Horticulture: Definition, Overview, and Careers

Horticulture Definition

Horticulture is the field of study which concentrates on gardening, and the plants and biological systems which make up a garden. Horticulture is a broad science that has many sub-disciplines. Horticulture studies both the science behind the garden and the aesthetics which make it appealing to look at.

For instance, floriculture focuses on the production of flowers, while viticulture studies purely grapes. Horticulturalist can find themselves in a variety of positions, from maintaining community gardens to curating plants in a museum. Horticulture also overlaps with several other sciences, discussed below.

Horticulture vs Agriculture vs Botany

Horticulture is derived from Greek, and literally means “garden cultivation”. Agriculture has similar Greek roots, but means “field cultivation”. As can be seen, by their roots, the words differ in mostly scale. However, history has shaped them to be even further apart.

While horticulture is concerned with many species and how they can occupy a tight space, agriculture focuses on producing large amounts of a single species. Agriculture is also concerned with the production of animals for food and other products, which horticulture is not.

Botany is another science concerned with plants. However, botanists tend to focus on the plants themselves, the unique anatomy which makes them up, and the chemical processes which drive their lives. Horticulture is more concerned with how these plants live and reproduce, and what means can be used to nourish, harvest, and sustain the plants in a garden.


It is also concerned with making the plants appear attractive and appealing to a viewer. While the difference may seem arbitrary, these specialties tend to serve very different segments of the economy.

Agriculturalists and botanists focus on the large-scale production of crops, while the horticulturalists focus on many varieties and how they can be combined both logically and aesthetically. Horticulture provides humanity with new varieties and methods of gardening, which can then be implemented on larger scales.

Careers in Horticulture

Horticulture is broken into various subfields, which specialize in certain types of plants. A degree in one of these fields can be obtained from the associate’s level through doctorate levels. The lower degrees are required for handling and maintaining plants and gardens, while a doctoral candidate might do research on the plants or try to develop a new variety. Below are several of the many different paths in horticulture.

Arboriculture is the study of trees and how they grow. These professionals may work for tree grooming services, which artistically cut trees in a manner that allows the tree to continue growing. Arboriculturists are also responsible for monitoring and maintaining fruit trees. 

Grafting, a popular technique used to mix species of plants, can be used by these scientists to produce trees that can produce several kinds of fruit. Other horticulture scientists specialize in flowers, vegetables, or fruits.

Often, these plants have delicate environments which need to be maintained for maximum plant health and harvest. Horticulturists understand which plants can be planted where in a garden, for maximum beauty and yield.

Another section of horticulture is turf management. Golf courses, hotels, and many luxury establishments have large areas of grass which need extensive management to maintain their beauty.

Professionals in this field specialize in grasses and the unique care regiment they need to stay green and lush year-round in some places. Along the same lines, a landscape horticulturalist understands not only the plants which make a great landscape but also the aesthetics and art which really create beautiful properties. These professionals may own their own business as general contractors and get hired by members of the community to spruce up their property.

Still other areas of horticulture focus on the cultivation of specific plants. Viticulture is the study of grapes, for the making of wine. Every variety of grapes makes a different kind of wine, and wine-makers always have an experienced viticulturist to guide their efforts.

Even simple grapes are actually a complex organism which requires the perfect conditions to produce the sugars needed for making wines. The study of horticulture informs this practice and it has been perfected to an art form. However, the battle between nature and man is never resolved.

In the coming years, horticulturalists will face a slew of new enemies. Changing weather patterns will affect the growth and success of plants. It may also usher in new pests and diseases that must be dealt with. A garden, while created by man, is controlled by nature. Horticulture gives man the tools to combat nature, and guide the garden to be productive and fruitful.

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