Nursery / Greenhouse Business

A nursery is a place where plants are propagated and grown to usable size. There are retail nurseries which sell to the general public, wholesale nurseries which sell only to other nurseries and to commercial landscape gardeners, and private nurseries which supply the needs of institutions or private estates. Some retail and wholesale nurseries sell by mail.

Nurseries grow annuals, perennials, and woody plants (trees and shrubs). These have a variety of uses: decorative plants for flower gardening and landscaping, garden vegetable plants, and agricultural plants.

Nurseries often grow plants in a greenhouse, a building of glass or in plastic tunnels, designed to protect young plants from harsh weather (especially frost), while allowing access to light and ventilation. Modern greenhouses allow automated control of temperature, ventilation and light and semi-automated watering and feeding. Some also have fold-back roofs to allow "hardening-off" of plants without the need for manual transfer to outdoor beds.

Some nurseries specialize in one phase of the process: propagation, growing out, or retail sale; or in one type of plant: groundcovers, shade plants, fruit trees, or rock garden plants.

Nurseries remain highly labour-intensive. Although some processes have been mechanised and automated, others have not. It remains highly unlikely that all plants treated in the same way at the same time will arrive at the same condition together, so plant care requires observation, judgement and manual dexterity; selection for sale requires comparison and judgement. A UK nurseryman has estimated that manpower accounts for 70% of his production costs.

Business is highly seasonal, concentrated in spring and autumn. There is no guarantee that there will be demand for the product - this will be affected by temperature, drought, cheaper foreign competition, fashion, etc. A nursery carries these risks and fluctuations.

Annuals are sold in trays (undivided containers with multiple plants), flats (trays with built-in cells), peat pots, or plastic pots. Perennials and woody plants are sold either in pots or bare-root and in a variety of sizes, from liners to mature trees.

Plants may be propagated by seeds, but often desirable cultivars are propagated asexually by budding, grafting, layering, or other nursery techniques.

Nurseries have the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code of 111421. The NAICS definition of a nursery is "establishments primarily engaged in (1) growing nursery products, nursery stock, shrubbery, bulbs, fruit stock, sod, and so forth, under cover or in open fields and/or (2) growing short rotation woody trees with a growth and harvest cycle of 10 years or less for pulp or tree stock."


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Professional Resources

American Nursery and Landscape Association
National trade association of the nursery and landscape industry. ANLA provides education, research, public relations, and representation services to members.

Getting Started in the Nursery Business
From the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Horticultural Business Information Network
A guide to strategically managing green industry firms from the University of Tennessee.

Nursery Business Management
University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Nursery Crop Science
A variety of useful articles from North Carolina State University.

Sample Nursery Business Plan
Software program that provides a business plan for a nursery that you can edit to fit your particular circumstances.

Starting a Plant Nursery or Greenhouse Business
Oregon State University Extension Service.


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