If you have a green thumb and are naturally drawn to aesthetics and science, horticulture may be the major that’s vying for your attention. This field involves the study of cultivating and tending to ornamental plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables, both so others can enjoy the visual aspect of such carefully crafted subjects (in a park, garden, or other public landscape, for example) and also reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle by the nutritious foods that emerge from a horticulturist’s handiwork. To reduce those who enter this arena to just gardeners, however, is simplistic—there are opportunities in a variety of sub-categories that can ensure you’ll be digging in the dirt where you want to be.
What do horticulture majors study?
All horticulture majors will have a general-education requirement as their base, with classes in English, math, and social sciences, among others. But once you get into the nitty-gritty, prepare to be immersed in everything and anything involving plants. That will range the gamut from general botany and chemistry to more specific concentrations such as plant propagation and physiology, soil science, pest management, agricultural techniques and technologies, greenhouse operations, and landscape architecture, depending on what career path you choose.
After your undergrad degree, you can advance to graduate school for more specialized studies, such as a master’s in landscape architecture or soil and environmental sciences, which will offer better-paying opportunities down the road.
So what can you expect out of a horticulture major?
You don’t have to worry about a dearth of opportunities.
Job prospects in the horticultural world are nearly as varied as the species you’ll be studying. Of course, anything with the word “garden” in it is likely a viable option for you once you enter the working world, including working in a community, urban, or botanical garden, either as a plant breeder or manager. You could also find employment running a greenhouse, nursery, orchard, or arboretum; concentrate on landscape design or maintenance for a golf course or lawn service; or work as a geneticist or research scientist for a government agency like the USDA or in academia. There are also more unusual careers you might not normally associate with plants, such as becoming a horticulture therapist and helping people deal with trauma or mental health issues with the help of plants and flowers.
You’ll get to work with your hands, often in outdoor environments.
If the thought of being stuck at a desk and computer under flickering fluorescent lights for eight hours a day makes you shudder, a horticulture major may help you escape into the literal world of the living, and often into the great outdoors (or at least in an indoor environment surrounded by lush greenery and colorful flora).
You can make some serious green with your green thumb.
The more specialized your plant skills, the better chance you’ll have at bringing home a nice paycheck. That aforementioned landscape architect, for example, earned a median salary of about $64,000 in 2016. Higher-level research or plant pathology positions offer similarly promising salaries. Meanwhile, if you’ve got an entrepreneurial bent, you’ll be pleased to discover that, with a little business and management education thrown into your studies, you could one day choose to open a greenhouse, nursery, or floral shop or become a freelance floral designer.
You’ll be helping keep the environment safe and well tended.
By cultivating the appropriate plants, you may be able to increase the biodiversity in a certain region, repopulate barren landscapes, curb erosion, and even get a handle on water and energy use. Beautifying the land and creating bountiful plant life helps the Earth, and therefore humans, to stay healthy and prosper.
And speaking of health benefits…
Your own health may see a positive uptick. Gardening, for example, can provide beneficial light exercise, as well as offer you ample exposure to the sun’s rays (bring on the vitamin D!), lower your stress levels, and keep your hand muscles flexible and strong, among other advantages. And being around fruits and vegetables all day will likely inspire you to work more of them into your own diet—always a winning proposition.