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Become a Horticulture Specialist: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a horticulture specialist. Learn about the job duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in horticulture.

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Do I Want to Be a Horticulture Specialist?

Horticulture specialists, or horticulturalists, choose and care for plants in public or private areas. They identify and treat sick plants, trees and shrubbery. Horticulture specialists can work for landscapers, municipal governments, schools, farms, greenhouses or golf courses, among other places.

These professionals spend a great deal of time out of doors, and their work can be physically demanding and repetitious. They are sometimes at risk of injury from gardening equipment or weather. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in this field is expected to remain stable over the 2012-2022 decade.

Job Requirements

Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a minimum of a certificate in horticulture, while others prefer candidates have more education. In addition, horticulturalists that work with pesticides must be licensed, and many employers require horticulture specialists to have a state-issued driver's license. The following table contains the main qualifications that employers listed in job postings for horticulture specialists during September 2012:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Certificate required; employers may prefer a degree
Degree Field Horticulture or related field
Licensing and Certification Driver's license required by most employers; pesticide license required; optional professional certifications available
Experience 1+ years of experience; education in lieu of experience may suffice
Key Skills Ability to operate landscaping tools and equipment, strong communication skills, interpersonal skills, ability to lift heavy objects
Computer skills Basic computer skills and software, including Microsoft Word and Excel

Step 1: Earn a Certificate or Degree

Employers prefer some level of formal instruction, which may be a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. In a certificate program, students take introductory courses in botany, plant identification and garden ecology. Students who choose an associate's degree take general education courses in math and English in addition to horticulture certificate courses. In a bachelor's degree program, students have a chance to take more coursework in horticulture, including additional coursework in chemistry and botany.

Success Tips:

  • Build computer skills. Although a horticulturalists work primarily outside, having basic computer skills to operate within an office setting can be beneficial, especially if one is interested in becoming a supervisor. Programs like Excel may be used in budgeting and documenting plant inventories.
  • Complete an internship. Even with a degree, employers may require that candidates have experience. Some programs require an internship, while others may not. An internship will provide horticulturalists with hands-on experience.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Horticulture specialists can obtain entry-level positions in the field by starting as grounds maintenance workers. In these positions, horticulturalists can gain experience caring for plants and identifying plant species and diseases. Entry-level experience may help horticulturalists build communication skills and learn how to safely use equipment.

Success Tip:

  • Build leadership skills. Horticulture specialists may be required to lead a crew, and therefore leadership skills are important to the job. Horticulture specialists can build leadership skills on the job by learning to effectively communicate with clients, peers and management, as well as learn to motivate others by words and actions.

Step 3: Get Licensed

Individuals who apply pesticides are required to become licensed in most states. Licenses are usually issued by a state agricultural or environmental protection board. Although licensing requirements vary by state, individuals typically must pass an exam. They may also be required to re-certify on a regular basis.

Step 4: Become Certified

Certification is optional. However, it can demonstrate to employers that horticulturalists have a particular skill set and level of experience. The American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) offers certification for horticultural specialists with three years of experience or less depending on one's level of education. There are also other state-based associations that offer certifications.

Step 5: Maintain Certification and Licensure

State-issued pesticide applicator licenses must be maintained and renewed on a regular basis. This typically requires continuing education, although some states may only require retaking a licensure examination to renew a license. Continuing education courses are offered through state organizations and through university cooperative extension programs.

Many certifications, including the ASHS Certified Horticulturist credential, require continuing education classes to maintain certification. Continuing education credits for professional certification can be acquired in a variety of ways, including attending conferences or serving on community boards related to horticulture.

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    Areas of study you may find at Cornell University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
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      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
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    Areas of study you may find at Michigan State University include:
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    Areas of study you may find at Mississippi State University include:
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      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate
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    Areas of study you may find at Temple University include:
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