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How to Become a Horticulturalist

Find out what a horticulturalist does for a living, the education and work experience you need to enter the field, and what salary and job outlook you can expect.

Career at a Glance

Horticulturalists are in the business of putting food on our tables, as they cultivate the plants we eat, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. These professionals are also scientists, investigating and breeding new plant varieties to make them more resistant to environmental factors and to improve their yields. Find out more details in the table below.

Common Degree Bachelor's degree is often required; some employers accept extensive paid work experience
Education Field of Study Horticulture or a closely related field
Licensure or Certification Optional certification offered by agencies such as the American Society for Horticultural Science
Job Growth (2020-2030) -1% (Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers)*
Median Annual Wage (2020) $68,090 (Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Horticulturalists Do?

Horticulturalists grow, harvest, process, and sell fruits, vegetables, nuts, flowers, and ornamental plants, working in various settings such as nurseries and orchards. They also cultivate and develop new plant varieties to improve yield and nutritional value, along with resistance to insects and diseases.

Horticulturalists also look after soil health and research better ways to store crops. Typical activities include preparing the soil before planting, tending and propagating various plants, applying fertilizers and pesticides, and ultimately cropping and selling them.

What Education Do I Need to Become a Horticulturalist?

While you can become a Horticulturalist without going to college, many employers prefer a relevant bachelor's degree in horticulture or a closely related field. Industry bodies such as the American Society for Horticultural Science also allow people to gain certification. With the minimum proven experience in the horticultural field, one can sit for the four-hour ASHS Certified Horticulturist Examination. The exam tests applicants' knowledge in topics such as landscape design, production of plants, shipping and handling, propagation, and diagnosing and managing issues with plant health. Certified Horticulturalists have to take continuing education units in order to renew their status.

Do I Need Additional Experience?

To certify with the American Society for Horticultural Science, you need to demonstrate three years of paid work experience, two years experience together with a two-year college degree, or one year together with a four-year degree.

To gain work experience, you can ask for work placement and then apply as a trainee at a local garden center or nursery, or apply to an organized agricultural program. Some of these programs are even international, and you can gain horticultural experience in another country. You could also ask for work in the agricultural industry during your school or university breaks, as farms always need seasonal workers for planting and harvesting.

What Income Can I Expect?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups horticulturalists under farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers. The median annual wage for this group was $68,090 in 2020, with salaries ranging from below $35,090 to more than $130,760. Weather conditions can play a role in the income of those who grow food and other types of plants.

What Job Growth Is Forecast?

Employment of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers, including horticulturalists, is forecast to be weaker than average between 2020 and 2030, with a decline of 1%, according to the BLS. This is partly because the increased efficiency in the agricultural sector has led to consolidation, while technological advances decrease the amount of personnel required. The organic food industry may have more growth than other areas.