Gardening vs. Horticulture: Differences and Relationship

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

I have an undeniable, inexplicable love of gardening. I spend a large portion of my spare time outside in the garden. In fact, if anyone is looking for me, they know that’s exactly where I can be found. My friends and family have nicknamed me the “little horticulturalist” and use that nickname often.

Recently, while plodding around the garden, I was called that nickname again, and this time it got me thinking about whether gardening and horticulture are the same or not. Since I started thinking about it, it has been on my mind almost constantly, and so I have set out to do a bit of research to answer the question! 

Horticulture is the science of cultivating, as well as managing of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants, while Gardening involves growing and tending plants, typically as a pastime or for personal food security.
Horticulture is usually used for commercial food production or aesthetics (as in the case of landscaping), whereas Gardening is considered more labor-intensive (unlike commercial farming for food production).  
The relationship between gardening and horticulture is that gardening forms part of horticultural practices.

As you can tell, horticulture and gardening are actually quite closely related, but because horticulture is usually done on a larger scale, it made me more aware of my status as a ‘horticulturalist’. What does this mean? It means I am most certainly not a horticulturalist by pure definition and, of course, the act/practice itself. It is probably time for my family to find a new nickname for me! 

If you would like to learn a bit more about the differences between gardening and horticulture, as well as the relationship between the two, simply read on below where I go into a bit more detail. 

Understanding Horticulture | What You Need to Know

You have probably heard of horticulture before, but do you really understand what it is all about? I must admit that I only had a loose or basic understanding of the practice until recently. 

The word “horticulture” comes from the combination of two Latin words: “Hortus”, which means garden, and “cultus”, which means tilling (or cultivating). 

This makes the practice of horticulture far more obvious to me. To be an official horticulturalist, you need to acquire a qualification, which is what sets it apart officially from gardening. Understanding horticulture is fairly simple. It seems similar to gardening, but it’s not. 

Horticulture is about producing plants for an actual purpose. Plants are, therefore, purpose-grown by a horticulturalist. A horticulturalist will know precisely what type of environment is required to grow a particular plant to the strongest, healthiest, and most durable version of itself. 

The purpose of horticulture could be for food, forestry, medicines, ornamental, or so on. Scientific research and methods are applied to ensure that the strongest and most viable plants are produced.

Benefits of horticulture 

The benefits of horticulture include:

  • High yields of high quality produce. 
  • Food security for the entire community and the greater population.
  • Progress in the scientific world of plant propagation. 
  • Development and strengthening of certain plant species. 
  • Production of high-quality plants to add aesthetic appeal to spaces and increase the monetary value thereof too.

Some great examples of horticulture include landscaping, certain types of gardening, food crop growing, growing crops for fiber and fuel, and arboriculture (the care of trees).

Branches of horticulture

Horticulture is not one set basic practice. In fact, it’s quite an involved one. There are three main branches of horticulture:

1. Pomology

In horticulture, pomology refers to the planting, nurturing, and then further harvesting and processing of nuts and fruits. 

2. Olericulture

In horticulture, olericulture is the growing, nurturing, and production of vegetable food crops. 

3. Ornamental horticulture

In horticulture, ornamental horticulture focuses on growing and using plants for their beauty and aesthetic appeal. It typically involves woody and herbaceous plants. 

This particular branch of horticulture actually has two subcultures of its own: floriculture and landscape horticulture. Floriculture specifically relates to plants used in the florist and interior décor industry, whereas landscape horticulture refers to plants used in the beautifying of outside landscapes. 

Understanding Gardening | What You Need to Know

Unlike horticulture, gardening is something that anyone can do. You don’t need to get a degree or qualification in gardening to be a good gardener. In fact, most people do it as a pastime or for personal gain/reasons. 

Gardening is generally a personal or community project indulged in creating beautiful spaces that aesthetically lift up the environment and produce functionality. The functionality of gardening is seen in terms of food security or reducing your carbon footprint. Gardening can be done in open communal spaces or in your own backyard in the form of a veggie patch. 

The practice involves active participation from the gardener. In most instances, no automated processes are involved – although automated irrigation systems can be involved. Tending the garden is labor-intensive, which is one of the main things that sets it apart from horticulture (equipment and teams are often used in this field), although it still forms part of it. 

Benefits of Gardening

Part of understanding gardening and how it relates to horticulture is to know its various benefits. The various benefits of gardening include:

Food security.

Gardening ensures consistent access to fresh food for families and communities.

A healthier chemical and hormone-free food source.

Gardening allows people to enjoy a diet that consists of food that has no GMOs or chemical pesticides used on them, which is healthier for you and the environment.

Reduced carbon footprint.

When you grow your own fruit, veggies, and herbs, you don’t contribute to the transport emissions created by fresh produce sold in grocery stores. The oxygen produced by the plants in the garden also counts as a contributing factor to reduced carbon dioxide.

Increased oxygen production.

As you already know, plants produce oxygen. And oxygen is the very stuff we breathe to stay alive. The more plants you have, the more oxygen you are producing – and that’s great for the environment.

Reduced stress levels. 

Gardening has proven itself to be a great form of therapy and stress relief. The more you take the time away from your regular troubles and head into the garden, the more relaxed you can expect to be.

Increase property beauty and value.

Yup…gardening is great for increasing the value of your property. It is a proven fact in property sales that a garden means better curb appeal and a higher price tag attached to your home. 

Exercise for the gardener. 

People who want to keep active but don’t want to go running or head to the gym, often find that gardening provides just enough exercise to tone and shape the muscles and keep them at a healthy fitness level.

Types of Gardening

Gardening can be divided into two types: indoor gardening and outdoor gardening. Indoor gardening can include the likes of potted house plants, or grow rooms with UV lights, whereas outdoor gardening can include a variety of formats. The actual garden can be transformed by creating a garden design and then planting various plants and trees directly into the soil, or gardeners can opt for the following:

Container gardening

Container gardening is a type of gardening where the plants are not planted into the soil, but rather in containers and pots. This is often because containers take up less space, the soil is easier to control (and prep), and the plants are easier to take care of.

Hydroponics gardening

If you don’t like working with soil, then hydroponic is for you. Hydroponics is the method of cultivating and growing plants without the use of soil. Instead of using soil, the plants are grown using a mineral nutrient and water solution. Most hydroponic systems grow plants in PVC pipes or plastic tubs and buckets. 

Vertical wall gardening

If you don’t have much space and want to grow plants that perform well and offer high yields, vertical garden walls are great. These can be plastic wall-mounted garden pots that form the wall or vertical garden bags that are also affixed to the wall. 

The Relationship between Gardening and Horticulture

When you start thinking about the relationship between horticulture and gardening, it can be tricky to understand. While horticulture is a branch of agricultural science, it is actually very similar to gardening. Gardening and horticulture are not one and the same thing. 

Gardening is part of horticulture and involves the arranging and tending of ornamental or food plants. Horticulture involves the planting, developing, and managing of plants to be used in landscaping or floristry or to stock nurseries. There’s a high possibility that the plants at your local nursery came from a horticulturalist. 

For me, the relationship is easy to understand…gardening and horticulture are related in that they are very similar except one is done on a small scale and the other on a large scale (usually for commercial purposes). 

While horticulture certainly interests and inspires me, I feel that I am better suited and skilled for gardening. Now that you know the difference (and relationship) between gardening and horticulture, which do you think is best suited to you?

This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.