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Horticulture is the science, art, technology and business involved in intensive plant cultivation for human use. It is practiced from the individual level in a garden up to the activities of a multinational corporation. It is very diverse in its activities, incorporating plants for food (fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, culinary herbs) and non-food crops (flowers, trees and shrubs, turf-grass, hops, grapes, medicinal herbs). It also includes related services in plant conservation, landscape restoration, landscape and garden design/construction/maintenance, horticultural therapy, and much more. This range of food, medicinal, environmental, and social products and services are all fundamental to developing and maintaining human health and well-being.

Horticulturist apply the knowledge, skills, and technologies used to grow intensively produced plants for human food and non-food uses and for personal or social needs. Their work involves plant propagation and cultivation with the aim of improving plant growth, yields, quality, nutritional value, and resistance to insects, diseases, and environmental stresses. They work as gardeners, growers, therapists, designers, and technical advisors in the food and non-food sectors of horticulture.

Horticultural scientists focus on the research that underpins horticultural knowledge, skills, technologies, education and commerce. Horticultural science encompasses all of the pure sciences - mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology and biology – as well as related sciences and technologies that underpin horticulture, such as plant pathology, soil science, entomology, weed science, and many other scientific disciplines. It also includes the social sciences, such as education, commerce, marketing, healthcare and therapies that enhance horticulture’s contribution to society.

A gardener is a person that tends to a garden and is therefore a horticulturist. However, not all horticulturists are gardeners.


The word horticulture is modeled after agriculture, and comes from the Latin hortus "garden" Hortus is cognate with the native English word yard (in the meaning of land associated with a building) and also the borrowed word garden.

Understanding horticulture[]

Horticulture is a term that evokes images of plants and gardening for those people working in the horticulture industry. For the general public and government policy makers at local, national and international levels the term is not completely understood nor is the impact that horticulture has on human activities been fully appreciated. Horticulture has and will always exist as a matrix of inter-relating areas with overlapping and complex relationships. Defining the term Horticulture is a key factor in effective communication of the importance of plants, their cultivation and their use for sustainable human existence. It is evident that limiting the term horticulture to the popularist understanding of just a gardening activity fails to encompass the enormity of the impact that horticulture has on individuals, communities and society. Describing its impact on the physiological, psychological and social activities of people is key to expanding an understanding of horticulture.

Relf (1992) expanded the traditional understanding of horticulture beyond “garden” cultivation. Tukey (1962) gave an overview of those involved in the field of horticulture, in stating that there are those who are concerned with the science or biological side, those concerned with the business side and finally those who are concerned with the home or art side, who enjoy plants simply for the satisfaction they get from them. Primarily it is an art, but it is intimately connected with science at every point. Relf highlighted the fact that, in limiting the definition of horticulture severely limits an understanding of what horticulture means in terms of human well-being. Relf provided a comprehensive definition of horticulture as; the art and science of plants resulting in the development of minds and emotions of individuals, the enrichment and health of communities, and the integration of the “garden” in the breadth of modern civilisation. In addition, Halfacre and Barden (1979), Janick and Goldman (2003). further extended the scope of horticulture when they agreed that the origins of horticulture are intimately associated with the history of humanity and that horticulture encompasses all life and bridges the gap between science, art and human beings. This broader vision of horticulture embraces PLANTS, including the multitude of products and activities (oxygen, food, medicine, clothing, shelter, celebration or remembrance) essential for human survival; and PEOPLE, whose active and passive involvement with “the garden” brings about benefits to them as individuals and to the communities and cultures they encompass.

It can be concluded that horticulture happens when people are in intimate, intensive contact with plants. It is the interface between people and plants.

Areas of study[]

According to some accounts, horticulture involves eight areas of study, which can be grouped into two broad sections - ornamentals and edibles:

  • Arboriculture is the study of, and the selection, planting, care, and removal of, individual trees, shrubs, vines, and other perennial woody plants.
  • Turf management includes all aspects of the production and maintenance of turf grass for spots, leisure use or amenity use].
  • Floriculture includes the production and marketing of floral crops.
  • Landscape horticulture includes the production, marketing and maintenance of landscape plants.
  • Olericulture includes the production and marketing of vegetables.
  • Pomology includes the production and marketing of pome fruits.
  • Viticulture includes the production and marketing of grapes.
  • Oenology includes all aspects of wine and winemaking.
  • Postharvest physiology involves maintaining the quality of and preventing the spoilage of horticultural crops.

Horticulturists can work in industry, government or educational institutions or private collections. They can be cropping systems engineers, wholesale or retail business managers, propagators and tissue culture specialists (fruits, vegetables, ornamentals, and turf), crop inspectors, crop production advisers, extension specialists, plant breeders, research scientists, and teachers.

Disciplines which complement horticulture include permaculture, biology, botany, entomology, chemistry, geography, mathematics, genetics, physiology, statistics, computer science, and communications, garden design, planting design. Plant science and horticulture courses include: plant materials, plant propagation, tissue culture, crop production, post-harvest handling, plant breeding, pollination management, crop nutrition, entomology, plant pathology, economics, and business. Some careers in horticultural science require a masters (MS) or doctoral (PhD) degree.

Horticulture is practiced in many gardens, "plant growth centres" and nurseries. Activities in nurseries range from preparing seeds and cuttings to growing fully mature plants. These are often sold or transferred to ornamental gardens or market gardens.


Horticulture has a very long history. The study and science of horticulture dates all the way back to the times of Cyrus the Great of ancient Persia, and has been going on ever since, with present day horticulturists such as Freeman S. Howlett, and the revolutionary horticulturist Luther Burbank. The practice of horticulture can be retraced for many thousands of years. The cultivation of taro and yam in Papua New Guinea dates back to at least 6950-6440 cal BP. The origins of horticulture lie in the transition of human communities from nomadic hunter-gatherers to sedentary or semi-sedentary horticultural communities, cultivating a variety of crops on a small scale around their dwellings or in specialized plots visited occasionally during migrations from one area to the next (such as the "milpa" or maize field of Mesoamerican cultures). In the Pre-Columbian Amazon Rainforest, natives are believed to have used biochar to enhance soil productivity by smoldering plant waste. European settlers called it Terra preta. In forest areas such horticulture is often carried out in swiddens ("slash and burn" areas). A characteristic of horticultural communities is that useful trees are often to be found planted around communities or specially retained from the natural ecosystem.

Horticulture primarily differs from agriculture in two ways. First, it generally encompasses a smaller scale of cultivation, using small plots of mixed crops rather than large fields of single crops. Secondly, horticultural cultivations generally include a wide variety of crops, even including fruit trees with ground crops. Agricultural cultivations however as a rule focus on one primary crop. In pre-contact North America the semi-sedentary horticultural communities of the Eastern Woodlands (growing maize, squash and sunflower) contrasted markedly with the mobile hunter-gatherer communities of the Plains Indians. In Central America, Maya horticulture involved augmentation of the forest with useful trees such as papaya, avocado, cacao, ceiba and sapodilla. In the cornfields, multiple crops were grown such as beans (using cornstalks as supports), squash, pumpkins and chilli peppers, in some cultures tended mainly or exclusively by women.

Horticulture Organizations[]

The Professional Body representing horticulturists in Great Britain and Ireland is the Institute of Horticulture (IOH). Also, the IOH has an international branch for members outside of these islands.

The International Society for Horticultural Science promotes and encourages research and education in all branches of horticultural science.

See also[]

  • Turf management
  • Horticultural therapy
  • Forest gardening
  • Indigenous horticulture
  • Landscaping
  • Plant nutrition
  • Vertical farming
  • Floriculture
  • Horticultural oil

Further reading[]

  • C.R. Adams, Principles of Horticulture Butterworth-Heinemann; 5th edition (11 Aug 2008), ISBN 0-7506-8694-4

External links[]