How to Start a Plant Nursery



how to start a plant nursery

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Soil, seeds and cuttings – can it be that simple? If you have a green thumb, you might have what it takes to earn some green by starting your own nursery.

Did you know that there are nearly 400,000 types of plant varieties? Which ones are best suited to your location and goals?



You can make your own schedule. And unless you talk to your plants, business operations are nice and quiet.

What is a Plant Nursery?

In simple definition, a plant nursery is a business where plants are propagated, grown and sold. The plants can be sold to home gardeners or to commercial entities such as landscape companies or groceries.

Whether nursery owners grow big plants or smaller plants, or specialize in growing trees, the seedlings or trees are grown until they are ready for the intended customer to buy. In other words, grown to a usable size.

Plant Nursery


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How Much You Make Starting a Nursery?

The earnings of retail nurseries vary – according to the location and the size of the nursery.

Smaller, backyard nurseries might earn $7000 to even $40,000 annually. On a small nursery scale, one potted plant might sell for $1 while a specialty plant (such as a unique orchid) might sell for $100s.

The range for large-scale nurseries is from $40,000 to $625,000 annually. Big nurseries sell large quantities of plants, such as acres of ground cover or a thousand trees. In the past few years, the most popular trees are Japanese maples.

As a general estimate, you can expect to make $20 for every square foot you use to grow plants.



How to Make Money with a Plant Nursery

It’s not as simple as planting a seed, raising a plant and selling it – even if you have the greenest thumb imaginable and love plants.

At the same time, you need careful planning and business savvy. Here are some tips:

  • Education – Do tons of reading, work for a greenhouse and/or get professional training. You’ll need to be able to identify plants and plant problems (such as fungus, disease and insects).
  • Sound Techniques – From the home based nursery to the huge plant nurseries, one thing is standard with successful nurseries. You must follow careful steps from the beginning to the “sell ready” stage of a plant or tree.
  • Mix It Up – Most nurseries at the start count on having the bulk of sales from a standard, easy-to-grow plant product. Many nurseries, even small growers, also add a specialty, higher dollar plant or propagate trees. Your speciality item may be one plant.
  • Planning and Timing – If you live in an area with a long growing season, great. If not, you’ll start plants inside with artificial lighting, and heat. This costs more money but it’s the only way to may plants ready when the customers want them.
  • Organized Set-Up – Whether you plan to sell to walk in customers or deliver your plants and trees to buyers, you need to be organized. It should be easy to water and tend plants, and easy to move them.
  • Start Small – Starting a plant nursery can be done in your spare time, even as a family venture. The smallest of children can push seeds into soil. Add employees (even part time seasonal employees) as needed.
AspectTips to Make Money with a Plant Nursery
EducationEngage in extensive reading, work at a greenhouse, or seek professional training to identify plants and handle plant problems.
Sound TechniquesFollow meticulous steps from the initial stages to the "sell ready" phase of plants or trees for successful plant nursery operations.
DiversifyOffer a mix of standard, easy-to-grow plants and specialty, higher-priced plants or propagate trees to attract a broader customer base.
Planning and TimingIf your area has a short growing season, utilize artificial lighting and heat to start plants indoors to meet customer demand on time.
Organized Set-UpCreate an organized setup for watering, tending, and moving plants, whether for walk-in customers or delivery to buyers.
Start SmallBegin with a small-scale nursery, possibly as a family venture, and scale up gradually by adding part-time or seasonal employees.

Types of Plant Nursery

Plant Nursery

Flowers and Flower Seedlings

This category includes a wide range of outdoor annuals, which are typically sold as young plants ready for transplanting into gardens. These may include popular varieties like petunias, marigolds, and pansies. Additionally, nurseries may specialize in blooming plants sold as cut flowers, such as roses, lilies, and tulips, catering to both retail and wholesale markets.



Vegetable Seedlings

Vegetable seedlings are particularly popular among home gardeners and small-scale commercial farms. Nurseries can offer a variety of seedlings, from common vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers to more exotic or heirloom varieties. These seedlings are often started in greenhouses and sold ready for planting, offering a jump-start to the growing season.

Woody Ornamentals

Woody ornamentals include a broad range of bushes, shrubs, and small trees used for landscaping. Popular examples include boxwoods, hydrangeas, and azaleas. Many of these plants are grown from cuttings and can be sold in various sizes. They are favored for their aesthetic appeal in landscape design and their ability to create natural privacy screens.

Trees

Tree nurseries can range from those focusing on fruit trees like apples, cherries, and peaches, to ornamental trees like maples, oaks, and birches. Trees are usually sold either bare root, which is common for mail order and wholesale, or potted with their root ball, which is typical for retail sales. Special care is required in growing and transporting these larger plants.

Outdoor Perennials

This category includes plants that return year after year, like daisies, hostas, and various bulb flowers such as tulips and daffodils. Perennials are popular for their low maintenance and ability to provide consistent beauty in gardens over multiple seasons. They can be sold as bulbs or as established plants.



Indoor Houseplants

Indoor houseplants have seen a surge in popularity, particularly among urban dwellers. This category includes a variety of plants suitable for indoor conditions, ranging from decorative foliage plants like ferns and philodendrons to flowering plants like African violets and orchids. Houseplants are appreciated for their air-purifying qualities and the touch of nature they add to indoor environments.

Each type of nursery caters to different customer needs and market demands. Understanding these differences is crucial for a successful nursery business, as it informs decisions about which plants to grow, how to care for them, and the best marketing strategies to reach the intended customer base.

How to Start a Nursery: 26 Crucial Steps to Having Your Own Plant Nursery Business

In these tough times, nurseries are growing as a small business (pun intended). People are working from home and enjoying working on their home environment.

1. Learn the Trade

Read, work with experts, take courses. Go to plant shows and garden shows. Find out how to start a tree farm or anything about the types of plants you want to sell.



2. Research the Competition

Study the local market with an eye to finding the gaps in it.

3. Know Your Target Market

Who is your ideal customer? What is the timing for the plants or trees that customer will need? Which high value plants should you grow?

4. Create a Plant Business Plan

Will you save money by starting small, as other backyard growers have done? Will you lease or buy land? To start, or as business grows? How many plants can you grow and sell, working by yourself?

Will you have walk in sales or deliver to customers? Will you sell plants to wholesale nurseries or garden centers? Will you sell tree seedlings or potted trees?



At what point will you hire employees?

5. Set Up a Business Bank Account

Even if you’re a backyard nursery, open a business bank account and acquire a business credit card.

6. Choose a Location

A successful nursery finds the balance – a good space to grow and a good place to sell. A small town nursery will be successful if it’s easy to find and accessible to buyers from nearby larger towns.

7. Register, Brand, and Name Your Business

Your business should be registered with your secretary of state – where you should also check to make sure your chosen business name isn’t already taken.



A successful plant nursery has an easy-to-remember name which sums up its position in the marketplace. For example, if you plan to specialize in fruit trees, choose a name that reflects that focus.

8. Choose a Business Entity

Many small businesses choose the limited liability company, or LLC. The LLC separates your business as its own entity, protecting your personal assets.

9. Get Permits and Licenses

If you’re going to move any type of plant across state lines, you’ll need a permit from the state Department of Agriculture to do so. You’ll also need a permit from the Dept of Ag if you import or export plants to other countries.

In most states, you’ll need a Nursery Floral License (for each of your locations), and/or a License to Sell Nursery Stock.



You’ll need a Business Sellers Permit because you’ll be selling a taxable item.

10. Sort Out Your Taxes

In addition to sales tax, you’ll pay real estate tax on any land you purchase for your operations.

If you’re a sole proprietor, you’ll use a Schedule C to report income and expenses.

Especially as you get started, employ a tax professional who can tell you the best way to set up your business.



Plant Nursery

11. Get Insurance

In addition to general Business General Liability Insurance, you may need “business specific” insurance. For example, if you’re growing outdoors on a large scale, you may be able to purchase crop insurance (so that you can make a claim for damages in the event of catastrophic damages, such as hail or flood.

12. Develop a Risk Management Strategy

After getting insurance, it’s important to develop a risk management strategy. This includes planning for unexpected events like natural disasters, market fluctuations, or pest infestations. Establish protocols for mitigating these risks and ensuring the continuity of your business.

13. Purchase the Necessary Equipment and Find Suppliers

Cow manure is a vital ingredient of fertilizer, but not all manure is the same. For example, the “fresh” type may be loaded with weed seeds; only used commercially bagged or well-aged.

In addition to fertilizer, here are some other basic equipment needs:

  • A few hand tools
  • Potting soil
  • Pots and containers
  • Seeds, starter plants (for cuttings)
  • Gardening gloves
  • Watering equipment

14. Establish Sustainable Practices

Following the purchase of equipment and finding suppliers, it’s beneficial to establish sustainable practices in your nursery. This can include using organic fertilizers, implementing water conservation methods, and adopting eco-friendly pest control. Sustainable practices not only help the environment but also can appeal to eco-conscious consumers.

15. Choose Your Irrigation Method

Given the cost of metered water, your best bet is to supply your water from your own well.

You can hand-carry water if you’re operating in a smaller space, or if larger, set up an irrigation system.

16. Create an Online Presence

Create a professional website with lots of color images. Link an email to the website. Make sure you pop up on a google search.

Use social media such as FB to promote your business.

17. Set Your Prices

Analyze what your competitors are charging. List prices on your website and on social media accounts. If open to the public, make sure your prices are clearly displayed.

18. Look for Lenders

At some point you’ll want to expand your business. It’s never too early to see what options you may have in the future.

19. Employ Staff and Get an EIN

An EIN is an Employer Identification Number, and you’ll need that once you hire employees. You’ll use that number to report payroll taxes to you state.

20. Develop an Employee Training Program

After employing staff, develop a comprehensive training program. This program should cover plant care, customer service, and sales techniques. Well-trained employees can significantly improve the efficiency and quality of service in your nursery.

21. Start Growing Plants or Buy Plants

You’ll start plants from seed or continue growing started plants. You may also purchase plants such as woody ornamentals that you’ll use for cuttings.

22. Market Your Business

Send business cards along with every sale, to reach more potential customers.

Reach out to outlets such as flower shops, groceries and landscapers.

Can you write an advice column in a local newspaper or on social media? Use your business FB page to provide this service. That’s an awesome form of free advertising.

23. Establish Partnerships with Local Businesses

In addition to traditional marketing, consider establishing partnerships with local businesses like florists, home improvement stores, or event planners. These partnerships can open up new sales channels and increase the visibility of your nursery.

24. Sell Your Crops

Unless your business is solely “walk in” customers, you’ll need a reliable delivery vehicle for selling plants. Depending on the climate where you live, you may need a refrigerated vehicle. That’s a sure way to ensure you’ll be delivering healthy plants.

25. Scale Your Business

A successful small business is always on the lookout for ways to grow. Don’t put all your plants in one basket, or pot. Diversify.

26. Explore New Market Trends and Opportunities

As you look to scale your business, keep an eye on new market trends and opportunities. This could include expanding into exotic plants, offering gardening workshops, or exploring online sales of seeds and gardening supplies. Staying attuned to market trends can help you find new growth opportunities for your nursery.

Plant Nursery

Conclusion

Starting a plant nursery can be a fulfilling and potentially profitable venture, but it’s not as simple as just planting a seed and selling the plants. It requires a combination of gardening skills, business savvy, and careful planning. Education is crucial, so do plenty of reading and gain professional training to identify plants and handle potential issues like fungus and insects.

To succeed, follow sound techniques from the home-based nursery to the larger ones, ensuring plants are nurtured and grown to the “sell ready” stage. Diversify your offerings by combining standard, easy-to-grow plants with specialty, higher-priced ones to cater to a broader customer base.

Effective planning and timing are vital, especially if you’re in an area with a short growing season. Utilize artificial lighting and heat to start plants indoors, ensuring you have stock available when customers want them. Organize your setup to efficiently water, tend, and move plants.

Starting small is a feasible approach, allowing you to scale up gradually as your business grows. Consider engaging part-time or seasonal employees when needed. Research your target market and competition to identify the best plants to grow and sell.

Register and name your business, and choose a suitable location for growing and selling. Obtain the necessary permits, licenses, and insurance to ensure compliance and protection. Plan your finances, set your prices, and market your business through a professional website, social media, and other local outlets.

Remember that success in the plant nursery business requires continuous efforts to grow and evolve. Diversify your offerings, stay open to new opportunities, and scale your business strategically. With determination, a green thumb, and the right approach, your plant nursery can blossom into a thriving and rewarding venture.

Image: Depositphotos


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Lisa Price Lisa Price is a freelance writer living in Barnesville, Pennsylvania. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She has worked as a trucking company dock supervisor, newspaper circulation district manager, radio station commercial writer, assistant manager of a veterinary pharmaceutical warehouse and newspaper reporter.

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