D. F. Hamilton and J. T. Midcap
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
ENTERING THE NURSERY BUSINESS
D. F. Hamilton and J. T. Midcap*
Are you thinking of growing woody ornamentals in your own
nursery? If so, these are some of the facts which must be con-
As with most businesses, the main requirements for entering
the nursery business are knowledge or experience, capital and
hard work. Efficient establishment and operation of a nursery
must be planned from the smallest detail to the largest aspect.
Location of the nursery, arrangement of such components as
growing areas and propagation units, and incorporation of ma-
chinery, pots, labor and plants must be carefully planned.
One of the first steps is to determine which of these businesses
(a) Retail nursery, which is usually a retail outlet plus suf-
ficient acreage for growing.
(b) Wholesale nursery, which grows plants for sale to other
nurserymen, landscape contractors or retail outlets.
Wholesale nurserymen may also grow plants on a contract
(c) Landscape nursery, which provides landscape services and
retail sales as well as producing plants.
Determining the type of nursery business you want will help
determine whether the plants to be grown will be rooted cuttings,
liners, larger container plants, field-grown stock or various com-
The marketing system for any nursery must be clearly defined
from the beginning.
Who is the consumer? There are two distinct types of con-
sumers. They are retailers or landscape contractors who ulti-
mately offer the plants for resale, and the final consumer
who uses plants in landscaping.
Plans for economical marketing also require consideration of
transportation facilities. Can the plants be shipped to distant
markets economically and compete with those of other wholesale
growers or must they be sold locally? Each nursery, therefore,
must analyze and organize its own marketing channels, develop
a sales program, prepare the product for distribution, extend
credit and make collections on an individual basis. At the same
time, nurserymen must obtain information about consumer
*Extension Ornamental Horticulturists.
preferences, marketing trends and anticipated demands to deter-
mine which plants to grow and how many to produce. In some
instances this requires promoting certain plants which a nursery-
man feels are outstanding.
Site selection and development are very important in the early
stages of planning. Proximity to other nurseries, to major cities
and highways should be considered. Having several nurseries
nearby may be mutually beneficial for smaller operators by pro-
viding markets for specialty items, sharing of transportation
services and increasing the frequency of buyer visits. Present
and future development surrounding the site and zoning regula-
tions will determine the ultimate growth of a nursery.
Sloping land with less than five degrees slope is best for nurs-
ery layouts. It allows excellent air flow and surface drainage.
Areas with natural shade may be used for growing azaleas,
camellias and holly, but disease and insect problems are often
more severe if air flow is restricted. Shade structures must be
built if natural shade is unavailable to grow shade-requiring
Of all the needs of plant production, the availability of ample,
high quality water is most important. Total soluble salts in irri-
gation water is acceptable between 175 and 525 ppm with sodium
levels between 20 to 40 percent of the total salts. However, the
ideal level is less than 175 ppm salts and less than 35 ppm sodium.
A maximum of 10 acre feet of water for each acre of plants is
needed yearly if overhead sprinklers are used. Trickle irriga-
tion systems are much more efficient than sprinklers. During hot,
dry periods the weekly requirement may reach three inches per
acre using sprinklers. Automated irrigation systems are usually
more reliable and consume less water and labor than manual
methods. The amounts and distribution of rainfall also help
determine irrigation needs.
Soil type is most important when plants will be field grown,
even though plants may be transferred to containers before mar-
keting. A nursery site for field-grown stock should have a well-
drained and tillable soil. Plants which will be balled and bur-
lapped should be planted in soils that will hold together in a ball.
The number of plants to be produced and the organization of
necessary facilities to produce and sell the crop will determine
space requirements and layout of a site. Organization of the
facilities includes designating and estimating the size of propa-
gation and liner areas and specialized growing areas such as
those for shade-grown plants, 1-gallon and 5-gallon containers.
Certain specialized growing areas may not be needed by all
nurseries. Other space needs which must be considered are office,
parking, storage, service, soil handling and potting, order stag-
ing and holding areas, and roadways.
Provisions for basic equipment and supplies must be included
in the initial planning and investment stages of a nursery. Design
and install the best possible irrigation system. Growing areas
may require incorporation of injectors into the irrigation system
for fertilizer and pesticide application. Specific irrigation equip-
ment will include pumps, pipes, valves and controllers.
Tractors, trailers, trucks and other machinery needed will vary
with the type of nursery. Soil sterilization and spray equipment
will be necessary for pest control. Containers, soil mix compo-
nents, fertilizer and other chemicals, tools, office supplies and
equipment are also necessary.
The number of employees needed in the nursery will depend
on the size of the operation. Starting with fewer personnel gives
more time for training, and requires less financing. Mistakes
will also be less likely and less costly. Remember that social se-
curity, insurance, income tax and similar factors are part of
When planning for the initial investment, miscellaneous fac-
tors such as utilities, insurance, interest, taxes and management
can not be omitted. Agricultural classification of operations may
be obtained, but this must be checked with the local county as-
sessor and filed for at the appropriate time.
Nursery inspection is required of all plants offered for sale.
This is regulated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services. Occupational licenses and bonding which
are required can also be obtained from this office.
Most nurserymen belong to various trade organizations. They
provide an excellent marketing aid through personal contact,
magazine advertisements, and are also a source of up-to-date
information. Many nurserymen in Florida belong to both the
Florida Nurseryman and Grower's Association and the American
Association of Nurserymen.
There are many types of nursery operations and great vari-
ation among them so that the initial investment may vary tre-
mendously. Two to four years of operation usually are required
before significant returns may be expected. Therefore, funds or
credit must be available to operate the business during this es-
tablishment period. Maximum returns may not be realized for
six years or longer.
Nursery operations require a large capital investment. Sources
of financing may be available from personal resources, banks,
private money-lending institutions, federal programs and others.
Before approaching money-lenders, a prospectus of your future
business should be prepared. The prospectus should contain at
least the following points:
a. Size of operation
c. Type of business
d. Values of assets
e. Cost of equipment needed
f. Markets-their source and dependability
g. Estimated returns
h. References from other businessmen or community leaders.
Information on developing a business prospectus is available
from banks, financing agencies, or the chamber of commerce.
One should have a knowledge of cultural requirements of the
plants or a real willingness to learn. Many technical books and
specialized publications are available to help. Consult with your
local county Extension director for advice and technical as-
sistance. Through him, one can secure the help of state special-
ists with the Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Equipment
dealers, suppliers and other nurserymen are also valuable aids in
developing a nursery.
The future of the nursery business appears good at this time.
However, there is a very high risk factor in almost every phase
of the nursery business. Until the site is fully developed all or
the greater share of the profit will go into the business.
Market demand has been excellent in recent years but it should
be remembered that in periods of recession and national emer-
gency, nursery products are considered luxury items and may
be among the first to suffer. Although not a problem at present,
overproduction and domination of the industry by large produc-
ers are possibilities to contemplate.
The nursery business offers interesting and rewarding careers
for well-qualified, hard-working people. Many well-established
nurseries are always looking for good help. Valuable experience
can be gained by working for a reputable grower for several
years before starting your own business. There is ample oppor-
tunity for individuality and satisfaction in producing or selling
products that can improve our environment.
OFFICES TO CONTACT WHEN STARTING A NURSERY
1. Occupational licenses;
Information on occupational licenses needed for a nursery
can be obtained from the local city and/or county clerk.
For information on state licenses contact:
Licenses and Bonding Office
Florida Department of Agriculture and
Tallahassee, FL 32304
Contact the county or city clerk for area zoning regulations.
3. Tax Forms:
State tax information is available through the:
Department of Revenue
Tallahassee, FL 32304
4. Federal tax information is available through the local In-
ternal Revenue Service Office. This office provides a busi-
nessman's kit to aid new businesses. This kit includes in-
formation on a federal tax number, an agricultural tax
guide and social security requirements.
5. Nursery Inspection:
Inspection is regulated by the Florida Department of Ag-
riculture and Consumer Services. Contact the:
Division of Plant Industry
S. W. 34th Street
Gainesville, FL 32601
The Florida Department of Commerce can provide infor-
mation on workmen's compensation and Occupational
Safety and Health (OSHA). Contact:
Florida Department of Commerce
Division of Labor
1321 Executive Center Drive
Tallahassee, FL 32301
7. The U. S. Department of Labor has four area offices in
Florida which can provide federal wage guidelines. Contact
the nearest office:
Mills Building 1150 S.W. 1st Street
Suite 110 Room 202
5110 Mariner Street Miami, Florida 33130
Tampa, Florida 33609
3947 Boulevard Center Drive
P. O. Box 8024-A Suite 121
22 Lake Beauty Drive Jacksonville, Florida 32207
Orlando, Florida 32806
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WORK IN AGRICULTURE AND HOME ECONOMICS
(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS, University of Florida
and United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
Joe N. Busby, Dean
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This publication was promulgated at a cost of $343.00, or 51/2
cents per copy, to inform Floridians about the nursery business.
Single copies free to residents of Florida. Bulk rates available upon request.
Please submit details on request to Chairman, Editorial Department,
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida,
Gainesville, Florida 32611.