Beginning a Nursery Business: Producing Your Plants

If you plan to sell plants you have to have plants to sell right?  So how does one go about getting a supply of plants for a nursery business?  As plant retailers we really have only two options: produce the plants on our own or buy them from someone else and resell the plants.  Both options have some very good advantages which is why many nurseries do a combination of producing their own and buying wholesale plants.  Today we'll just talk about propagating the plants for yourself.  Please keep in mind that these are my observations and that my garden business is only a year old - I'm still learning!


Producing Plants for a Nursery


If you're a gardener you have no doubt tried your hand at propagating plants by some method or another.  Seeds, division, cuttings, layering, and tissue culture are all very valid ways to produce plants for your nursery.  Tissue culture is certainly not for the average gardener but is being used more frequently to mass produce plants.  Save that technique for later on down the road, we just need to get started!


Seeds


Seeds are an easy way to produce plants in large quantities.  Packets of seeds can contain anywhere from 5  (for special and unique plants) to hundreds of seeds. For seed starting you need a good seed starting mix.  Most mixes use a combination of peat, compost, vermiculite, perlite, sand, or coconut coir in varying quantities. Seeds need to stay moist to germinate so covering with a humidity dome or plastic is very helpful. Heat mats can speed germination considerably. Cool season plants often like to germinate around 50 degrees while warm season vegetable prefer soil temps to be over 70 degrees.  It varies greatly for each type of plant.

Cleaned Dogwood Seeds


You may need lights to start your seeds to get your plants ready early enough to sell.  Winter sowing outdoors is also a great option for germinating seeds especially if your indoor seed starting space is limited.


Division


Division is necessary for plants like hostas, daylilies, heuchera, ornamental grasses and many others. Plants naturally grow and expand outward creating offsets.  We can separate these little offsets and make divisions as small as you would like.  When we moved into our home there was one small clump of daylilies.  They weren't special daylilies, probably just something like a 'Stella De Oro', but they were what we had.  I divided that clump into 13 divisions which after a few years could be divided into hundreds of plants.  Division can be a slow process to build up your stock but for some plants there is no easier way.


Layering


Layering is one of the easiest ways to propagate plants.  Difficult to root plants often root best when layered.  Oak leaf hydrangeas are one that layers easily but are tricky to produce through cuttings.  I've rooted oak leaf hydrangeas through cuttings before but I had trouble overwintering the little plants.  Layering solves that issue.  Just pin down a low branch to the soil and allow nature to do its thing.  You can speed it up a little by making a small cut below a node and apply rooting hormone to it.  Don't cut all the way through the branch.  Then pin the node to the soil and give it time to root.


Cuttings


Cuttings are one of my favorite methods of producing plants.  Not all plants root easily from cuttings unfortunately but there are a lot that do.  Perennials and annuals typically can grow very well and very fast as cuttings and a flowering plant can be produced in the same season in many cases.  Shrubs and trees take longer and will require more time to grow and mature before become a plant you can sell.  Before selling a plant you must make sure that the root system is adequate to fully support the plant.  You don't want the plant to end up in a customers garden then immediately die because of a poor root system.  Death isn't good for business unless you run a funeral home...

Plan Ahead!!!

When producing plants for sale you have to plan ahead.  You have to calculate when you need the plants to be ready and when you need to start them.  Much of your planning will be counting backwards.  If I know a plant is going to take about a month to root and I'll need a few weeks after that for it to grow a good root system to fill a small pot then I'll have to factor in nearly 2 months of production time.  How long do you need for each plant to get it market ready?  That's something you will have to determine through experience.  As you get your business going and learn you'll figure things out.



Caring for the Plants After Propagation


Once a plant has rooted it will to be potted up and fertilized.  I use a mixture of shredded pine bark and compost for my soil mixes.  Slow release fertilizers are good to mix in the potting mix when potting up a plant but will need replenished if the plant has been sitting for a long time.  Liquid fertilizers will work for the short term but need to be reapplied regularly which is why most people go with granular.

Watering is critical to maintain good plant health.  You will want to set up some sort of system to watering plants so that you don't have to water them all by hand.  I use a sprinkler hooked up to a timer but there are other ways.  Drip lines work great for watering trees and shrubs which allows you to adjust how much water each plant receives.  You can also construct your own specialized misting/watering systems from PVC pipe.


Have you started a nursery business or have dreams of one?  Tell us about it in the comments!


More from the Starting a Nursery Business Series
from Growing The Home Garden

Labels: