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How To Start A Plant Nursery

How To Start A Plant Nursery

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How To Start A Plant Nursery

How To Start A Plant Business

If you have a green thumb and love to make beautiful things grow, a plant nursery could be a great business opportunity for you. Not only is it a fulfilling way to spend your time, but it can also turn out to be an extremely profitable venture. However, starting a plant nursery business is not as simple as planting some seeds and hoping for the best. It requires a lot of research, planning, and dedication.

This guide offers an overview of the business, steps to get a nursery off the ground, and answers to common queries.

Business Overview

A plant nursery grows seedlings or saplings of various trees and plants until they are at the stage where they can be sold to be transplanted directly into a yard or garden.  Most nurseries offer a variety of types of plants, while some specialize in certain plants, trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, herbs, or flowers.  Species usually depend on the local climate.

A plant nursery can be a part-time business and be an excellent source of additional income. You can start with a small backyard plant nursery specializing in a unique and high-value variety of plants.  Some species of plants, like certain ornamental plants and varieties of Japanese maples and Boxwood, can bring in a lot of revenue from a small space.

Industry Summary

The horticulture industry is a stable and growing field. Plant nurseries form an essential part of this sector, providing both retail and wholesale customers with a variety of plants. As more people recognize the benefits of having plants in their homes and offices, the demand for varied plant species has grown.

However, competition is fierce, especially from big box stores. To stay competitive, many nurseries are focusing on offering unique plant varieties and providing superior customer service. A successful nursery business requires both a strong understanding of plant care and a keen sense of business strategies.

Steps To Start A Plant Nursery

Step 1: Market Research

If you are considering a plant nursery business but are not sure if there’s a market in your area, one of the first steps to starting a successful plant nursery is to assess the local market to determine if there is an opportunity for another business and gain valuable insights into the existing market landscape, local customer preferences, and unmet needs.

One of the first things to consider when assessing the market is your target customer base. Analyze the demographics of the local population, including age groups, income levels, and lifestyle preferences, to determine the potential customer base for your plant nursery. For instance, if your area has a large population of young professionals living in apartments, focusing on indoor plants and small-space gardening might be a good move.

Next, take a closer look at the existing competition in the area. Study the local plant nurseries and garden centers to get a better understanding of the range of products they offer, their pricing strategies, and their customer base. This will help you determine if the existing plant nurseries in your area are meeting the demand adequately or if there is room for another business to thrive. You also may be able to identify gaps in the market that you can capitalize on. For example, you may find very few options for native plants or a lack of expertise in growing fruit trees. Recognizing unmet customer needs is key.

With this information, you can develop a strategy to stand out from the competition and create a unique selling proposition for your business.

Step 2: Write a Business Plan

Once you have a better understanding of your target audience and the competition, the next step is to write a business plan. A business plan will serve as a roadmap for your business and help you identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to your nursery. A business plan also helps you evaluate the feasibility of your idea and identifies potential challenges and opportunities from the start.

This information will help you determine whether the business is profitable and how much funding you will need to start and grow your business.

Related: How to write a business plan

Step 3: Source Funding

Starting a plant nursery business is a dream for many with a passion for plants. Yet, this dream often comes with a significant question: where will the funding come from? Money is a key ingredient in nurturing your business from a seedling idea to a full-grown success. Let’s look at some common places to find funding to start a nursery.

Personal savings: The first place to look for money is your personal savings. It’s money that you have complete control over without the need to pay interest or adhere to loan repayments. The cost to start a nursery can get expensive, so if your personal savings don’t cover the startup costs, you will need to explore external funding sources.

Some common sources of external funding for a plant nursery business include:

Loans: Banks and financial institutions can provide loans to fund your plant nursery startup. Typically, lenders require borrowers to invest at least 15% of their personal funds toward the total project cost, have a good credit score, and provide sufficient collateral. In some cases, if the bank considers the loan too risky, they may utilize an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan guarantee to mitigate their risk.

Friends and family: Another option is reaching out to your network of friends and family for financial support. When involving loved ones as investors, it is crucial to put agreements in writing to avoid misunderstandings and preserve relationships. Clearly outline the terms of the investment, such as repayment plans and ownership stakes, to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Microloans: If your funding needs are relatively low or traditional lenders are not an option, consider exploring microloans. These are small loans provided by microfinance institutions or nonprofit lenders. Some microloan programs also offer business training in addition to funding, which can be valuable for new entrepreneurs.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 4: Register the Business

When starting a business, ensuring it is properly registered and legal is important. This involves several key steps, including deciding your business structure, registering your business name, and obtaining necessary licenses and permits. It’s important to note that the requirements can vary by state, so always check with your local and state authorities.

Business structure: There are four main types of business structures:

  • Sole proprietorship: This is the simplest type of business structure and is ideal for individuals who are the sole owners of their business. The advantage of this structure is the ease of startup and low cost. However, it does not offer liability protection, meaning your personal assets can be at risk if your business encounters any legal issues.
  • General partnership: This structure is suitable for businesses with two or more owners. Like a sole proprietorship, it’s relatively easy to set up, but it also lacks liability protection.
  • Corporation: A corporation is a more complex business structure that provides liability protection, separating your personal assets from your business assets. However, it is more expensive to set up and requires more ongoing paperwork.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): An LLC combines features of both corporations and sole proprietorships/partnerships. It provides liability protection like a corporation but has the tax advantages and less paperwork than a sole proprietorship or partnership.

Related: Comparison of business structures

Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.

Some popular LLC formation services include:

IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

ZenBusiness - Best for beginners. $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

Northwest - Best privacy protection. $39 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.

During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.

Related: Finding a domain name for your business

Obtain business licenses and permits: Depending on the state, a plant nursery may need agriculture licensing with their state’s Department of Agriculture. This department will make random inspections and search for things like invasive species and pests.

In addition, there will be general business registrations, such as a local business license, sales tax permit, and an Employer Identification Number.

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 5: Acquire & Set Up a Location

Now that you have laid the groundwork for your plant nursery business, it’s time to bring your plans to life by setting up the operations. This step involves acquiring the property, purchasing necessary equipment, and developing relationships with suppliers.

The first item to cover is acquiring the right property for your plant nursery. Look for a location that offers suitable space, favorable climate conditions, and proximity to your target market. Whether you choose to purchase or lease, consider factors such as affordability, long-term feasibility, and the potential for expansion. Additionally, assess your equipment needs based on the scale of your operations. Essential equipment may include greenhouse structures, potting systems, propagation tools, irrigation, and transportation vehicles.

Building strong relationships with reputable seeds and plant stock suppliers and start purchasing inventory. Select a diverse range of plant species and stock up on seeds, cuttings, and potted plants. Consider market demands, seasonal availability, and customer preferences when making purchasing decisions. Implement inventory management practices such as regular stock checks, proper labeling, and rotation techniques to ensure freshness and minimize waste.

Step 6: Hire Staff

If you intend to bring on staff right away, there are certain responsibilities to fulfill as a new employer.

Before you bring your first employee on board, you must obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This unique number is used to identify your business entity and is necessary for reporting taxes and other documents to the IRS. You’ll also need to verify the employment eligibility of all employees through the I-9 form, ensuring they are legally allowed to work in the U.S.

Each state has different requirements when it comes to reporting new hires. Generally, this involves submitting information about each new employee to a designated state agency. This allows the government to track employment trends and ensure that child support obligations and other legal requirements are met. Most states also require employers to have worker’s compensation insurance, which provides benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses.

Last, familiarize yourself with labor laws, which cover everything from minimum wage, overtime, and break periods to anti-discrimination policies and workplace safety. These laws are designed to protect the rights of workers and set standards for employment conditions.

Related: State guides for hiring your first employee

Step 7: Prepare to Open!

Starting a plant nursery business requires careful planning and attention to detail. As you wrap up your preparations, there are likely several loose ends to tie up before launching your new venture. The needs of every business owner may be different based on their unique circumstances, but here are some of the tasks commonly needed for nurseries.

Business insurance: Business insurance protects your company from unexpected events such as property damage, liability claims, and employee injuries.

Setting up bookkeeping: Set up accounting software and systems to handle daily transactions, taxes, and financial statements, making it easier to track financial health and completing tax returns.

Opening a business bank account: By keeping business and personal finances separate, you can accurately track income and expenses, simplify tax filings, and minimize the risk of financial errors.

Creating a marketing strategy: Spread the word about your nursery with a solid marketing strategy. Design a memorable logo and create an engaging website. Utilize social media, local advertising, and garden shows to attract customers. Consider loyalty programs or opening-day discounts to draw in an initial customer base.

Preparing for the grand opening: Plan a grand opening event to make a splash in the community. Ensure your nursery is customer-ready with well-organized displays and knowledgeable staff. Offer workshops or tours to educate visitors about your plants and services, making your nursery a destination.

Common Questions When Starting A Plant Nursery

How much does it cost to start a plant nursery?

Starting a plant nursery business can be a significant investment, with costs ranging from as low as $8,000 if you already have property, to upwards of $100,000, depending on the scale of your operation and your specific needs. Here are some of the key categories of expenses you’ll need to consider.

Property: As your biggest potential expense, the cost of property varies greatly depending on size, location, and whether you’re leasing or buying.

Equipment and supplies: The next most substantial cost is for equipment and supplies. This includes things like greenhouses, irrigation systems, planting containers, and basic tools. Costs can range from $5,000 to $50,000.

Inventory: You’ll need to invest in seeds, plants, soil, and other inventory to get started. Depending on what you plan to offer and the size of your operation, this could cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Business registration: Registering your business typically involves fees. While these vary by state, you can generally expect to spend between $50 and $500.

Insurance: Expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $2,000 or more for initial business insurance premiums.

Marketing: Costs for marketing can include the design of a professional logo, website creation, and initial advertising efforts. Estimated costs for marketing can range from $1,000 to $5,000 or more, depending on your desired level of marketing exposure.

What is the NAICS code for a plant nursery?

The NAICS code for a plant nursery is 444220, which is classified under Nursery, Garden Center, and Farm Supply Stores.

The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.

Related: What is a NAICS code and how to find yours


  • Greg Bouhl

    With over two decades as an entrepreneur, educator, and business advisor, Greg Bouhl has worked with over 2,000 entrepreneurs to help them start and grow their businesses. Fed up with clients finding and acting on inaccurate and outdated information online, Greg launched StartUp101.com to be a trusted resource for people starting a business.

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How To Start A Plant Nursery

How To Start A Plant Nursery

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