A horticulturalist, more correctly known as a horticulturist, performs research which is designed to promote efficiency in the growth, harvest, and storage of crops. In addition, horticulturalists also work with ornamental plants, trees, vines, and so forth, developing new plant varieties, innovative landscaping techniques, and gardening styles for all climates. A horticulturalist can choose among a number of areas of focus, ranging from viticulture, the production of grapes, to entomology, studying insects which have an impact on crops.
In the world of commercial agriculture, horticulturalists develop new strains of plants which boast improved yields. They may work with a specific plant to develop a breed which is easier to harvest, or which stores better than other plant varieties. Horticulturalists also research postharvest physiology, looking at how well plants keep, and methods which could be used to improve the storage life for commercially popular crops.
A horticulturalist can also develop new ways to use plants, along with new plant breeds. Pomologists, for example, work with fruits, developing interesting hybrids and cross-breeds, while olericulture focuses on vegetables. A horticulturalist who works on crops for mass-production may think about issues like disease-resistance, making things convenient for harvesting equipment, or insect and animal pests. Horticulturalists who focus on crops for smaller-scale production may focus on preserving and improving heritage crops, or publicizing the importance of maintaining crop diversity.
The study of horticulture isn't all about food. Some horticulturalists specialize in ornamental plants like flowers, shrubs, and trees, and others work in the field of landscaping. A landscape horticulturalist may develop low-water landscaping for drought-stricken regions, for example, or focus on landscaping with native plants in a particular region to promote the maintenance of native species. Landscape horticulture can also involve considerations like pest resistance, the look and feel of a garden, and the connection between people and the natural environment.
Someone who wants to become a horticulturalist should have a passion for and an interest in plants. Typically work in this field requires a bachelor's degree in horticulture, at a minimum, and some horticulturalists pursue advanced studies in specific fields within the larger framework of horticulture. Horticulturalists should also plan on being able to work outdoors and cooperating with researchers in a wide variety of disciplines on projects which can range from creating genetically engineered plants to restoring wetlands.