Due to the hands-on nature of horticulture, fully online associate's degree programs are rare to nonexistent, although hybrid programs that allow some coursework to be completed online are available. These programs combine online courses with on-campus labs and field trips, as well as an in-person internship.
A fully online option for associate-level students is an Associate in Natural Sciences and Mathematics degree, which does not focus specifically on horticulture but may include some courses that cover plant biology and can prepare students for more advanced online horticulture programs in the future.
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Associate's Degree in Horticulture Program
At the 2-year level, horticulture programs often lead to a degree in ornamental horticulture or horticulture technology. These programs emphasize the sciences, particularly plant science, soil science and entomology. In the first semester, students typically learn to identify plant parts and different botanical species; by the fourth semester, they're prepared to design a landscape and maintain thousands of plants in a greenhouse. Most associate's degree programs include at least one business class, since some graduates may want to open their own nurseries, greenhouses or landscaping businesses.
Horticulture is widely available as a field of study at the associate's degree level; however, distance-learning options for horticulture students are relatively rare. The online format lends itself well to certain horticulture subjects - like basic plant structures - but not to a full degree program, due to the necessary hands-on work with seeds, shovels and soil.
Information and Technical Requirements
Although fully online associate's degree programs in horticulture are not available, some schools offer students the option of completing certain courses online or through hybrid online and on-campus learning. In hybrid horticulture courses, students complete the textbook and lecture portions online, then participate in on-campus labs or on-site field trips to gardens and nurseries. Most 2-year horticulture degree programs also require students to complete an internship in plant production or landscaping.
The horticulture classes available online tend to emphasize the basics of botany, plant production and visual identification. These topics rely on readings and, especially, images, making them easy to transmit through online learning. Online horticulture courses generally do not require any special software or equipment; students simply need a computer and Internet access so they can log on to the school's online course system.
Although the following entry-level core horticulture courses may be offered online, upper-level courses usually aren't. Upper-level courses often involve more practical work in the planning, installation and maintenance of plant beds or landscapes. Students in an associate's degree program must also fulfill general education requirements in areas such as composition, math, the humanities and (especially for horticulture students) biology.
Basic Plant Science
This course introduces horticulture students to plant structures and their functions. Online students examine diagrams and images of woody plants and identify their parts, learning to use the appropriate scientific terminology. Some discussion of plant taxonomy may be included.
Students in this online course study the reproduction of plants, whether sexual or asexual, and learn to control it for horticultural purposes. Topics of study include seeds, germination and grafting, which is a process that involves joining the roots of one plant (the stock) with a cutting from a different plant (the scion) that has more desirable leaves or fruits. Online plant propagation courses commonly take a hybrid form, requiring students to attend on-campus labs to practice techniques.
Insects, fungal diseases and weeds are among the garden pests examined in this course. Students learn to identify pests and choose an appropriate deterrent to fight them, such as a pesticide or other chemical. Hybrid online versions of this course that include sufficient study of safety and regulations may help prepare students for pesticide application licensure, depending on the state.
Nursery and Greenhouse Production
The basic operations of plant production facilities are outlined in this online horticulture course, which may be offered in a hybrid format; on-site visits to nurseries and greenhouses allow students to see the principles of production in action. Topics of study may include greenhouse construction, irrigation, environmental controls, fertilizers and recordkeeping. Online students may complete assignments in which they devise a simulated planting schedule.
Graduates of associate's-level horticulture degree programs might find supervisory jobs at nurseries, greenhouses, garden centers or facilities with complex, landscaped grounds, like golf courses and public gardens. These graduates might also find work in landscape design, pest control or plant sales.
The BLS classifies all of these professions under the category of grounds maintenance workers. The BLS predicted that job openings for grounds maintenance workers would increase by 6% (about as fast as the average for all occupations) from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Supervisors and managers in landscaping and groundskeeping earned an average of $46,900 annually as of May 2015, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
Bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and post-graduate certificates related to horticulture are available for students looking to advance their education. Online options are more plentiful at these higher degree levels. Some of the bachelor's-level horticulture programs can be completed primarily through online study, though students may have to attend on-campus science classes or labs.
Graduate programs may be offered entirely online, since they require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree in horticulture. Students therefore already have significant experience with plants and plant science, allowing them to take more advanced courses at a distance.
In associate's degree programs in horticulture, students are introduced to the field of plant science, and some courses may be available online. For students who want to study horticulture entirely online, the most common option is a master's degree, though there are also broader online associate's degree programs in related subjects that can eventually lead to graduate study in the field.