What IS a Horticulturist? What IS a Landscape Architect? You mean they are different?!

Often, when I have to explain to someone that a Horticulturist and a Landscape Architect are two totally different professions, I usually get a look of complete confusion or disbelief. Believe me; it’s like comparing apples and eggs. There are several major and distinct professional tracts within the “green” industry and each of them have their own expertise and specialty. To break it down simplistically: While a Landscape Architect can design a spatially amazing public park with spectacular walkways, sculptural water features and more…it’s the Horticulturist that’s going to know the right plants to select for that space and how to properly cultivate the plants and the soil. A Landscaper will be contracted to install and build the new park. They may even do the regular maintenance – they should consult regularly with a Horticulturist on proper maintenance activities. A Turf Grass Specialist should be called in to manage that perfectly manicured lawn that people are constantly walking and picnicking on…while an Arborist needs to be called in when it’s time to properly prune those growing trees, or treat them for a pest or disease issue. See? You need all of us. It takes a village.

In this article I’ll break down a few more of the main professions within the industry and give a basic definition of each. I also include some information on professional certifications. I hope you can use this information to better understand the green industry and make better choices about who to hire for which project. Right person, right job!

Horticulturists work and/or conduct research in the disciplines of gardening and landscaping, plant propagation and cultivation, crop production, plant breeding and genetic engineering, plant biochemistry, and plant physiology. A horticulturist typically has a degree in Horticulture, or very closely related field such as Plant Physiology, Botany or Floriculture. In addition, they may also have advanced degrees and perhaps a Horticulture Certification from ASHS. Their work particularly involves fruits, berries, nuts, vegetables, flowers, trees, shrubs, soil management and turf. Horticulturists work to create beautiful landscapes through proper plant selection, improve crop yield, quality, nutritional value, and resistance to insects, diseases, and environmental stresses. Horticulturists can work in industry, government or educational institutions or private collections. They can be cropping systems engineers, wholesale or retail business managers, writers, garden consultants, garden center employees, greenhouse growers, propagators and tissue culture specialists (fruits, vegetables, ornamentals, and turf), crop inspectors, crop production advisers, extension specialists, plant breeders, research scientists, and of course, teachers (Wiki Definition). If consulting with an independent professional Horticulturist, you should expect to pay between $100-$250 per hour for their consulting services, depending on the scope of work and their qualifications. However, depending on the person, rates are often higher for special projects, or commercial contracts.

*Speaking & Lectures from professionals: For lectures, programs or appearances, expect to pay a speaker at least $500-$2000, plus travel and expenses. Speaking fees are higher for larger conferences or conventions and keynotes - and can range between $3,000-$10,000 depending on the event. Rates, of course, will depend on qualifications.

Arborists or tree surgeons are professionals in the practice of arboriculture, which is the management and maintenance of ornamental or shade trees. Arborists typically have a degree in Arboriculture or Forestry, or very closely related field such as Plant Physiology. They may also have a certification from ISA. Work can include tree surgery and also care of shrubs, vines, and other perennial woody plants. An arborist is distinct from a forester, or from a logger. Those professions may have much in common, but the scope of work is different. Arborists frequently focus on health and safety of individual trees, or wooded landscapes, rather than managing forests or harvesting wood. They can focus on urban arboriculture, for city parks and greenspace, or on residential arboriculture, where they focus on the proper maintenance, pruning, feeding and diagnosis of trees. Consultation and lecture rates will be similar to those of a Horticulturist. Actual maintenance for tree work costs will vary per project depending on the number of crewman required.

Landscape Architects design outdoor public areas, landmarks, and structures to achieve environmental, social-behavioral, or aesthetic outcomes. Landscape architects have a degree in Landscape Architecture. Landscape architecture involves the systematic investigation of existing social, ecological, and geological conditions and processes in the landscape, and the design of interventions that will produce the desired outcome. The scope of the profession includes: urban design; site planning; stormwater management; town or urban planning; environmental restoration; parks and recreation planning; visual resource management; green infrastructure planning and provision; and private estate and residence landscape master planning and design; all at varying scales of design, planning and management (Wiki Definition). Consulting and lecture rates are similar to those of an experienced Professional Horticulturist or Degreed and Certified Arborist. A stamped landscape plan from an LA (which includes hardscape, drainage and irrigation design) is a service for which you should expect to pay approximately a minimum of$1000.00-$3,000 for a typical residential project; You'll definitely pay more for larger or commercial projects and depending on the scope of work. Consultation and lecture rates will be similar to those of a Horticulturist.

Pair up a Horticulturist and Landscape Architect on a project is often the perfect combination...we'll often call in an Arborist as well if there are specific tree considerations or preservation needs.

Turf Grass Specialists can work with residential client who needs in a home landscape situation or, more commonly, in managing a turfgrass surface in a sports facility. Turf Grass managers typically have a degree in Turf Grass Management. Expertise in turfgrass management is an essential part of operations with college and university athletics, city parks systems and golf courses, and professional teams. Managers are responsible for maintenance and grooming of football, soccer, softball and baseball fields, as well as parks and golf courses. A manager must be competent in turfgrass and soil science, proper irrigation practices, pest control.

Landscaper/Landscape Designer:

The term “Landscaper” or “Landscape Designer” tends to be used much more liberally and by individuals with broad and varied backgrounds. Always ask for credentials and references.

Landscapers: Some will have a degree related to Landscape Design, Landscape Management, Horticulture or Turf grass management, but most “landscapers” will not have a degree at all, and often little to no formal training. There are industry organization professional certifications, and many who have worked in the landscape industry may go on to procure one such certification, which is a good thing. A landscaper may work for a firm or be self-employed. A landscaper can clear and prepare areas for planting installations, amend soils and install new plant material. Some landscapers also build pathways, decks and pods or install landscape lighting. A landscaper may also focus on caring for properties on which the landscaping has already been established. This may include landscape maintenance tasks that are weekly, seasonal, yearly, and done as needed. Such work may include basic irrigation, fertilizing, tree stump removal, snow plowing, planting bulbs or annuals, trimming shrubs, shaping trees, and mowing lawns.

Landscape or Garden Designer: Preferably, a landscape designer will have a degree in Landscape Design – or at least a 2-year degree in Landscape/Garden Design, with supporting coursework in Horticulture and Art; or a related degree and an ALPD certification. A landscape/garden designer is not synonymous with a landscape architect. Often you’ll find landscaper designers may have more horticultural and plant knowledge, while the landscape architect will be able to engineer more complicated hardscape, resolve drainage issues and provide irrigation design. Some landscape designers make work for a company that can also provide landscaping (installation), while others provide only design services and refer or contract out the actual landscape installation. A garden design is a service for which you should expect to pay a minimum of $500-$1000 for a typical residential garden plan. Prices will be higher for larger properties or commercial projects, depending on the scope of work. This cost does not include installation services or materials.

Irrigation: There are also many other niche specialties in the water management area, such as certified irrigation contractors, designers and auditors (for which there is currently a high demand). They have industry specific certifications as well. When doing irrigation specific work, it’s always best to contract a certified and licensed irrigation specialist.

Cross-disciplinary experience: A Horticulturist may also have experience as an arborist and can address tree issues in your landscape; they may also have garden design experience and can provide that service. Just as an arborist may have additional horticultural and landscaping knowledge and can provide those services. A landscape architect may have some horticulture experience, and a garden designer may have good irrigation design knowledge. But you should never assume someone has such cross-disciplinary experience: If you hire any professional to assist you in your landscape, you should always ask for credentials to determine the individual’s background, regardless of the title they may be using. That way you can make sure you’re hiring the right person for the right job.

Degrees and Professional Certifications

As stated above, most individuals that represent themselves as a Horticulturist, Arborist, Turf Grass Specialist or Landscape Architect should have a degree or advanced degree in Horticulture, Botany, Biology, Forestry, Arboriculture, Turf Grass Management, or Landscape Architecture. If they do not have a degree, then they should have worked in that specific industry for many years and have chosen a professional certification. These professional certifications are not state controlled or mandated, however they do represent additional commitment by the individual to stay current and active in their field. Continuing education is required to maintain these certifications.


ASHS - American Society of Horticulture Science

CPH – Certified Professional Horticulturist
- Must Possess at least a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree from an accredited U.S., Canadian or foreign institution with a major in horticulture, or a closely allied field of science, and meet the minimum core requirements.
- Minimum of 5 years of professional work experience in horticulture after receipt of BS degree.
- Candidate with a Masters or Doctoral degree may substitute two (2) years of professional experience for each degree held.
-Activities such as farm management, consulting, research, extension, and teaching must make up a minimum of 70% of the applicant’s time working directly with horticulture issues for any time period to count fully as work experience.
- Professional References required.

CH – Certified Horticulturist
Must pass extensive ASHS CP Exam, in addition to:
- Must be employed full-time in the field of horticulture and have a minimum of three years of paid full-time experience in horticulture,
-OR must be employed full-time in the field of horticulture, possess a two-year degree in a horticultural field and have two (2) years of paid full-time experience in horticulture
- OR must be employed full-time in the field of horticulture, possess a four-year degree in a horticultural field and have one (1) year of paid full-time experience in horticulture.

ISA - International Society of Arboriculture

CA – Certified Arborist - certified arborists have a minimum of three years of experience in some aspect of tree care and have passed an exam developed by a panel of experts. The exam extensively covers every aspect of tree care and the individuals must have an acceptable level of knowledge in all areas of arboriculture.

CLARB – Council of Landscape Architecture Registration Boards

CLA – Certified Landscape Architect
-Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture
-Two year’s work experience under a CLA. Some states allow for Seven years of work experience to substitute for a degree.
-Pass L.A.R.E (Landscape Architecture Registration Exam)
-Apply for review for CLARB certification status.

APLD - Association of Professional Landscape Designers

CLD – Certified Landscape Designer
APLD's certification program confers professional recognition to landscape designers based on established standards of excellence. Currently, 20 percent of APLD members are certified. Certification is available for Professional members in good standing who have been practicing landscape design for a minimum of four years. It is the only landscape design certification program in the United States.
The certification review process, overseen by our certification committee, evaluates a candidate's submitted work, consisting of three installed projects. For each project, the designer submits drawings, a plant list, a design intent statement and photographs.

Texas Nursery and Landscape Association - Different states will have their own nursery and landscape associations that will provide similar industry certifications.

TCNP – Texas Certified Nursery Professional - The Texas Certified Landscape Professional (TCNP) program certifies individuals in the nursery and landscape industry that possess a high degree of knowledge and skill in horticulture and the retail nursery business. Individuals must pass an exam developed by experts that covers: Plant Culture, Plant Identification, merchandising, and Landscape Design. Individuals must be working in the Nursery Industry.

An applicant must meet one of the following educational or work requirements in addition to the exam:
-Bachelor's degree in an industry related field.
-Associate degree in an industry related field plus 500 hours of industry work experience within the last 2 years.
-Completed 2000 cumulative hours of industry work experience within the last 2 years.
-Completed 300 hours of classroom instruction in high school horticulture and 1000 hours of industry work experience.

TMCNP – Master Texas Certified Nursery Professional (additional testing required)

TCLP- Texas Certified Landscape Professional - Have been a full time employee (with a firm actively engaged in the industry) for at least 6 months within the 12 months immediately preceding the date of application.
An applicant must meet one of the following educational or work requirements in addition to the exam:
- Bachelor's degree in landscape design, installation, or management
- Bachelor's degree in an unrelated field plus 4000 hours of industry work experience
- Associate degree in landscape design, installation or management plus 4000
hours of industry work experience
- Completed 300 hours of classroom instruction in high school horticulture and 6000 hours of industry work
- Completed 8000 cumulative hours of industry work experience

Volunteer Organizations

Master Gardener - Master Gardener Programs are volunteer programs affiliated with a State Cooperative extension service office and a land-grant university that educates the public on gardening and horticultural issues. Typically Master Gardeners answer home owner questions via phone, speak at public events and participate in community gardening displays. Individuals that pursue Master Gardener training are generally amateur gardeners with an interest in community outreach and supporting the professional community. “Master Gardener” is not a professional certification and should not be confused with, or used as, a professional degree or professional certification that is used to hire oneself out for work. Master Gardeners may not use the designation to advertise or promote personal gardening services. Once you are no longer an active volunteer, you lose the title.

For example, here is the policy for the Texas Master Gardener Program.

When to Use the Texas Master Gardener Title

"Graduates of the Texas Master Gardener Program should not display credentials or give the appearance of being a Texas Master Gardener at a place of business unless that location is designated as a Master Gardener educational activity location by the local Extension office. Texas Master Gardeners must not use the title, Texas Master Gardener, in any form of advertisement. Implying Texas AgriLife Extension Service endorsement of any product or place of business is improper. The Texas Master Gardener program is a public service program operated by Texas AgriLife Extension Service to provide unbiased information, and the Texas Master Gardener title is to be used only when doing unpaid volunteer work in this program. When Texas Master Gardeners speak before groups on horticultural subjects it is permissible for them to accept unsolicited reimbursements or gifts."

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