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How to Profit From a Small Nursery

How to Profit From A Small Nursery

The nursery trade is known for its ups and downs and never more so than today, as customers become more selective about what they buy. Being selective makes sense from the customer’s point of view; gone are the days when nurseries could offer the same old stand-by plants, year in and year out, without so much as a blink from their customers. Today’s customers are better informed – television, flower shows, blogs and other social media have changed the gardening world. This shouldn’t be viewed as all doom and gloom for the trade though; if you understand where the gardening world is heading, know your customer base and know your plants, there is no reason why you should not be able to set up a small nursery or continue in one you already own successfully.

So what is good about setting up a nursery?

  • You can start it in your spare time from your backyard while still holding down a job and expand it to a full time business as sales permit

  • Small backyard nurseries are low-tech businesses – they don’t require a huge capital input to start off

  • Working for yourself – you dictate when and how you work and what you sell.


What Can You Do To Improve Profits?

Listen to Your Customers – customers can provide you with a lot of valuable information as to the type of plants you should be propagating and selling. Nowadays people want tough, healthy, low care, drought resistant plants that are also attractive and suited to their climate and soil. Listening to your customers means asking questions:
  • What sort of soil are they dealing with? Sandy, clay, loam and so on. You can even encourage them to do a pH test.
  • What is the microclimate for their property? Fences and boundary plants and also buildings and paving all produce a rarefied atmosphere that may be a lot hotter or a lot colder (in an exposed situation) than the surrounding area.
  • What are their preferences – knowing what they like means you can get onto the same ‘wave-length as your customers. It makes them feel more confident in your recommendations

Knowing what a customer likes and the situation they are planting in means you are equipped with the knowledge you need to make solid recommendations.

That all makes sense but what else can you do to ensure a profitable business?

You will all have visited nurseries that offer more than just plants – it seems to be the fall-back option for most businesses these days to have ‘add-on’ sales. Many nurseries offer an array of products, garden ornaments, and even a café on-site. Most small nurseries though wouldn’t have the capital to set up a café in their nursery. Some won’t want to carry stock, other than plants, that may set them back financially and may sit on their shelves. You may just want to run a backyard nursery and perhaps visit farmers markets to sell your plants.
  • Consider niche plants – specialising is far more profitable way to run a small nursery today. Offer your customers plants that they may not readily buy from the local garden centre.Remember though customers have become pickier and shun plants that don’t perform – so grow plants that work well in your region.
  • Know what you are selling – there is nothing worse than visiting a nursery or a plant stall at a farmer’s market and then being confronted with a seller who doesn’t know their plants!
  • Offer advice (going back to what was suggested earlier) you do not need to be an absolute garden guru but you do need to know a lot about what you are selling – the botanical and common names, what they like to grow in what culture and treatments these plants may need in the future e.g. pruning etc.
  • Start selling plants online make sure you research packaging techniques so that plants will arrive in good condition.
  • Participate at farmer’s markets in your region – this is a great way to establish word of mouth business. It also gives you a great idea when talking to lots of people that visit your stall as to what they actually want to buy.
  • Consider ‘add on selling’ this helps to diversify your income (and as suggested earlier this seems to be the way of all future businesses and whether they succeed or not). Retail nurseries are finding it harder to just sell plants alone and make a profit so they add all sorts of extra lines to add to their sale. Think ‘outside the box’ when it comes to add on sales so you are not competing with large chain stores that can buy stock a lot cheaper than you can. Find a niche add-on product – it may be something that is hard to source locally e.g. more unusual garden ware.
  • Start an online gardening blog and offer plants and products online for example ebooks or even online short courses that are geared towards to amateur gardener or short courses
  • Consider an affiliation with ACS for ebooks and short courses


ACS Distance Education offers two ways to help you to improve your nursery profits:

  1. Offer your customers gardening ebooks that they can download. We offer a wide range of eBooks , which you can view at
  2. Another option is to offer distance learning courses on your blog and sell distance learning courses. Again, we offer a wide range of courses, which you can view on our websites, such as:

You can find out more details of  how to be an eBook reseller here.

Find out more about selling our courses here.

Or contact our Affiliate Managers:

Kate Gibson is based in Australia and can be contacted at or +61 (0)7 5562 1088

Jade Sciascia is based in the UK and can be contacted at or +44 (0)1384 442752

We look forward to hearing from you.


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