What is Horticulture?

Horticulture has been a vital part of human life for thousands of years. People across the globe depend on plants for food, medicine, and even enjoyment. Horticulture is a wide-ranging term used to define various methods of how humans work with plants.
This article will explore exactly what horticulture is and why it’s important. This post will also cover a brief history of horticulture before diving into some of the most important types of horticulture that humans use today.

What is horticulture?

Horticulture is a broad term that defines some of the most important interactions between humans and plants. Horticulture generally focuses on commercial or scientific activities relating to plants. This includes producing plants to sell to customers as food and ornaments or actively adapting plants to better appeal to the needs of customers. Garden centers, ornamental gardens, landscaping projects, and plant research facilities are all examples of horticultural institutions. Horticulture includes a set of activities that refer to creating better plants. Breeding, cultivating, and propagating plants to improve the plant’s characteristics are three of the most common and important aspects of horticulture. Characteristics that can be improved through horticulture include plant growth, more nutritional content, resistance to diseases, higher yields, and the overall quality of the plant. Through horticulture, plants are modified to become stronger and more resistant to problems such as environmental conditions and pests. Horticulture also involves an important scientific element. In order to create better plants through cultivation and propagation, research must be carried out to investigate how a plant can be improved.

Horticulture or gardening?

There are some similarities between horticulture and gardening that can make the two subjects seem like the same thing. However, there are some important distinctions between the two. Gardening is more of a personal activity for enjoyment. In contrast, horticulture is a commercial activity that makes gardening possible by supplying garden hobbyists with plants, compost, and other products. Put simply, horticulturalists cultivate and propagate the plants sold in garden centers, and the gardeners then buy these plants to use in their gardens. Through horticulture, the plants used in people’s gardens have been bred specifically to look good and grow easily. Some specific varieties of plants may be grown for their popularity, such as roses or sunflowers.

The origins of horticulture

Horticulture has played an important role in the transition of human society from hunter-gatherers to settled communities. Once humans figured out that using certain techniques could make edible plants easier to cultivate, horticulture was born. Humans in pre-Columbian America began to learn that using materials such as charcoal, made from burning waste plant matter, could make the soil more productive for growing crops such as maize. Some civilizations that lived in the rainforest planted tree crops such as avocado under the rainforest canopy to take advantage of the growing conditions. One of the main types of horticulture is ornamental gardens, and these originated in the Middle East in the 6th Century BC. Persian ruler Cyrus the Great built on the traditions of other preceding civilizations such as the Assyrians and Babylonians to create beautiful gardens in various cities across his empire. Horticulture continues to be an important part of human society in modern era thanks to these developments made by our distant ancestors.

Agriculture vs horticulture

Agriculture and horticulture developed in tandem with each other, creating the settled agricultural civilizations that appeared thousands of years ago. Both disciplines involve cultivating and propagating specific crops to produce food. But there are some differences between the two fields. Agriculture takes place on a much larger scale than horticulture and mainly focuses on producing huge quantities of individual crops such as grains. Horticulture has a much smaller footprint and focuses more on fruits, vegetables, and trees for food as well as flowers. Horticulture also focuses on the commercialization of flowers and other ornamental plants that consumers buy to use as decoration.

Types of horticulture

There are several specific branches within the wider study of horticulture, mainly relating to specific types of plants and their unique characteristics and methods of cultivation:


Arboriculture focuses on the cultivation and care of trees or shrubs that do not bear fruit. The practice of arboriculture is mainly used for community landscaping in parks or nature reserves. Tree surgeons are the most common practitioners of arboriculture, and they are responsible for felling and pruning trees.


Floriculture, also known as ornamental horticulture, is a discipline focused on the breeding, cultivation, propagation, and commercial production of flowers. Floriculture is responsible for most of the ornamental stock in garden centers.


Olericulture is the discipline of horticulture that is primarily focused on producing vegetable crops. This is usually done within a much smaller footprint than the grains produced in agriculture. Olericulture also involves other methods of growing food crops such as hydroponics.


Pomology refers to producing fruit crops for food. Pomology is also known as fruiticulture and is centered around places like orchards. Pomology involves cultivating, propagating, and pruning fruit trees. There is also an element of scientific study that aims to further develop better methods of fruit farming.


Viticulture is a field of horticulture that specializes in producing grapes for wine growing.  Viticulture is centered around vineyards and involves the cultivation and propagation of grape crops. These crops are maintained and stimulated through chores such as pruning.

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