question: what is horticulture?

Defined by the American Society for Horticultural Science as, “the art and science of producing, improving, marking, and using fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants,” horticulture is an important component of society that positively impacts citizen’s quality of life. Such improvements can take the form of, for example, increased nutrition, more attractive living environments, or a demonstration of cultural identity.

From an economic perspective, horticulture is a $17 billion [USD] industry that produces more than 2.4 billion tons of goods annually as well as provides employment and income to various participants of horticultural supply and value chains. It is also a growth market with enterprises that vary vastly in size.

the horticulture supply chain
Source: International Society for Horticultural Science, exerted from ‘Harvesting the Sun’, 2012

Each supply and value chain has a number of different stakeholders who are affected by the flow of goods. The actions taken by each link of the chain influences the other members. Therefore, cooperation plays a strong role in the effectiveness of a supply or value chain.

supply chain history
Source: International Society for Horticultural Science, exerted from ‘Harvesting the Sun’, 2012

With such a wide-range of stakeholders, the types of employment provided by horticulture are many. The end-products of these services provide aesthetic, sociological, and psychological benefits. Such benefits range from being able to enjoy fresh fruit on a daily basis to drinking a fine bottle of wine with friends to being able to send a sick family member flowers to sitting in a well-tended park on Sunday afternoon. Horticulture is able to provide these benefits because it differs from other plant sciences and botany as it it incorporates both art and science.

employment sectors in horticulture
Source: International Society for Horticultural Science, exerted from ‘Harvesting the Sun’, 2012

In response to massive consumer demand for horticultural products and a quickly growing population, it has been argued that large-scale production, which is generally vertically integrated, is the only production system capable of consistently meeting global demand. This capability is grounded in the shift from the use of manual labor towards the expansion of the use of machinery and robotics. It has also been asserted that large-scale production is more efficient. However, evidence contrary to the aforementioned assertions has been produced, indicating that small-scale production is as productive as large-scale production. However, due to widespread modernization in the horticultural field, it is often much more difficult for small-scale producers to compete in the market which in turn allows for a concentration of economic power.

Nonetheless, changes in consumer demand may work in favor of small-scale producers as consumers seek out more authentic food experiences, diversity, and are more interested in supporting their local communities. If small-scale producers can effectively exploit such demands as well as provide high-quality products at reasonable prices, they are likely to be able to capture a greater market share. Specific opportunities can be found in tropical fruit production and the diversification of vegetables – two areas where both demand and consumption has steadily increased.

Current issues being faced by the horticultural industry, regardless of size, include controversy associated with seed production, changing weather patterns and climate, soil and fertilizer management, disease and pest control, rising energy costs, and water scarcity.


question: how are plants propagated?

New plants are created via plant propagation of which there are two types: sexual and asexual.

With sexual propagation, there are two sources of parental DNA resulting in the creation of a third living organism. Sexual propagation involves the floral components of the plant and is the result of the pollination of megagametophyte (egg). There are two types of sexual reproduction.

The first is open pollination, in which the seed produced will be identical to the genetically identical parent plants. Such plants have been inbred (see also the purpose of plant breeding and selection and why it is a never-ending story) to propagate the best qualities of a given variety. All heirloom plants are open-pollinated. The second form of sexual production is hybridization which occurs when two plant varieties are crossed to produce offspring with the best genetic traits of each parent plant (ex. one variety has powdery mildew resistance and one is drought tolerant). The F1 (first) generation plant will exhibit the positive effects of the inter-breedings. However, the following generations (F2, etc.) will produce unpredictable offspring.

The second form of sexual production is hybridization which occurs when two plant varieties are crossed to produce offspring with the best genetic traits of each parent plant (ex. one variety has powdery mildew resistance and one is drought tolerant). The F1 (first) generation plant will exhibit the positive effects of the inter-breedings. However, the following generations (F2, etc.) will produce unpredictable offspring.

Sexual Reproduction, Photo Credit:

Success in sexual propagation is not guaranteed and largely dependent on appropriate temperature, water, light, and oxygen levels. For example, if the temperature is too high, it is likely that the blossoms will drop preventing fertilization and ultimately reproduction. Sexual propagation is considered the more cost-effective form of propagation. Likewise, it is a way of preventing the transference of disease from the parent plant to offspring.

Asexual propagation occurs when a piece of a parent plant is removed from the parent plant and regenerates to create a new plant that is genetically identical to the parental plant. Such a form of propagation can be considered cloning. Common methods include grafts, separation, dividing, layering, and cuttings.

Plant Cutting, Photo Credit:


community gardens discussed and analyzed

“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.”

– Abraham Lincoln

Agriculture is defined as the science, art, and business of cultivating soil, producing crops and raising cattle. It is more commonly referred to as farming. Without it, society as we know it would not exist. It has enabled people to put down roots which provided the means for the world’s population to expand. Unfortunately, it has also been transformed by industrialization into a widely abused system that is dependent on government subsidies and environmentally unsound practices in order to produce food products with less nutritional value and poorer taste. Furthermore, the existing agriculture system is controlled by an increasingly small number of international firms.

However, grassroots efforts and individuals are choosing to look at food in a different way, a way that seems to be able to co-exist with ecosystems. A viable option that has been employed in the past, but since forgotten, is the community garden.

A community garden is any vacant land that is used for growing food and is accessible to community members. Not only do these gardens provide healthy food to demographics that many not otherwise have access, but it improves the overall quality of life in the community by reducing crime, encouraging exercise, and encourages people to have pride in their neighborhood. However, the benefits of community gardens are not limited to the community. Instead, the effects impact the whole ecosystem.

Many community gardens have strict rules about the methods members can employ, and choose to model organic farming methods. Those rules include limiting or banning synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Some community gardens also ban certain species of plants that have been proven to attract pests or have no predators to limit spreading.

Community gardens limit non-organic pesticides and fertilizers, because of the effects that they can have on human, animal, and environmental health which allows for the natural qualities of soil and the ecosystem to shine.


Soil is an essential part of the growing environment and without healthy soil, one would not be able to produce healthy plants. Ideal soil for plants is composed of 25% air, 45% minerals, 25% water and 5% organic material. This mix allows for plant roots to efficiently breathe and absorb nutrients and water. However, different plants prefer different mixes of minerals and will tolerate varying degrees of acidity and moisture.

To create ideal soil that is rich in nutrients, well-aerated, and free from disease, many community gardens employ composting methods. Compost is the process of breaking down organic material. The result is a very dark, rich addition to any garden.

Compost is created by putting Nitrogen rich items (greens-vegetable scraps, lawn cuttings, and coffee grounds) and Carbon-rich items (browns-shredded cardboard, sawdust, and leaves) together into a well-ventilated space and mixing with water. The ideal ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen is 25-30:1. This mixture can heat up to 150 degrees from the work of macro and micro-organisms. The increased heat speeds up the breakdown process, and when coupled with Red Wiggler Worms, can reduce the decomposition time to only a few weeks.

Finished compost helps to reduce water use because it is will hold 6X’s more water than traditional soil. It also provides nutrients that would not otherwise be available to plants. This reduces and/or eliminates the need for any non-organic fertilizers, reducing cost and environmental impact while gardeners enjoy similar, if not better results.

Another benefit of compost is that it creates stronger plants, and can help to eliminate the need for pesticides. Pesticides include anything designed to destroy fungus, weed, insect or disease. These synthetic killers are non-discriminatory in their effects, and could just as easily kill family pets as insects. This harm could come from direct consumption, water-run off or from residual traces of chemicals in the soil.

compost 101

To further reduce the needs for pesticides, community gardens encourage and use “beneficial” pests. These are insects that are carnivorous and indigenous to the area. The most popular versions of these bugs are Praying Mantises, spiders, Ladybugs and Lacewings. It must also be noted that one should not introduce too many of one species or too many in general in order to maintain a balance.

When gardens choose not to introduce beneficial pests into the garden, they often choose to use other methods to protect their plants. Covering plants in light-weight netting can deter all insects but does not allow for pollination.

Another option is companion planting, such as putting onions or garlic with almost any plant, or celery with plants in the cabbage family. By planting certain plants together, the smells naturally detract invasive species. Marigolds, nasturtiums, and rosemary are also very pungent smelling and deter many pests.

As in any scenario, some problems arise with community gardens, including issues with existing soil, cultural sensitivities, unfavorable weather and the question of sustainability.

Since community gardens use whatever space is available, and the modern version originated in urban areas where the environmental impact of humans is greater than in rural areas. One of the biggest problems community gardens find is the presence of lead in the soil. Lead is devastating to life and is not easy to remove from soil.

Cultural sensitivities are also difficult to deal with, as they are generally historically rooted. In cities such as Chicago and Detroit, some groups are associating community gardening with slavery. This is difficult to deal with because community gardens are dependent on community involvement.

Weather can also impact the effectiveness of community gardens, especially in cooler climates. To deal with weather problems, community gardens use cold frames and wind tunnels. These structures help to regulate temperature and keep out harsh winds and snows. Sometimes, community gardens will couple these methods with cold hardy plants to lengthen the growing season.

The biggest concern that surrounds community gardens is their capacity to feed a large number of people since the population is not getting smaller and everyone needs to eat. There is a large amount of unused space in cities throughout America, but it is unclear if people are willing to utilize it for food production and put forth the effort needed to transform dilapidated neighborhoods.

While the concept of community gardens is not a new idea, society is in a unique situation that could revitalize their presence in towns and city throughout the country. This revival could help improve ecosystems everywhere, redistribute wealth and resources, encourage and the American agricultural system as a whole, or at least I think so!

For more information, check out this website about the steps needed to start a community garden:


Environmental Working Group. (n.d.) Farming: Farm Subsidies. Retrieved from

Pidwirny, Michael. (2013). Soil. Retrieved from

Runk, David. (2010). Lead, other chemicals taint some urban gardens. Times Union

Smith, Edward C. The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible. North Adams: Storey, 2010.



Horticulture is a $17 billion [USD] industry that produces more than 2.4 billion tons of goods annually. It provides employment and income [something particularly beneficial to women in developing countries], as well as aesthetic, sociological, and psychological benefits.  Civilization is dependent on the products produced by horticultural endeavors for the food that provides us with the nutrition fundamental to life.

Large-scale production, which is generally vertically integrated, is the only practical and economic system [to-date] that can consistently provide enough food for the world’s burgeoning population.  To meet such challenging demands, farmers have shifted away from the use of manual labor in favor of machinery and robotics.  This makes it much more difficult for small-scale producers to compete in the market which in turn allows for a concentration of economic power.  In the past two decades, tropical fruit production has increased the most dramatically and vegetable production has become more diversified.

The horticultural supply chain is as followed: nurseries –> growers –> harvesters –> packaging and processing –> storage –> bulk transport –> distribution –>wholesale/retail –>handling/distribution –> consumption –> waste.  Current issues being faced by the horticultural industry include issues with seed production, changing weather patterns, proper soil and fertilizer management, disease and pest control, packaging, storage, and maintaining product quality.


A horticultural product can start as a seed, a spore, a cutting, or a bulb.  It then becomes a tender shoot in the nursery and ultimately a harvested good that has reached maturity with the help of the sun, soil, water, fertilizer, and the aid of a seasoned professional.  This is known as cultivation and the techniques for accomplishing this task effectively must be adapted to local conditions, such as market forces, the presence of pest and disease, and weather patterns.  Plants that are to be exported must also meet product and transportation standards.  Such a process is not cheap and requires a significant amount of capital expenditures.  As a result, many smaller producers are no longer able to compete in the global market.  However, developing countries are integrating themselves into the market, despite the need for large capital investments; because of the low prices they are able to offer to meet increasing demand of cut flowers in super markets.

Advancements in molecular biology have enabled breeders to selectively encourage specific traits, such as drought tolerance, as well as expand the number and types of fruits available to the market.  Furthermore, some plants have been fruit and produce at a specific time which enables harvesters to maximize their harvest by reducing waste.  Coupled with modern technical knowledge, harvesting has become much more efficient.  Integrated Pest Management [IPM] has also become a staple in horticultural production as it allows for a decrease in the number of inputs required for pest control effectively lowering production costs and increasing market desirability to consumers.  This concept has been applied to fruit production and is known as IFP.

IPMModern environmental changes have also resulted in a need for increased efforts to manage natural resources.  Water is of particular concern.  This dilemma has resulted in the widespread use of greenhouses and hydroponics in order to maximize resource use.  Furthermore, these efforts have been demonstrated as being more productive than traditional land farming.  There are also principles being introduced, such as those developed for the GlobalGAP system, that have helped to encourage sustainability efforts, as well as promote labor and health standards.  Efforts must also be made in order to protect our pollinators which many of our crops are dependent upon in order to produce fruit.  Unfortunately, Colony Collapse Disorder [CCD] is currently an issue of serious concern.


Customers demand consistent quality, appearance, a good presentation, taste, nutrition, health benefits, and adherence to health and safety standards.  However, consumers are fickle, so an efficient supply chain is essential in order to achieve consumer satisfaction and allow growers to respond quickly to market opportunities.  The infrastructure and support services necessary to facilitate such processes include refrigeration systems, cool store design, packaging, ICT inputs, transportation, a reliable electric supply, and effective communication systems.


The packaging component, which allows for the products to be shipped to the location that they are ultimately sold, serves 3 purposes:

  • Preserve the product and extend shelf life, as well as reduce dehydration to and maintain freshness;
  • Protect against disease and damage during travel;
  • Promote the goods using labels, brands, country of origin information and logo details.

The atmosphere in the packaging is often modified by removing up to 15 percent of the oxygen and replacing it with CO2 in order to increase the shelf life of the product.  Such practices also help to reduce the presence of pests on harvests and avoid premature ripening [caused by ethylene].  Post-harvest activities, such as irradiation which uses ionizing radiation to kill insects and other pests and Ultra high pressure [UHP] that uses extreme pressure to “shock and kill” bacteria, are also used in attempts to improve the longevity of produce and protect consumers.

Temperature also plays a significant role in how long a horticultural product will last:  0 – 1˚C for foods grown in temperate climates and 10˚C for tropical/subtropical crops.  The system that allows the products to remain fresher is known as the cold chain system.  Its components include pre-cooling facilities, cold storage facilities, refrigerated carriers, packaging and warehousing, and information management systems.  With such a system in place, the aging of fruits and vegetables can be reduced by up to 800 percent.

Without having an effective cold storage system in place, the costs are exorbitant.  For example: China loses approximately 6 billion USD annually due to spoilage; Pakistan loses between 20 and 40 percent of its harvest; and globally 1.3 billion tons of food is lost each year.  There are currently efforts underway by the organization Cool Chain Association [CCA] to mitigate losses by establishing industry standards for cool chain systems.  To further ensure the safety and standards of the products distributed throughout the world, trace-ability is also essential because it allows for quicker reaction times when a problem, such as contamination, is identified.  This is accomplished using Radio Frequency Identifiers [RFID].

Before being packaged and shipped, the products are processed using increasingly efficient sorting, cleaning, and grading methods.  Some important examples include the use of Near Infra Red [NIR] cameras to sort by quality and color grades; sensor technologies which allow for the testing of produce that would be otherwise too delicate to check; and rotary barrels and drums which prepare sturdier varieties for markets by “polishing” the product with rotating brushes.

Near Infrared Sensors
Near infrared sensors are used to monitor plant health and productivity.


Due to the rapidly growing population and increased consumer demand for horticultural goods, there is an urgent need for investment in training institutes, schools, technical institutes, and universities that can provide the specialized education necessary to modernize the horticultural industry.  Additional support in the areas of computing, engineering, law, statistics, and marketing is also required.  Doing so necessitates the promotion of horticultural activities as career opportunities.  Areas of specialization are varied and can be suited to fit the needs of various individuals.  Some options include plant breeding, supply chain logistics, entomology and pest control, and plant physiology.

Modern expansion of horticultural study programs has primarily taken place in developing countries where horticultural production offers people the opportunity to increase wealth, improve health, and provide export opportunities.  Women have been particularly efficient in this task and compromise a majority of horticultural labor supply in developing countries.  Programs such as the Common Wealth of Learning have aided in this growth by connecting experienced farmers and direct investors with motivated individuals in emerging economies.

Contrastingly, many of horticultural programs in the developed world are being dissolved as populations have become accustomed to the availability of low-cost foods year-round.  The urbanization of society is catalyzing this issue and causing a general sense of apathy towards horticultural production by younger generations.  Unfortunately, this can lead to several problems in the long-run when rural areas lose valuable political representation and the horticultural activities that aid in the funding of public services like schools and hospitals and provide valuable opportunities for employment are lost.


Investment in on-farm and off-farm operations is typically very similar for most vegetable and fruit products.  However, when a product is processed [i.e. frozen or canned] the off-farm investment is much greater than that of the on-farm operations.  Due to this fact, horticultural operations can be a boon to local economies because of the opportunities for direct sales, employment, and financial services which is essential to maintaining infrastructure and services.  Furthermore, economic growth in horticulture has greatly exceeded that of the production of agricultural commodities.  On a global scale horticultural products are on average valued at more than double the value of cereals.  This has led to shift from sustenance farming to export production farming in many poor and developing countries.  The income generated from these shifts can help to reduce poverty, increase positive health outcomes, and address the issue of environmental degradation.

In order to enjoy the many economic benefits of horticulture, investment in research and human capacity building is essential.  Without such investment, efforts are often unsustainable.  Contrastingly, areas that have invested wisely and adapted to changing economic and social demands have been rewarded with international regard [i.e. Bordeaux].  In addition to investment in research, good governance, intellectual property protection, land tenure and credit provisions, good agricultural practices in order to achieve economic success through horticulture.

However, there is growing support for campaigns to encourage a more localized diet, despite the fact that an estimated 93 percent of all fruits and vegetables are produced and consumed locally, although the populations of many countries [i.e. Germany, Russia, and France] are dependent on imported horticultural products for food supply and food security.  Consumers have become accustomed to year-round availability of a wide-variety of goods which allows producers in developing countries to enjoy a steady income which results in an overall increase in the standard of living.  Unfortunately, issues with rising labor, urbanization, competition for land, and transportation costs are a threat to this system and are very likely to impact future demand for many products.  This could be particularly devastating to developed countries because many production operations have been transferred to the developing world.


The human body is designed to utilize the energy and nutrients stored in plants that are not available from any other source.  Varied diets that include red, white, tan, green, blue, purple and brown foods rich in phytochemicals like allicin, anthocyanins and lutein and orange and red foods that contain antioxidants, carotenoids and bioflavonoids are highly recommended for optimal health.  The horticultural industry is also making efforts to improve the nutritional value of various crops in efforts slow and prevent illnesses.

Horticulture also contributes to our well-being in many ways that are often overlooked even though the health, social, environmental, and aesthetic value is apparent in our everyday lives from rooftop and home gardens to garden centers to zoos.  Examples of additional benefits include stress, crime and pollution reduction, improved mental health, increased community cohesion, expanded recreational opportunities, tax revenue generation, augmented property values and tourism revenues, wildlife and biodiversity promotion, energy savings, and expanded learning and educational opportunities.

The type of horticulture responsible for these benefits is known as lifestyle/amenity horticulture and it is responsible for the production and management of ornamental plants, fruit and forestry plants, cut flowers, and the design and maintenance of parks, arboriculture and sports complexes that contribute to over.  Sales are typically local with exports accounting for only 11 percent of total sales value.  Instead, the economic benefits are seen in the generation of more than $270 million in property, state, and local tax revenue and the reduction of costly damages caused by inclement weather.  The estimated worth of services provided by natural capital from flood control, water filtering, and air purification is $132.5 million.  Health-related cost savings are also projected at $1.3 billion.  World amenity horticulture is assessed at approximately $290 billion.


The future of horticulture is filled with a multitude of possibilities and challenges.  Currently, production in many parts of the world is operating below peak efficiency – even with conducive growing conditions.  Issues such as a lack of water management techniques and nutrient deficiencies [abiotic stress] account for 70%-90% of current yield loss. How the industry adapts will be dependent upon consumer demands which are affected by social and economic conditions, as well as the influence of environmental stressors like diseases and pests [biotic stress].

In order to adapt to consumer interests a variety of measures are being made.  For instance, psychographics which identifies shopper attitudes in relation to food is used by the horticultural industry to predict future consumer trends and adapt to current demands.  Presently, consumers are seeking out healthy and convenient foods with good value.  There is also a desire for foods that aid in disease prevention, self-treatment for health, and improved/maintained physical appearance.  In the future it is expected that increasing incomes will allow consumers to expand their palate in order to enjoy new and different food experiences.  Currently there is an expectation that the wide-variety of products that are already available will continue to be so.

In order to efficiently fulfill these demands a variety of conditions must be met: food loss and wastage must be dramatically decreased (check out Garbology by Edward Humes) because it a major source of squandered resources and it is more effective to reduce food loss than increase production; energy and labor costs must be mitigated in order for the sector to remain competitive; information networks must become more effective; educational efforts need to be expanded in order to raise awareness and encourage new talent to fill the demand for horticultural sector employees; crops must be adapted to the changing climates in order to improve productivity; and improve water use techniques because agriculture currently accounts for 70% of all water use in the world which is an issue because water is not as renewable of a resource as once believed.

Options for overcoming these challenges include: conducting a virtual water calculation in order to better understand where which crops should be planted based on water use efficiency; incorporating nanotechnology as a tool for crop monitoring to track pest, environmental, and diseases problems; and expanding the use of automation and robotics to reduce labor costs and increase the consistency of quality.

Expected trends include a replacement of government sponsored advisory services with those provided by the private sector [these private entities will likely still be funded by public funds]; an organization of power by farmers in order to gain better representation in government; an expanded presence of technology in horticultural production; and the emergence of “champions” that will provide the local/regional guidance needed to achieve desired improvements.

Source: McAffery, Daniel. Harvesting the Sun. Leuven: International Society for Horticultural Science, 2012.