Horticulturists working in commercial horticulture perform a wide range of duties to grow the specialized crops that are in demand in our region. They must water plants either by hand or through increasingly specialized irrigation controls; scout for insects, disease, and weed pests; and decide how and when to control those pests. Horticulturists also maintain equipment, prune plants as needed, transplant seedlings and larger plants, maintain plant training systems, and many other tasks that are seasonally dependent.
Along with these duties, horticulturists often manage the work of employees engaged in the production and harvest of the crops under their care.
Examples of Available Careers
- Assistant orchard manager, grower or supervisor
- Assistant vegetable manager, grower or supervisor
- Assistant small fruit crops manager, grower or supervisor
- Assistant greenhouse manager, grower or supervisor
- Assistant nursery manager or grower
- Assistant organic grower
- Assistant horticulturist
- Seed, plant, equipment, fertilizer sales representatives*
- Orchard, greenhouse, vegetable grower entrepreneurs*
*These positions may require a few years of field experience before qualified to seek employment in these careers.
Also consider the need for positions within agriculture that require accounting, business, finance, and law skills.
Horticulturists work outside much of the year. They must be able to do their work in the heat of summer, the cold of winter, and the unpredictable weather of fall and spring. Full range of motion is needed to reach plants and manipulate the tools needed to care for those plants. The ability to lift heavy objects such as bags of fertilizer or tree limbs are important daily activities. Work in horticulture can be dusty and dirty so appropriate clothing must be worn.
Hours vary through the year, with more time worked during spring and harvests than any other part of the year. Most horticulturists begin their days between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and will end their day eight hours later unless weather interferes to shorten the day or harvest time makes it longer. These days are often at least ten hours long, but will be longer during the busiest part of harvest.
Because the average age of our American farmers is calculated at 57 years old, there is a need for younger farmers to step in and keep farms going. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 edition, fewer jobs are expected for farmers and ranchers than in the past; better prospects are expected for wage and salary agricultural managers. Small-scale, local farming, particularly horticulture and organic farming, offer the best opportunities for entering the occupation. With fewer people wanting to become farmers and a large number of farmers expected to retire or give up their farms in the next decade, there will be some opportunities to own or lease a farm.
Even though the employment outlook for agriculture overall is slower than average for all occupations, those working in commercial horticulture do see more jobs available with better pay than traditional agriculture. There are many reasons for slower than average growth in the agricultural career fields and much of it has to do with the need for mechanization because so few people want to do the manual labor. This means that those who do want to work in this field get to work with more technology.
Throughout the late fall and winter there are many seminars and symposia available for every agricultural industry, giving professionals the opportunity to meet others in their career and continue to improve their horticultural skills. These and other meetings held throughout the growing season get growers certified to apply commercial pesticides and provide continuing education credits to keep their credentials up to date. Both the private and commercial pesticide applicator’s certification must be renewed by exam every three years if applicators do not earn enough credits between exams.
Holding any degree in horticulture is valuable for career advancement. Many people starting out as seasonal laborers do not keep these positions long, but the ones who show interest are very likely to be mentored by their supervisors and moved along to other positions. Often these employees will pick up helpful courses along the way to help them understand soils, plant growth, and technology, but may not work toward earning a degree. By working toward a degree in horticulture, this shows employers you are not only interested in agriculture, but also committed to taking on the responsibility of growing quality crops. Minimally, an associate’s degree is needed to find a full-time position with benefits. Earning a bachelor’s degree is necessary to expand the options for specialized positions within the horticultural industry, and master’s or doctorate degrees are needed to work in horticultural research and teaching positions.