Starting a Plant Nursery Business

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The booming agribusiness sector seems to be one area of the economy that’s immune to tough times. Everything from organic produce to free range livestock is on a tear as of late. A great way to capitalize on this trend is by starting a plant nursery. With a modest financial investment and a rudimentary understanding of basic horticultural techniques, anyone can launch a nursery business from their own home. Best of all, a nursery can be quite profitable no matter what the local climate or environment.

Plot a Business Blueprint
Firstly, determine what kind of vegetation you’ll specialize in growing. Ornamental grasses, trees and shrubs are popular money makers. Alternatively, you can sell items like tulip bulbs or hop rhizomes. You’ll need to source bulk supplies of seed, fertilizer and equipment from wholesalers since local garden centers typically focus on addressing the needs of retail customers. In all likelihood, you’ll actually end up selling your product to garden centers as well as individual consumers looking for specialty plants bred for your regional climate.
Sort Out the Red Tape
Even if you plan on making your nursery a side business only, you’ll probably need a license from your State Department of Agriculture. This can cost up to $500 depending on your jurisdiction. Typically, a state official will inspect your facility to ensure that it complies with any environmental or health regulations. A business license is likewise recommended. A simple home office with a PC and some accounting software should be sufficient to keep all of your business affairs in order.

Set Up the Nursery Yard
You’ll need to construct at least a minimal greenhouse even if you’re in a warm climate. If you go the DIY route, you’ll need either PVC framing, metal piping or generic 2×4 lumber and plastic sheeting to put up a basic structure. Before you set up a frame, decide what kind of irrigation system you’ll be using. Furthermore, you’ll have to buy some gardening equipment like gloves, watering hoses, spades and twine. Finally, you’ll need plenty of containers in various sizes, landscape fabric and loads of mulch.

Start Trees, Shrubs & Plants
Once the groundwork has been laid by setting up a greenhouse, you can tackle the actual planting of your merchandise. Start your seedlings sometime in the early spring, transferring them to larger containers as needed. Plugs and liners offer some of the best profit margins possible, oftentimes in the range of 1000% or more. Selling tree whips and shrubs is also extremely lucrative. Grow both in equal amounts until you ascertain which offers the best return based on local market demand.

Market & Sell Your Wares
Similar to any other small business venture, a nursery must be aggressively marketed to stand apart from the rest of the local competition. Try going after golf courses, resorts and local businesses that need ornamental plants for landscaping. In addition, orchards and hop yards are good potential clients that will buy fruit tree whips and rhizomes in large amounts. Aside from frequenting farmers’ markets, you can easily promote your services using location-based social media sites like Google + to spread the word in your immediate area.

Expand, Diversify & Profit
The key to remaining profitable over time is diversifying your business’s revenue streams. Your nursery operation needn’t grow to massive proportions to earn a tidy side income. Rather, you simply need to find exploitable local niches and dominate them. Keeping your finger on the pulse of the local market by communicating directly with your customer base is the best way to achieve this goal. If you learn to adapt to changing demands, you’ll have a long and fruitful career in the nursery game.

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