How to Start a Plant Nursery

How to Start a Plant Nursery


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.

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.

Types of Plant Nursery

The four main types are:

Flowers and flower seedlings – Outdoor annuals sold as plants, or blooming plants sold as cut flowers

Vegetable seedlings

Woody ornamentals – Can be grown from cuttings

Trees – Can be sold bare root or potted with its root ball

Outdoor perennials – daisies, hostas, and bulbs

Indoor houseplants

How to Start a Nursery: 21 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.

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. 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

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

Now You Know How to Start Your Plant Nursery; It’s Time to Get Started!

Hopefully we’ve provided seeds for thought. It’s time to put your green thumb to work.

Image: Depositphotos


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