What is Horticulture? A Modern Applied Plant Science!

Horticulture is the science and art of the development, sustainable production, marketing, and use of high-value, intensively cultivated food and ornamental plants. Horticultural crops are diverse; they include annual and perennial species, delicious fruits and vegetables, and decorative indoor and landscape plants. These specialty crops help sustain and enrich our lives by providing nutritious food, enhancing the beauty of our homes and communities and reducing our carbon footprint.

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Researchers evaluate carrot and cherry yields, two food specialty crops.

Horticulture also contributes to quality of life, and the beauty, sustainability and rehabilitation of our environment and the human condition (e.g., see https://www.loveyourlandscape.org/more/the-benefits-of-landscapes/).  Environmental horticulture (i.e., the “green industry”), is composed of careers in greenhouse production, wholesale brokers, commercial nurseries, garden centers, florists and landscape design and construction firms, as well as private and community gardens, municipal parks and state or national reserves.  Michigan ranks third in floriculture/greenhouse production, with wholesale crops valued at over $400 million, where, for example, bedding/annual garden plants account for over half of those sales – leading the U.S. A recent report out of Texas A&M University and the University of Florida concluded that the green industry in the U.S. had direct employment of 1.6 million individuals, nearly $14 billion in sales, and direct economic output of $136 billion.  Michigan is among the top 10 states in terms of employment in the green industry.

Why Study Horticulture at MSU?

The Department of Horticulture at MSU is dedicated to providing the highest-quality education and is one of the largest horticulture programs in the U.S. As the nation’s first Horticulture Department, we are proud to maintain a tradition of excellence spanning more than 150 years.  See why our students love horticulture and love studying it at MSU!

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Students at MSU learning Plant Identification for the green industry.

In addition, MSU has a very active Student Horticulture Association club that allows YOU to get involved in many aspects of horticulture while having fun.

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The Student Horticulture Association at the homecoming parade.

Careers in Horticulture

Practitioners of horticulture are as diverse as the crops that make up the industry and the discipline.  They include a wide array of individuals and groups who farm, landscape, garden, research, advise and enjoy the bounty of horticultural plants for their nourishment, health benefits and aesthetics.  For more information, visit our Careers in Horticulture page.

The Need for Horticulture Professionals

A strong and sustained need for horticulture professionals exists.  This is true in Michigan, the Great Lakes region, nationally and internationally; and is as true for small, local operations as it is for larger commercial enterprises.  The Department of Agriculture census estimated U.S. fresh market vegetable production at 18 million metric tons and a value of nearly $12 billion in 2015.  Similarly, U.S. (non-citrus) fruit and nut production was valued at over $26 billion for approximately 22 million tons in 2014.  In addition, it is estimated that the global urban horticulture market is worth nearly $300 billion. 

Michigan produces over 300 commodities, making it the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, and exports internationally to Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, South Korea, etc.  These successful horticultural operations depend on expertise in areas such as physiology, breeding, molecular biology, pomology, viticulture, and greenhouse management to enhance yield and improve production. The 2014 U.S. Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture concluded that too few scientists are being trained in agricultural disciplines like horticulture.

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