Two Year Old Black Walnut Seedlings
This is the second in our series about how you can set up your own independent plant nursery from your back garden.
Hopefully Part 1 will have started you thinking that this might be something you could consider starting either as a hobby or perhaps as an alternative source of income.
Today we’re going to share what you need to get started the kind of equipment you need to get you started on the road to owning your own little plant nursery.
What do I need to get started?
You’re going to need plants for a start … and lots of them!
When John and I started on this road in 2010 we already had a few of the older varieties of shrubs and perennials in the garden that we knew grew well in our chalky soil and we were confident the varieties are not covered under the PBR schemes which was confirmed after a little research on the web.
2 Year Syringa Vulgaris (Lilac) plants growing away in the nursery bed
You’re also going to need pots and plenty of them.
When we started we grand ideas like selling our plants in clay pots but it just wasn’t practical. Wonderful to look at but blooming heavy and way too expensive. Customers just won’t pay a premium for a plant in a clay pot.
As a rule we use the following sizes in the nursery.
1. Three (3) inch for one year old rooted softwood cuttings.
2. Five (5) inch for two year old mature plants.
We also occasionally use a 7 inch pot if we’re lifting mature shrubs from the ground but we find most of our customers prefer to buy the 5 inch pots.
Of course there is nothing to stop you using any size pot but if you keep them consistent they look uniform and actually it looks more professional. Appreciate we’re not building another garden centre here but these little refinements do make a difference.
You also get used to how big the plants grow and how much compost you need to fill a single pot. Very useful for when it comes to working out your production costs.
Do I need any specialist equipment?
You can get started with very little which is what’s so great about this little business.
If you plan to grow your own stock from taking softwood or semi hardwood cuttings you’re going to need:
- Rooting hormone
- Plant labels
- Sharp sand or potting compost to plant the cuttings in.
Apart from a hose and a source of water that’s pretty much everything we had when we started and in our first year we raised around 50 young plants for a total investment of around £15. Small numbers yes, but from acorns oaks do grow as they say.
Over the last few years we’ve collected pots of all sizes, made a potting bench out of single sheet of OSB and invested in a modest misting setup. You don’t have to mist to be successful with cuttings but it does significantly increase your chances of success.
Of course if you plan to buy and sell stock then there is little need for anything other than somewhere to store the plants and means of getting them to your market.
You’re going to need to invest in a little marketing to get the message out there but we’ll cover that in more detail in the next post.
Shall I grow my own or buy in my plants?
Well that’s really a decision only you can make. Buying plants in gives you instant stock that you can simply mark up and sell on for a profit. All I would say is that does reduce your margins by quite a lot but at the same time you don’t have the added hassle of growing the plants and all the challenges that presents.
We like to grow our plants as we think it’s half the fun and it means we can market our plants as ‘locally grown on Hampshire chalk’ which is a point of difference for our business. (High tech business speak) :)
Whenever someone comes to visit the nursery they see healthy plants growing in our chalky Hampshire soil, which means they leave confident what they’re buying will survive in their own garden.
Propagating your own plants from seed, softwood cuttings or division we believe is more profitable than buying in stock to sell, and it’s all consuming which means you’re going to need to spend a fair amount of time on your new venture if you plan to grow your own.
How much space do I need to get started?
You need very little space to get started. It’s all relative to what you want to achieve really. You can grow plenty of plants in a square metre but if you need more space you could always expand upwards!
That’s the great thing about growing plants for profit … it ‘scales’ really easily.
Here’s another idea if you’re stuck for space. How about asking a friend or neighbour if you could use part of their garden. You could offer them an incentive to come in with you for a share of the profits. :)
“Yes but don’t you live in the country and have plenty of space?”
We received an email from a reader recently who asked if it was possible to start your own back garden nursery in the middle of a town. We went on to tell her about a guy we know who lives in a first floor flat in central London and runs a plant business from the back of his truck.
Basically he picks up the plants from a grower in the morning and delivers to his clients houses in the afternoon. Any left over stock goes to the local charity which gets his name out in the local community.
Where this is a will there is a way … as they say!
How much should I charge for my plants?
Basically as much as you think your market will stand. Having said that you have to be sensible with your pricing if you’re to compete. One way to compete on price is too propagate your own as it means you not only have great looking plants but you can also offer those plants at a great price as it’s easier to make a margin. Also ‘home grown’ is a great differentiator.
Grow healthy plants and they sell themselves
Where possible we try to keep our prices at below £5.00 for a 2 year old plant and £6.95 for anything we feel will sell for that price. These tend to be 2-3 year old stock.
Where can I sell my plants?
Farmers markets are great as they usually come with customers but we choose not to sell at farmers markets as the customers tend to want to barter which I don’t have time for to be honest.
Another possible outlet for your plants is Ebay. Great thing about Ebay is it comes with millions of customers. Appreciate they’re not all looking to buy your plants but a fair chunk of them might be.
The only issue I have with eBay is it tends to attract customers with deep pockets. But hey that suits us as we’re selling our plants for under a fiver anyway.
We’re not going to spend too much time talking about eBay as there’s loads of really good stuff out there already. Just watch for the charges and always work out how much it ACTUALLY costs you to get your plants to the customer. Then factor those numbers into your pricing.
If you’re happy having customers come to your house you could always hold a plant sale from your back door, or from your garden. But watch this one as you’ll likely have to organise public liability insurance just in case someone has an accident on your property.
If you know someone who is a whizz with computers you could always start your own web site selling plants and all things gardening. It’s actually easier than you think to get started but you will have to either license the software which is typically costs around £15 – £20 a month. Alternatively you could get someone to build you a site and use PayPal as the payment gateway.
Loads of really good information out there on how to set up your own shop online.
How do I get the message out there that I’m open for business?
That will be the subject of our next post.
We’ll also take a closer look at our set up and share some ideas around how you can get your nursery off to a successful start. We’ll also share some ideas on how you make this work for you all year round as the plant selling season is fairly short and you’re going to need something to keep your business active over the winter months.
Hope you found this useful but as always any questions leave a comment or drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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