What does a horticulturist do? (Including responsibilities)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 28 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A horticulturist provides support and guidance to farmers and landscapers on crop production, produce and landscape management. An individual that enjoys agriculture, plus planting and harvesting different crop varieties, may enjoy a role as a horticulturist. If you're planning on starting a career as a horticulturist, learning about the duties, skills and work environment of a horticulturist can help. In this article, we answer the question 'What does a horticulturist do?', look at the industries that they work in, the skills they require, what the work environment is like and how to become one.

What is a horticulturist?

Before learning the answer to the question 'What does a horticulturist do?', it's useful to know what a horticulturist is. Horticulturists are agricultural professionals that use a mix of botany and agriculture knowledge to help farmers, landscapers and fellow agriculturists to cultivate crops, plants or produce. A horticulturist often works alongside farmers to improve their cultivation, boosting the number of vegetables or crops they produce or introducing new species with favourable attributes.

A horticulturist can also work in an educational capacity, sharing their knowledge of agriculture with related industries in the sector. Horticulturists either work individually or as part of a wider organisation, typically in laboratories or in the field alongside professional partners.

What does a horticulturist do?

The responsibilities of a horticulturist depend on their task or the organisation they're working for, but typically, they maintain several core responsibilities:

Agricultural research

They often undertake a broad range of research studies to better understand how various crops, plants or produce react in different conditions. This research can also help a horticulturist understand a plant's growth cycle. Clients then use this research for business or educational purposes.

Managing crop production

A primary role of a horticulturist is helping farmers maximise their efforts. They do this by overseeing crop production to ensure a high quantity of produce. Horticulturists may also help manage crop production to make sure everything grown is healthy and properly maintained.

Operate agricultural equipment

Being a horticulturist involves understanding how different machinery and equipment supports agricultural efforts. This includes tractors, harvesters and fertiliser distribution methods. A horticulturist may assist farmers or landscapers to properly utilise their equipment and tools.

Test fertilisers

A key part of horticulture is the impact fertilisers have on production. Horticulturists may test different types of fertiliser to see which mixtures facilitate growth and mitigate diseases. This information helps clients to maximise their crop production.

Build crop schedules

Due to their understanding of the life cycles of plants and crops, a horticulturist may help develop a proper crop schedule. This helps farmers understand the appropriate time to plant crops and when to harvest them. A functioning crop schedule can help a farmer efficiently plant and harvest at the right times to maximise their returns.

Consult farmers, landscapers or miners

An important part of their role is consulting the individuals involved in crop production, landscaping or mining. Horticulturists provide bespoke advice on crop production, including the type of crop and a timeline for planting. They may also analyse crop production and identify any weaknesses and strengths in the production process. This approach can help a farmer to improve the quality and quantity of their produce.

Maintain greenhouses

Greenhouses are a vital part of the agricultural process. A horticulturist understands how to properly run and maintain a greenhouse to maximise output. This work is common in this field and allows the horticulturist to make a direct impact on the productivity of the greenhouse.

What industries does a horticulturist work in?

The skills required by a horticulturist often mean they can work in several different industries, including:

Landscaping

Horticulturists help landscapers grow a variety of flowers and plants in different environments. They often provide guidance on how plants behave in different environments and how to properly maintain each type of plant or flower. A horticulturist may also be able to provide assistance in which plants work well as decorations.

Terrain analysis and improvement

Old mining or construction locations often require improvement so they can be a natural fit for different plants or vegetation. Horticulturists can examine uninhabitable terrain, provide guidance on how to make the terrain fit for purpose and create an environment where plants can grow. This typically means looking at ways to improve the soil quality.

Education

Education and research are a key part of any horticulturist's role. They may teach aspiring farmers or agriculture professionals about proper crop scheduling and crop production. They may also use their experience to teach other junior horticulturists what they've learned, encouraging more people to join the field and helping them grow their skills or experience.

What skills does a horticulturist need?

While working, horticulturists typically adopt several different skills:

Collaboration

The field of horticulture generally requires collaboration between several different stakeholders. Horticulturists may find themselves working with farmers, agricultural experts, landscapers or even other horticulturists to achieve their goals. This makes good teamwork skills imperative. Using collaborative skills can help them execute more efficient experiments, share knowledge between professionals in the industry and improve crop or plant production.

Related: What does collaboration mean in the workplace?

Analytical skills

The nature of the role means horticulturists require analytical skills. The horticulturist may use these skills to properly assess the areas they're working in to improve the quality of their produce. This includes measuring the condition and quality of the soil, wildlife in the area and how weather conditions impact production. Based on this assessment, they decide which plants or crops are suitable for the environment. If the terrain is uninhabitable, they provide guidance and improvements to create the right environment.

Research and development

Research skills are necessary for horticulturists to perform tests on how different crops and plants react to fertilisers or changing crop schedules. When shared, this research helps farmers or agricultural professionals to increase the quality and quantity of their produce. This research typically comes in the form of peer-reviewed journals or scientific publications, which makes a thorough approach vital for achieving satisfactory results.

Problem-solving

Horticulturists face a range of different challenges that can affect their work. As farmers often seek advice on crop-related issues, it's important that horticulturists can identify a problem and provide a solution. For example, farmers often approach horticulturists with the issue of diseases killing their plants. A horticulturist then uses their knowledge and skills to identify the issue and provide a quick and effective long-term solution.

What is the work environment like for a horticulturist?

The work environment for a horticulturist can change depending on their tasks or the organisation they're working for. A horticulturist may work in an office or lab environment if they're performing research. Likewise, a horticulturist may work in the field if they're analysing a growth environment, providing consultations or identifying ways to improve crop production.

Working in the field requires a level of physical endurance as they may find themselves on their feet for long periods, operating machinery or helping farmers with their tasks. The nature of the role means they're typically busier during planting and harvesting seasons, as this is where they provide proper production guidance.

Related: Types of work environments (plus how to improve yours)

How to become a horticulturist

The steps to follow to become a horticulturist include:

1. Receive a formal education

Many horticulturists need a base level of knowledge in relevant fields before they begin their careers. Common educational courses include botany, chemistry, biology and mathematics, all of which are extremely relevant in building a horticulture career. During this time, consider the type of horticulture you want to enter and research the skills and qualifications needed in your own time.

2. Obtain a degree

Educational institutions offer a variety of degrees and qualifications that relate to horticulture. These include agricultural degrees, plant science, biology or the technology used in the field. A full degree helps differentiate you from other applicants and provides another level of training to apply in your work.

Related: What you need to know about professional qualifications

3. Build experience in the field

Once you have the necessary qualifications, it's important to gain experience working in the field or a horticultural environment. Consider working on a farm so you have practical knowledge of planting, cultivating and harvesting. This time also provides the opportunity to learn more about different plants and crops, including their unique attributes and growth patterns.

4. Grow your contact network

It's important to have a deep network of contacts, as a horticulturist, so you can find new opportunities. Good contacts to have include farmers, landscapers, agricultural professionals, scientists, botanists and other horticulturists. Joining organisations, such as the Royal Horticultural Society, and working alongside them, can help expand your reach and develop new opportunities.

5. Stay up-to-date with the latest research trends

Horticulture is a field that's always evolving. It's important to stay up-to-date on new technology, horticultural advancements and contemporary research that can improve your work. Having a deep and current level of knowledge can help you provide better guidance for individuals, such as farmers or landscapers. Learning new harvesting or cultivation methods means you can improve the quality of your client's crop production. You may decide to attend seminars, online courses or read scientific journals to help you stay abreast of changing trends and best practices.

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