Horticulture has been defined as the agriculture of plants, mainly for food, materials, comfort and beauty for decoration. According to American horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey, "Horticulture is the growing of flowers, fruits and vegetables, and of plants for ornament and fancy." A more precise definition can be given "The cultivation, processing, and sale of fruits, nuts, vegetables, and ornamental plants as well as many additional services". It also includes plant conservation, landscape restoration, soil management, landscape and garden design, construction and maintenance, and arboriculture. In contrast to agriculture, horticulture does not include large-scale crop production or animal husbandry.
Horticulturists apply knowledge, skills, and technologies to grow intensively produced plants for human food and non-food uses and for personal or social needs. Their work involves plant propagation and cultivation with the aim of improving plant growth, yields, quality, nutritional value, and resistance to insects, diseases, and environmental stresses. They work as gardeners, growers, therapists, designers, and technical advisors in the food and non-food sectors of horticulture.
The word horticulture is modeled after agriculture, and comes from the Latin hortus "garden" and cultura "cultivation", from cultus, the perfect passive participle of the verb colō "I cultivate". Hortus is cognate with the native English word yard (in the meaning of land associated with a building) and also the borrowed word garden.
The major areas of Horticulture include:
Horticulture has a very long history. The study and science of horticulture dates all the way back to the times of Cyrus the Great of ancient Persia, and has been going on ever since, with present-day horticulturists such as Freeman S. Howlett and Luther Burbank. The practice of horticulture can be retraced for many thousands of years. The cultivation of taro and yam in Papua New Guinea dates back to at least 6950–6440 cal BP. The origins of horticulture lie in the transition of human communities from nomadic hunter-gatherers to sedentary or semi-sedentary horticultural communities, cultivating a variety of crops on a small scale around their dwellings or in specialized plots visited occasionally during migrations from one area to the next (such as the "milpa" or maize field of Mesoamerican cultures). In the Pre-Columbian Amazon Rainforest, natives are believed to have used biochar to enhance soil productivity by smoldering plant waste. European settlers called it Terra Preta de Indio. In forest areas such horticulture is often carried out in swiddens ("slash and burn" areas). A characteristic of horticultural communities is that useful trees are often to be found planted around communities or specially retained from the natural ecosystem.
Horticulture primarily differs from agriculture in two ways. First, it generally encompasses a smaller scale of cultivation, using small plots of mixed crops rather than large fields of single crops. Secondly, horticultural cultivations generally include a wide variety of crops, even including fruit trees with ground crops. Agricultural cultivations however as a rule focus on one primary crop. In pre-contact North America the semi-sedentary horticultural communities of the Eastern Woodlands (growing maize, squash and sunflower) contrasted markedly with the mobile hunter-gatherer communities of the Plains people. In Central America, Maya horticulture involved augmentation of the forest with useful trees such as papaya, avocado, cacao, ceiba and sapodilla. In the cornfields, multiple crops were grown such as beans (using cornstalks as supports), squash, pumpkins and chilli peppers, in some cultures tended mainly or exclusively by women.
Since 1804 The Royal Horticultural Society, a UK charity, leads on the encouragement and improvement of the science, art and practice of horticulture in all its branches and shares this knowledge through its community and learning programmes, world class gardens and shows. The oldest Horticultural society in the world, founded in 1768, is the Ancient Society of York Florists. They still have four shows a year in York, UK.
The professional body representing horticulturists in Great Britain and Ireland is the Institute of Horticulture (IOH). Also, the IOH has an international branch for members outside of these islands.
The International Society for Horticultural Science promotes and encourages research and education in all branches of horticultural science.
The American Society of Horticultural Science promotes and encourages research and education in all branches of horticultural science in the Americas.
The National Junior Horticultural Association (NJHA) was established in 1934 and was the first organisation in the world dedicated solely to youth and horticulture. NJHA programs are designed to help young people obtain a basic understanding of, and develop skills in, the ever-expanding art and science of horticulture.
The New Zealand Horticulture Institute.
The Global Horticulture Initiative (GlobalHort) fosters more efficient and effective partnerships and collective action among different stakeholders in horticulture. The organisation has a special focus on horticulture for development (H4D), i.e. using horticulture to reduce poverty and improve nutrition worldwide. To be efficient, GlobalHort is organised in a consortium of national and international organisations to collaborate in research, training, and technology-generating activities designed to meet mutually-agreed-upon objectives. GlobalHort is a not-for-profit organisation registered in Belgium.