Will I be able to make a living off a horticulture degree?

mike758September 25, 2013

I'm 18 and ready to apply for college. It might disappoint my parents (who want to see become an accountant and make 6 figures), but I'm highly thinking about going to a local college for a horticulture degree. I know already know big bucks aren't involved and I'm not worried about that at all, as gardening is my favorite hobby and I wouldn't enjoy any other career field as much. It would definitely be my ideal career, with carpentry behind that, which I don't think is too different in salary.

Now my concern though is having a hard time finding employment, and not making enough income to live comfortably. I would like to do something in the more hands on field, like something to do with nursery work, groundskeeping, landscape design, etc. There's not much out there about horticulture jobs and employment rates.

So my overall question is, if I get a 4 year degree in horticulture, will I be able to find work and if I do will I have at least a somewhat decent income?

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Depends on how you define 'decent' :-) Can you support yourself and maintain a modest lifestyle? You bet! Can you support a family with a family-sized mortgage and a new car or two every few years, annual vacations, the latest electronic toys.........mmmmmm, that's a bit iffy.

I think it may depend on where in the country you are located but IME, a degreed horticulturist anywhere on the west coast is not going to have difficulty finding a good job regardless of what aspect of a horticultural career they pursue.

There are two national organizations that focus on employment in the horticultural industry - hortjobs and florasearch. Both of them should have information about the types of jobs available where and the salaries they are demanding. Also there are always employment ads in the back of any industry/trade mag and local landscape or nursery association publications. These are also helpful in determining the types of positions available and the going rates.

If there is any advice I could offer you - and I support your passion for this profession 100% - it is to become fluent in Spanish (no joke - this will increase your hireability about 500%) and to pursue any summer intern position you can lay your hands on. Book learning is necessary and great but you cannot beat firsthand experience.

Good luck!!

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 6:45PM
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Find work? Sure. Decent income? Depends what your income and life goals are and where you want to end up (geographically).

You may be one of those people who knows at 18 what you want to do and you'll follow that all the way through. That describes my wife. Or you could be like me, someone whose career has morphed over time and will probably be different in ten years. You don't know. So major in something you care about, something that will have you excited for learning so that you finish your degree.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 7:00PM
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Yea right now I'm in southeastern Pennsylvania and I feel there may be some jobs over in jersey I can find. The biggest thing I am worried about is not finding a job, but it's starting to sound like horticulture is a pretty broad field.

And I should of specified what decent income is. I just want good enough income so I can have a place to live and easily put food on the plate. I've never been into designer clothes, jewelry, smart phones, fancy cars, big houses, etc so I probably have an advantage there. I do plan to raise a family but if I have a wife who works too I assume that I should be financially stable enough to raise a family. I also saw some jobs too for groundskeepers that only make like $25,000 a year, but if that includes a house to live in on campus and a work vehicle, that pays not too bad (not saying I'm eyeing groundskeeper jobs, just giving an example). And I don't know what a decent income without benefits is considered but based on my description here it's good enough for a place to live and food...

This post was edited by mike758 on Thu, Sep 26, 13 at 11:47

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 11:45AM
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You can, but it depends what in the horticulture field you want to pursue.

Gardening is a fantastic career in many ways, but it does not usually pay well.

If what you want is a lucrative career in horticulture, I think your best bet is in vegetable greenhouses.

If you are trained (and good) at vegetable greenhouse growing and are willing to move to areas where big greenhouses exist (Leamington/Essex county is the biggest in North America, but there are other areas) you can make good money as an assistant grower (in the 40-60K range/yr). But to become an assistant grower you will usually need to first prove yourself in other areas (such as an IPM manager) which pays a bit less. If you become a (head) grower of one of those big greenhouses, you can certainly make 6 figures but most of that money will often be from bonuses. They often pay a set fee and then a bonus based on how much you exceed certain goals (falling short of those benchmarks is a problem, though). There is a shortage of skilled head growers right now, so that industry engages in some head hunting which is very good for the growers involved. That industry is very cutthroat, demanding and stressful but the most lucrative horticulture field I know of. One tip... many of these greenhouses have large staffs of people from Latin America, so speaking Spanish well gives a step up for anyone looking to get into that industry.

It seems like bedding plant/flower/perennial greenhouses don't pay as well but can still provide a decent living especially for the top growers.

There is also some money in the support industry for the horticulture industry. Some sales people and experts can do well, but you would usually need experience in the field to get these positions.

I think that groundskeeping and gardening outdoors does not pay as well, but there are probably niches that do well.

Landscaping and landscape construction pay decently in areas that are growing... though that's more of a tradeschool occupation than a horticulture degree.

I suspect that other niches like managing vineyards and orchards can also pay reasonably well.

For many of these jobs it might be good to also look at trade schools. Not all of those hiring prefer an undergrad degree to a hands-on trade school.

I know people who also do remedial horticulture where they use plants to clean up industry messes (such as in the tar/oil sands). There are some moral questions there, but there are certainly careers.

I guess it depends what you want to do. IMHO there are opportunities all over if you are ambitious and willing to find them. You're more likely to find them if you are working at things you like to do.

Best of luck.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 8:52PM
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Thanks for that advice buhler. Now you got me debating between trade school and college! This is my fault though, I always knew I wanted to do someting in horticulture but I've waited until a month into my senior year to pursue it... But yea based on that and what other people said it sounds pretty easy to find a job in my field, just a little hard to find one with good pay. But like you said if I'm good at what I do and maybe start small, I should be able to eventually make the bucks. It's what I enjoy doing too which I assume makes it worth it

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 10:17PM
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Basically you have a ton of options, and having an actual sit-down with someone in the industry is probably your best bet (as we tend to have idealized images of what a day in the life is). Contact your local nursery and landscape organization and see if they can put you in touch with someone. You could also try contacting your county extension agent.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2013 at 9:03AM
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Alright so it does definitely sound like a possible industry! My only question now is would you recommend a college degree? I was thinking about going to a school called Temple University Ambler that offers a 4 year horticulture program. It's relatively affordable compared to other colleges and close enough to commute to (saves some big bucks). Of course I'm open to other options too if they're better.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2013 at 10:55AM
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I agree with gardengal about becoming fluent in Spanish. Not just learning a few words but being able to communicate with your Spanish speaking fellow employees will give you a big leg up on your job seeking competition. If you haven't already, start listening to Spanish radio and watching Spanish TV.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 9:24PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

You might consider enrolling at your local university to begin your horticulture education. Be open minded about the courses you take...you never know where your interests will take you.

I looked the horticulture offerings at Ambler and it looks very complete. Your introductory, required course work may help you decide which path to follow.

I hope that you have a love of science...the courses that helped me the most in my career were those that emphasized pathology, physiology, entomology, and soil science.

I totally agree with the Spanish classes. You'll benefit whether you're a worker bee or in the upper echelon.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 11:21AM
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The horticultural industry is enormous with types of positions you'd never dream of if you are outside the green industry. You can work in plant inspection (like customs officers), sales of green goods like seed, plants, or associated products like nursery containers, work directly in a greenhouse or nursery operation, teach, start up your own business, work in plant breeding, garden design, county extension, city planning, various governmental jobs directly or indirectly related to plants, go into plant protection (pest control), landscaping. If you pursue a four year degree, you'll be obliged to make various curriculum decisions all along the way leading you to certain specialties. I strongly suggest anyone serious in the industry to at least get an associate degree or the equivalent and to spend at least one summer working in the industry. If you don't, you'll start out with a hose in your hands and have to come up through the ranks the hard way. It's still an occupation where you can do this, if your back holds out long enough. ;-) Always, if you can, plan for a career where you can live off one income.........married or not life sometimes deals you that hand.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2013 at 6:35PM
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follow what you love! if it is plants you will make yourself a nich where you can earn a decent living. Work with all your heart and the quality of your work will put you above others. Take the college degree, especially if there are hands on learning possibilities there. I did all this and at 60 have no regrets. I have more than I need, but I do not crave most things society puts in our heads. Also take some business classes so that if you work for yourself you will know about management. THIS I did not do and so it has taken me longer to get to where I am than others with a business interest. Cannot imagine doing anything else, and working with plants helps aliviates stress. The advice to learn spanish is excellent. it even opens up doors in latin america which could be of use dependng on what you end up doing. I did what you are thinking about and ended up down here with a good life style.

good luck to you.....

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 3:27PM
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Wow, if I could talk back to my 18 year old self about this industry I would probably agree with your parents on a career choice of accounting and the '6 figure' potential income. After 30+ years in the industry, income potential wasn't important for me getting into the Green Industry (Hort, Landscape, Turf, etc) but later on with a family and people who depend on me for their well being, I can't agree that this is a good field to get in to for a long term career. That is difficult to understand as an 18 year old, but later on the need to provide for children and a family the best you can would probably fill your later years with a great deal of regret that you can't understand now.
I started working in this field in high school and through college, I was in computer science my first two years of college and switched to the green industry because of not enjoying the potential of working in the basement labs where most computer systems were found at the time. I got my Hort degree with additional certifications in landscape design/construction and turf management, and went on and also earned a business management degree. The difference of where I am now and where I could have been staying with computers or business management in another field is simply 'exponential'. It isn't just income, but health insurance, retirement funds, and those other benefits that don't seem important at 18 but are huge later on in life. I have a brother in law who is in accounting and has the choice and ability to send his three children to any college that they have the qualifications to get into, providing them at least the potential to have great lives and futures for themselves. I do not have that same potential for my two children after rising to senior leadership roles in this industry over the latter half of my career. Your life 'potentials' working in this industry will always be limiting, that is one thing to accept for yourself, but in 20-30 years you may not feel that way for the rest of your family if you choose to have one. That is something I did not understand as a 18 year old, but is a lesson learned later in life. We never felt like we had to have the biggest home and latest 'toys' or luxuries in life, but depending on where you want to live, living cheaply may put you in unsafe areas and bad schools. In some metro areas, cheaper housing with safe neighborhoods and good schools just don't exist without some risks.
I would tell my 18 year old self to go for the career choice that pushed me to my limits of what I was able to accomplish, if that is an accounting degree with a minor in business management push yourself to that goal and find your limits (that is really what college should be for). Falling back into our industry is not that difficult later on, and may make you more of an attractive candidate with those out-of-industry experiences. But in the end no matter what career choice you make a job will be a job no matter what industry you are in. It is living your life outside of work and providing for your family that is really what ends up being important, go for the potential of having a great, fun, comfortable life outside of work to start with and fall back to this industry if that doesn't work.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 3:23PM
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