Start a Plant Nursery Business

If you have a green thumb, some space, a source of water, and a ton of ambition, you may want to try your hand at operating a plant nursery. This is not a guide to growing plants, as much as starting a business, since plant growing varies considerably from one area to another.


  1. Check the legal authorities in your location. There are several potential jurisdictions which may apply to your new business venture, and because they vary from place to place, you should do some research to see what regulations may apply to you. Here are some to think about:
    • Business license. If you intend to begin a commercial nursery business, this license is most likely required, and may have a fairly hefty cost associated with it.
    • Property zoning. For most areas in the U.S., zoning ordinances dictate possible uses for land. Normally, a nursery business would be considered "agricultural use", but in some interpretations, it might be "commercial", "agribusiness", or some other classification.
    • Look at the requirements for construction permits, if you are in an area where you will be required to build a green house, or you intend to build a storage building or warehouse for materials and equipment.
    • Check what insurance you will be required to carry on your business. This may include property hazard insurance, workman's compensation if you have paid employees, and general liability insurance if you expect visitors to your nursery.
    • Check the regulations governing growers in your area. In some places, you will be required to meet government agricultural inspection requirements.
    • Look at the availability of water for irrigation. Water management authorities may have to issue separate permits if you intend to install irrigation wells or draw water from a stream or lake.
  2. Investigate your potential market. You will need to be able to predict demand for your plants to be able to plan what you will grow. Here are some things to consider.
    • What plants you will grow. Nurseries produce plants for home gardens, landscaping, reforestation, and other uses. You will need to decide if you are going to produce container grown, bare root, or rootballed plant products.
    • Quantities. This is going to be a tricky subject. If you produce more plants than you can market effectively, you will be stuck with the surplus, and have to absorb the cost of your investment. Not enough is less financial burden, but being able to meet a customer's demand is essential in maintaining a good relationship with them.
    • Advertising. This is a cost almost all businesses must absorb to assure themselves a share of the market. Decide early what your advertising base will be, and budget funds in your business startup plan.
  3. Select a site for beginning your nursery. If you do not own land, you may have to lease or purchase a site for your business. Make sure it is suitable for your purpose, zoned appropriately, and will allow for growth as your business prospers. Also make sure your site has good access, particularly if you will be depending on customers coming to you for your product.
  4. Research material suppliers to keep your costs down. Because you are in the beginning stages for your business, you will need to develop a relationship with wholesale suppliers of the items you will need to become established. This may include, but not be limited to, the following.
    • Seeds or seedlings. If you do not intend to harvest your seeds and seedling from the wild, you will have to buy these from a nursery supplier or farm and garden supply source. You will need to buy the highest quality you are able, at the lowest price.
    • Containers. This may simply be "peat cups" for seasonal vegetables or flowers, or 1, 3, and {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} plastic containers for growing "potted" shrubs and trees.
    • Landscape fabric, mulch, and soil conditioners. Again, these will be available from wholesale nursery suppliers if you buy sufficient quantities, or you may have to begin your business venture buying them retail from a garden and landscaping supply.
    • Equipment. This can include anything from irrigation equipment to a tractor with a loader bucket, depending on the type of plants you grow. Most likely you will at least need a pickup truck and trailer for moving plants and materials, and making deliveries to customers. To be able to develop an accurate business plan, you should consider everything you will need to get started, even shovels, hoes, and rakes.
  5. Educate yourself about the local growing conditions and potential problems in your area. You may have to get a chemical applicator's license if there is a problem with pests, diseases, or insects in your region.
  6. Talk to local landscapers to find out what they may be in the market for. In many areas, there are "staple" plant products commonly used in any one area, but these are also going to be the most available. Ask about unusual plants they get requests for, and indigenous species that can be grown and planted for the same purpose, with less environmental impact.
  7. Study the plant species you intend to grow to determine a reasonable time frame between the initial planting and the time the plant is ready for market. Ornamental plants grow fairly fast in the right conditions, but they may still take a year or more to be ready for market. Trees may take 3 to 5 years, depending on the market size and species, when started from seed.
  8. Take the information you have gotten in the previous steps, and start a business plan. You should be able to create a "Start-up Cost" chart with initial investment, and operational costs to determine how much money you will need to start and keep your business going until you begin to sell plants and generate an income.
  9. Talk to lenders, government agencies who assist in small business start-ups, and potential investors to see if you can develop a financing structure which will cover your start-up costs.
  10. Using the above information, you should be able to decide what scale you will begin your business at. It is fairly common to begin a business as a one person, back yard operation, and allow it to grow as income is generated, but this will mean continuing to work a regular job to meet your financial obligations during the interim.


  • Look for used plant containers at construction projects to avoid having an "out of pocket" investment if you are going to grow container grown shrubs or trees.
  • Be aware that plant certifications, both for species and plant health, are required in many jurisdictions, so be prepared to document seed sources, and have your plants checked by a certifying agent for diseases, noxious weeds, and pests.
  • Specialize, especially at the beginning. You may simply start by growing peat cups of vegetables to sell to local gardeners, or fruit trees started from seed and grafted out with cuttings from select cultivars you have access to free of charge.
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  • Look for seed sources you can harvest and germinate from local sources. This will require more labor, and a longer period for the plants to reach a marketable size, but will save money on the purchase of seedling plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Space to set up your business.
  • A market for your product.
  • Start up money and income during the start-up phase.

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