Botanist vs. Horticulturist: What’s the Difference Between Them?

Thinking of becoming a botanist or a horticulturist, but aren't sure what the difference is between the two? These two areas of study are both rooted in the study of plants, but have some distinct differences. In this article, we look at both disciplines, and what you can expect as you further your knowledge in each of them.

Horticulturist vs Botanist Examining Plant

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If you are interested in gardening and plants, you may consider two professions closely: botanists and horticulturists. While there are similarities, they are very different careers. When are the similarities between a botanist vs. horticulturist, and how are they different?

Many people think about these two professions as almost the same there. Many times the two branches of science work very closely together to make agriculture better. There can be a lot of overlap between the two groups.

However, there are several fundamental differences to these plant-based science studies. Horticulture is the applied science of gardening, while botanists study the theory of plants. Let’s take a look at each discipline in a little further detail so you have a full understanding of each of them, and what they do.

What is a Horticulturist?

Horticulture Garden Tomatoes
Horticulturists study plants and are focused on their growth and maintenance.

In many ways, a Horticulturist deals with growing and maintaining plants directly. They focus on food and ornamental plants that you can see in gardens. They aren’t as focused on microscopic plants and plant-based bacteria.

The word is Latin for garden cultivation, and that is the focal point of the studies. They work on making gardens and crops. They study how plants breed and the genetics of plants to get the best flowers and fruit for people to enjoy.

If you’re interested in a hands-on experience when studying plants as you did as a child, you should consider horticulture. You’re going to get your hands dirty and participate in activities like maintaining the garden or lawn in many cases.

Every horticulturist works at growing and creating the best plants they can. Horticulturists will often see their work grow in front of them. It can be very satisfying to see the results after applying some real-world science to a developing plant.

How Does a Horticulturist Garden?

Horticulturist in the Garden Pulling Carrots
If you study horticulture, you’ll be getting your hands dirty in the garden.

Horticulturists get right in there and work every aspect of their garden. They plant, water, and maintain extensive gardens to create flowers, vegetables, edible foliage, and other greenery. Their lab is the soil. If being outside is essential to you, being a horticulturist can be a dream come true.

Even though a lot of book learning is required initially, you will spend less time in the library and more time in the field as you grow more experienced in applying the practical lessons you have learned.

Horticulturists are more physically engaged in growing plants as well. They are often doing the landscaping, planting, weeding, and other care themselves directly. Advanced horticulturists may delegate the more minor tasks to others, but it seldom stops being a labor-intensive job.

What Kinds of Jobs Do Horticulturists Have?

Man Working in Garden With Plants
In this discipline, you’ll be working quite a bit in nurseries, and in fields.

Horticulturists work a lot with the agricultural fields. They help farmers and nursery owners get the best plants they can. There are also many government jobs like the United States Department of Agriculture, the USDA. The local government offers many positions.

Many horticulturists focus on sustainability. They help places become more environmentally friendly when producing agriculture. These practices can range from natural pest control to better crop rotations to make the best plants with the least negative impact possible.

Horticulturists can specialize in particular fields. This ability allows them to help with vineyards, golf courses, or theme parks. Anywhere there are customized crops or plants for a niche field, they can master and help maintain.

Lots of hands-on gardening careers also look for horticulturists. Such positions involve gardening managing, landscape design, floral design, and garden planning. If the job consists of growing anything, horticulturists are at the top of the list to get the job. 

How Do You Become a Horticulturist?

Young Man Working in Garden
There’s a collegiate path for careers in horticulture.

Many schools offer degrees in horticulture. These start with two or four-year degrees that require classes in botany, chemistry, soil science, and other science courses. Once you have a bachelor’s degree in the field, you can apply to most agriculture jobs.

If you want to specialize in research or teaching, you can also get a master’s degree or a PhD. in horticulture. These degrees can also help you advance in careers where you already have a bachelor’s in the field.

Due to the practical nature of the field, many later classes in horticulture will get you out into the gardens and farms to experience the work. The outdoor nature of the work makes this a popular degree among people who like science and plants but want to be more active in their studies.

Famous Horticulturists

Despite the extensive work, most horticulturists are not well-known – often, their work is more behind the scenes. Here are some of the biggest names in the horticulturist community that you might have heard of before. 

  • Gertrude Jekyll: created over 400 gardens in the world and wrote extensively on the field.
  • Alan Titchmarsh: Professional horticulturist turned television personality.
  • Charlie Dimmock: Host of many garden restoration shows.
  • Mark Lane: Current head gardener at Buckingham Palace.

What is a Botanist?

Scientist Analyzing Plant Details
If you enter the field of botany, you end more on the scientific side of plant studies.

Botanists focus on the pure science of plants. They cover all things related to plants. Botanists can concentrate on larger plants, microbial plants, bacteria with plant-like characteristics, and even fungi. They tend to study a broader range of plants to understand them all.

If horticulturists are engineers, botanists are theoretical physicists. They spend a lot of time learning the mechanics of plants and their classification. They are more concerned with the theory of plants and how they function.

Botanists are also interested in keeping plants healthier. They can study different blights and illnesses of plants and work on ways to cure them. Learning how to better combat pests is also a significant role of being a botanist.

This extra consideration of function doesn’t mean they don’t grow plants. Botanists will often maintain gardens as places where they can test their theories. They will spend much of their time in labs and libraries, but they can still choose to grow their own research materials.

How Does a Botanist Garden?

Plant Scientist in Lab
Most botanists spend a significant amount of time in the lab.

Many times a botanist has to perform a lot of their research in the lab. They also go into the field a lot to study and categorize wild and natural plants. This schedule doesn’t usually leave them as much time to take an active approach to the garden.

Some still make an effort to get outside and grow their own plants, but many leave it up to others while studying the nature of planets. This can work out well for people who love growing their own plants and juggle both tasks. However, it is not guaranteed that you will be able to spend your days growing.

If growing gardens yourself is your primary desire, then botany may not be the best option for you. You will learn a lot about plants, and almost every botanist keeps a private garden, but planting may not be part of your job.

What Kinds of Jobs Do Botanists Have?

Plant Scientist Studying Tree
Botanists can have a wide range of different career options.

Botanists can get a wide range of jobs. These can range from research-oriented jobs where they study plants and don’t have to grow them to fieldwork that allows them to wander wildernesses looking for specific plant life.

They can get work with private companies, especially if they are interested in studying diseases and pests. Botanists can also get jobs with government organizations, including the Forestry Service and the USDA. A botanist will be necessary whenever a product or position benefits from understanding or creating better plants of any kind.

They also help conservations. Botanists are often on the front line when helping endangered plants – they are crucial to finding and identifying at-risk plants.

How Do You Become a Botanist?

Woman Studying a Plant
There are several degree options in botany, that offer a range of plant-based career paths.

Many degrees can allow you to be a botanist. Some schools offer botany-specific programs. Others offer environmental sciences, biology, or plant biology degrees that all can work well.

These are often four-year degrees covering botany, biology, chemistry, and other science and math classes. If you want to continue your education, you can get a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in the field. These higher degrees are needed if you’re going to primarily conduct research.

Classwork for botanists does tend to stay in the classroom and the lab. They learn a lot about the theory of plants. Some classes involve planting, but this isn’t always the case which is a deterrent for some people.

However, if categorizing and understanding plants is your biggest drive, botanists spend their careers answering these questions. 

Famous Botanists

Botany has always been an extremely popular branch of science. Many of these scientists made considerable contributions to the other fields of science, especially genetics. Here are some of the most famous names in botany.

  • George Washington Carver: Worked heavily with peanuts and created peanut butter.
  • Barbara McClintock: Studied the genome of maize. Her work was later instrumental in the human genome mapping project.
  • Charles Darwin: Created the Theory of Evolution.
  • Gregory Mendel: His work with peas heavily influenced the field of genetics.

How Are Botanists and Horticulturists Similar?

Harvested Potatoes in Garden
Both career disciplines have a love for plants.

Now that you have seen the careers and education for botanists vs. horticulturists, let’s see how they are similar. Both fields have a deep love of plants. They study many of the same theories and concepts, especially early in their education.

Both groups try to help make cultivating and producing plants easier and better. They work on increasing yields in the field and minimizing pests and diseases. Getting the best out of every growing cycle is crucial to maximizing resources.

They are each highly trained in science. The pair understand the deeper aspects of planting and can focus on the science of agriculture to make it a more advanced field.

Botanists and Horticulturists work on creating more sustainable crops and plants. They both want to create a healthier environment to help protect the world. Finding ways to get a better yield from crops allows people to get the most out of each harvest while respecting the environment.

How Are Botanists and Horticulturists Different?

Horticulturist vs Botanist Compared in Gardens
While both career paths deal with plants, botanists will spend more time with plant science.

Horticulturists are the people more likely to make their living as gardeners, farmers, and planters. They are out there creating the gardens and working hands-on with the plants. Botanists are theorists who prefer working on the science of plants.

Horticulturists make their changes to the plants themselves, working on breeding crop rotation and cultivation. Botanists usually make their changes to the genetics of the plants using laboratory techniques to make changes.

Botanists also study a more comprehensive range of plants, including many groups that horticulturists don’t deal with at all. A botanist is less concerned with commercial crops and more focused on the whole plant kingdom, sometimes even overlapping into fungi and bacteria.  

Which Career Pays Better?

Money is by no means everything, but if you’re looking at the differences between the two fields, it might come up. Both paths pay well on average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t break up horticulturists and botanists as separate fields when you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, if you look at a field like groundskeeping, you see that the average annual salary is $32,000. On the other hand, a soil scientist makes around $73,000. It’s clear to see that those in a science-based position tend to make more money.

Considering both careers offer an extensive range of positions, the best way to know how much you will earn is to consider what exactly you want to do with your education. It may be easier to think about which specific position you want to decide which degree to get.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are many differences and similarities when it comes to botanists vs. horticulturists, but they are both professions that involve a deep love of plants.

As a general rule of thumb, horticulturists focus on the practical side of plants, whereas botanists work with the theory and classification of plants. Both make plants and gardening their life’s work, but they approach it in different ways, meaning that you should decide which one suits you better.

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