Starting a nursery business from home, whether small or large, means knowing the best ways to propagate and sell plants.
I purchased my one-acre homestead for its location, mature trees, and potential to grow rows and rows of vegetables. It was an added benefit when I discovered that my backyard neighbors, who had 40 years of experience growing edibles and ornamentals, were so generous in their sharing of knowledge. They have shared advice from growing seedlings to improving sales of produce, plants, and eggs.
For a little more than a decade, Demi Stearns has had two plant sales a year. I offered to help her post her events on Craigslist and Facebook, which helped skyrocket her already profitable sales. Starting a nursery business from home and selling plants between $0.50 and $4.50, Stearns has been able to make more than a $1,000 in a weekend due to her marketing skills.
Following her example, here are her dozen tips to improving your plant sales:
Improvement #1: Be Prepared
Preparation begins a few months before a plant sale, and this also means organizing your sales space. You will want to have everything ready so that you can talk to your customers.
Keeping a table and chairs by your entrance invites customers in. Keep a master list (alphabetical) of your plants and prices. You won’t remember everything, especially if you have a few dozen species with unique prices.
Improvement #2: Be Colorful
Color coordinate your plant sale signs for posting around your neighborhood. Stearns uses neon pink and green. They are visible even on cloudy days. The signs are posted one and two blocks away from the sale in all four directions. Avoid using cardboard for a backing as it will absorb water if it gets rained on. Use some kind of plastic such as old election signs. Paint the background hot pink and letter as large as possible. Black acrylic paint and black sharpie markers hold up for years.
In your yard, use a lot of colored signs for your plant groups. Have Orange Justicia signs read in highlighter orange and Pink Jacobinia in hot pink. Use a plastic backing here as well. Do a good job the first time and your signs will pay for themselves over time. Your prices can be adjusted on these signs from year to year to adjust for inflation.
Improvement #3: Do Your Research
Research plants you grow on the internet, or visit your library, before starting a nursery business from home. Have a printer make colored copies of information on all the plants you’ll be selling. Cover them all in plastic sheets and tape them so that moisture cannot get in. By being able to answer all questions (light, space, water requirements) customers will be more likely to purchase plants for specific locations in their yard.
Improvement #4: Label All Your Plants
Use a Sharpie pen on a popsicle stick. Cheap convenience stores carry the packages of 100 to 150 for around a dollar. Yes, it can get tedious. Turn on some music or a baseball game on the radio. People will be bringing home your plants and may not be familiar with them. They will appreciate the convenience of being able to purchase a specimen and remember it the future.
Improvement #5: Be Passionate
Sell plants that you are passionate about and that fill a specific niche. Stearns grows a variety of flowering perennials. Pentas (red, pink and rose) are a favorite as well as Pink Jacobinia and Thryallis. People like both sun and shade plants. Stearns grows both nectar and host plants for butterflies. Since she also plants vegetable and flower seeds for her vegetable garden, she will occasionally sell any extra flower or vegetable plants like tomatoes, kale, collards, and marigolds.
Improvement #6: Start Them Yourself
Cutting beds are important for propagation. Stearns’ beds are easily accessible but still have to be fenced off from her chickens. Label your cuttings and look after them. There are some plants like Thryallis, Bahama Cassia, and milkweed that grow best from seeds. A greenhouse, however simple, is great to have for germinating seeds indoors. Your profits go up when you can propagate your own plants for starting a nursery business from home.
Improvement #7: Don’t Mind Asking
For 11 years, Stearns has had two plants sales per year—a weekend in late May to early June and a weekend around the beginning of November. During the sales, she leaves a sign by the entrance gate indicating that she would appreciate any size pots that people have. People are generous and leave her large plastic bags of all assorted sizes of plastic pots, which she uses for the plant sales. By not having to purchase pots, your margin of profit goes up.
Improvement #8: Generate Soil
Mulching your yard will eventually give you the best soil for crops. Stearns has had tree trimmers leave many piles of chipped leaves and branches over the years. She also collects bags of raked oak leaves from the neighborhood. These all decompose and leave a beautiful dark soil. Several relatives have cows, so she also has access to cow manure to mix with her yard soil. The plants benefit from this mixture, and the process reduces your overhead.
Improvement #9: Think Convenience
Plants in small pots are easier for people to see on a table. Stearns has reinvested some earnings and bought several pairs of sawhorses to make tables for the small plants. It’s also good to leave a lot of small cardboard boxes under the table for people to put their smaller plants in. Providing a large pot of plastic shopping bags for people to put their gallon or larger-sized plants in will be appreciated by many customers.
Improvement #10: Advertise Freely
Craigslist and people who know how to save seeds in your area can help keep people posted on current plant sales. Stearns says she has really appreciated this form of free advertising, as it is directed to the people who are truly interested.
Improvement #11: Hire Help
Stearns has also hired her friend’s teenagers or older children (nephews, granddaughters, and neighbors) for the bigger spring sale. They get to use their muscles and math skills and the shy ones will get to test their public speaking skills to some very sweet “plant people.”
Improvement #12: Enjoy
“Have a good time,” is Stearns’ final tip. You will find that plant people are wonderful around.
Do you have any other tips for starting a nursery business from home? Let us know in the comments.
Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA, is a pet and garden columnist and grows mostly edibles on his one-acre homestead due to the generous knowledge provided by his green-thumbed neighbors. His goal is to be self-sustainable through his permaculture landscape. Please search “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook to learn more about gardening with children.
Originally published in Countryside July/August 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.