources for crops. Others go specifically towards research to discover ways to make plants more resistant to climate change.
Regardless of the specific direction, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 5% increase in job openings for agricultural and food scientists - including horticulturists - between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS further classifies horticulturists under the sub-category for soil and plant scientists; in 2015, these professionals made an average of $65,980 annually.
Aspiring horticulturists have several degree and certificate options to choose from, depending on their desired career path and educational goals. Bachelor's degrees prepare graduates for entry-level positions in the agricultural and gardening industries, while science, research and teaching positions are available to those with master's and doctoral degrees in horticulture.