Horticulturists are agricultural scientists whose focus is finding a better way to develop, grow, harvest, store, process, and ship fruits, vegetables, and decorative plants. They work with orchard, field, garden, nursery, and greenhouse plants to research and conduct tests related to breeding, spraying, and harvesting plants. Horticulturists also use their expertise to develop new plant varieties, such as varieties that can better resist insects or disease or are better adapted to growing in a range of climates and soils.

At a glance

Imagine you are being interviewed by a local newspaper about a plant that has been in the news a lot lately. You are a horticulturist working for the city's parks department and an expert on a flowering plant called Whenthorn. The Whenthorn perennial is a popular decoration in city flowerbeds because it is hardy and its large, colourful blooms last for months each summer. Unfortunately, this plant can also be dangerously toxic, and it has become your job to educate area gardeners on the risks of Whenthorn and convince them to dig it up. As a horticulturist, you have spent years training and working with decorative plants like Whenthorn. But Whenthorn's flowers, unlike most, damage flowerbeds and even the urban ecosystem each year they are permitted to bloom. With its small, acidic leaves that decompose and lower the pH of the soil, and roots that suck up all the soil's moisture and nutrients, Whenthorn effectively chokes out all other plants in its bed. Its beautiful blooms are also highly toxic to animals that chance a taste, including birds and sometimes even neighbourhood dogs and cats. Because of its nasty nature, you want to see the area rid of Whenthorn, so you have started a campaign to pull it out of every garden and flowerbed in the city. You've volunteered on television and radio talk shows as a horticulture expert, conducted dozens of media interviews, and organized neighbourhood clean-ups. Next week you will host a demonstration showing residents how to remove all traces of Whenthorn and rehabilitate damaged beds and make recommendations as to what plants can replace the colourful Whenthorn. Keeping city gardens safe and healthy is an important part of your job.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a horticulturalist:
  • Prepare soils for planting.
  • Plant seeds and tend and harvest plants.
  • Monitor plant growth and health, including collecting and analyzing data from plantings and test plots.
  • Propagate plants, including collecting seeds, grafting, dividing rootstock, and de-budding flowers, trees, shrubs, and ornamental plants.
  • Apply garden chemicals, including fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Research new varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, including how and where they grow best.
  • Research new methods for cropping, storing, and processing.
  • Sell plants and horticulture products to clients and the general public, including assessing plant quality and markets.
  • Ensure compliance with applicable regulations, including food safety regulations and the import and export of injurious pests and diseases.
  • Create planting plans for gardens, including timing and plant rotation.
  • Work with industry to address issues related to competitiveness and sustainability.

Work environment

Horticulturists work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, colleagues, and experts in the field
  • Designing experiments and trials Writing scientific papers
  • Researching new technology and advancements in horticulture
In the field:
  • Planting, tending, harvesting, and inspecting plants
  • Meeting with clients and customers and selling products
  • Assessing quality, health, and value of plant products
  • Conducting experiments and trials
  • Making presentations to industry and colleagues

Where to work

There are a number of places horticulturists can find employment. They include:
  • Nurseries and greenhouses
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Universities and colleges
  • Horticulture, floriculture, and agriculture research companies
  • Fruit and vegetable farming operations
  • Garden centres and plant retailers
  • Landscapers and property management companies
  • Self-employed consultant
  • Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
  • Zoos and botanical gardens

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as a horticulturist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • English
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a horticulturist is a college technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a horticulturist, the following programs are most applicable:
  • Horticulture
  • Botany
  • Agronomy
  • Forestry
  • Environmental Science
In most cases, it is not necessary to become certified in order to work as a horticulturist. Some practitioners, however, may find employment in industries where it is necessary to become certified as a Professional Forester or Professional Agronomist. Practitioners may also consider applying for Professional Biologist status. The requirements for professional status vary among provinces.

Role Model

Alice Kowalchuck

I work at an organic greenhouse—the first commercial greenhouse in Carmacks. On a daily basis people see me for advice on how to grow their plants. I feel good knowing that I’m contributing to the production of fresh, chemical free vegetables. Working with plants is very good for my soul and cleanses my mind. I’ve learned everything I know about growing vegetables from my supervisors and coworkers. The team has been working together for seven years. I’ve learned about medicinal plants, and the importance of having respect for plants and the land in general. I’ve learned how to grow natural, chemical free plants that are safe to eat. Did you know that you could mix soured milk with water to give plants the calcium they need to grow well, instead of using chemicals? The greenhouse accepts students to come in for work experience. Four ninth grade students work with me for part of the summer. They ask a lot of questions and seem fascinated with how plants grow. I hope that many First Nations people go into farming and gardening. I predict that more people will be trained in this field in the future, and that there will be job opportunities across Canada for other farm operators. People like having fresh vegetables, so I think there will be job opportunities with commercial greenhouse operations growing vegetables, flowers and herbs, and in landscaping too. I’d like to help make our greenhouse business bigger so that everyone here can have fresh vegetables and to create more jobs too.