So You Want to Start a Nursery

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So you want to start a nursery? You say you are a plant enthusiast who wants their hobby to make a little money? Or, maybe you have a little land and have decided want to do something with the land that will make a little money?

Japanese maples in greenhouse

Starting a nursery business should not be taken lightly. However, if it is done right, a nursery is a good business if you are cut out for it. Before you do anything, you should learn as much as you can about plants and the nursery business.

Learn Everything You Can About Plant Nurseries

It is a good idea to join several plant societies and nursery groups. Groups such as the Maple Society, American Rhododendron Society or the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association so you can interact with plant and nursery experts and learn as much as you can.

Also, go visit as many nurseries as possible to learn. Get to know some nursery owners. The best way to learn is to work at a nursery or garden center.

Finally, consult your local Small Business Administration office. These knowledgeable consultants can help you come up with a business plan. They can be your guide when comes to business for your entire career.

Wholesale or Retail?

First, you need to decide who you want your customers to be; retail or wholesale. Prices are higher at retail but you have to deal with the public. Wholesale growers usually need to operate at a larger scale than a retail garden center to make money.

Pots or In-Ground?

I suggest new growers start out growing trees, shrubs or perennials in pots. Pots are getting expensive and hard to find so you should start collecting them when you run across them. Eventually if you have ample land, you might grow some in the ground to be sold as dug balled and burlap trees. You can plant about 700 trees or shrubs per acre in-ground. An acre of ground can house thousands of potted plants.

Nursery Infrastructure

There are several infrastructure items that you will need to be successful. You will need a shade house. This is a frame with 30-50% shade cloth to protect the potted plants just after potting and sensitive plants during the heat of the summer. The shade cloth can be pulled over the frame or removed as needed.

The ground under the growing areas should be covered in gravel then ground cloth to prevent weeds.

Plants that are cold hardy can be pushed together in the winter then surrounded with a barrier of hay bales just to protect the roots from cold winds. These plants will then need to be covered with frost cloth during extremely cold weather.

A nursery needs storage space. You will need to store piles of soil, pallets of fertilizers, pallets of plastic pots, etc. Equipment such as tractors, atvs and wagons must be stored properly.

Irrigation is critical. Installing an ample water system is important. You can only drag a hose around for so long until you end up spending too much time hand watering and losing money. Automated drip irrigation is the way most people go. Still, the emitters must be checked frequently to assure they do not get clogged or lost.

Potted plants require care 7 days a week so nursery growers do not get to do much traveling. If you are a traveller, a nursery is not going to work out for you unless you hire help. As you probably know, good help is hard to find.

If you have questions about starting a nursery, start with your local County Extension Agent.