Want to start a peony nursery

herbal(z7 MD)March 19, 2014

I posted this on the peony forum, but I figured I'd post here too.
I love peonies. I'm new to growing but if someone asked me what work would I do day after day, without pay, it would be to have a peony nursery. I believe I have found my true-ist calling. Now that I have waxed poetic, here's my question: anyone want to mentor a newbie? Or lead me in the right direction to some mentor ship/ apprenticeship. I want to purchase 500-1000 peonies this fall to begin my nursery. I'd like to anyway, but I have many questions and lots to learn. Where do I begin? I'm in maryland, but am willing to travel.

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Talk to a local flower grower in your state, regulations vary state to state). I believe you will need to get a nursery license to start and there are probably other such things to look into. And you will need to find a supplier of great quality roots and finally a market (are you doing cut flowers or selling the plants?)

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 5:32AM
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That is great that you want to start up a new peony business but realistically what you need to do is get over any 'romanticized ideas' you might have about doing this. In order to succeed there will probably be a good amount of blood sweat and tears involved. ANY work day after day, day in and day out is called a job for a reason! There are established peony/daylily nurseries already in business so what will set yours apart from the existing nurseries? Ask yourself why would gardeners want to buy from you - are you offering new, old, tree, Itoh, species or all kinds of peony? Or do you really just want to work with the plants because you love them so much? I am not trying to discourage you here, just attempting to be realistic. Unless you have steady income coming in from another avenue I kind of have a hard time believing that anyone can make much of a profit initially or even in the first five years or so - it takes time to grow a plant business - pun intended!
So where should you begin? If I were you I would take a look at the peony farms in existence. Since you are willing to travel, go visit Wild and Son, etc., to see what works. When I was visiting the Hawaiian Islands a few years ago for a friends wedding, The bride and groom ordered flowers from a local florist there, and when I told the woman that owned the floral shop that I was a horticulturalist, she BEGGED me to send her boxes of cut flower peonies because there is a huge demand for them there and they get a PREMIUM for them.
Here on the farm I have about 15 different varieties of Peonies that were originally my great and great - great grandmothers - I use them for cuts that I sell at a farmer's market in the city where I always sell out. White is popular for wedding use, although I prefer the deeper colored varieties. In order to do well in the hort industry you have to have high standards of quality, an endless supply of energy and a stainless - steel hinge for your spine (because of all the bending over) would help a lot too!
I sincerely wish you the best, good luck to you, and I hope to see a new Maryland peony nursery in the near future!

This post was edited by jebfarm on Thu, Mar 20, 14 at 10:11

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 10:01AM
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There's a book written by Tony Avent who owns and runs Plant Delights Nursery that might well give you things to consider, linked below. His writing style is somewhat irreverent, but he has years of experience with his nursery and a realist's view of what it takes to be successful.

I have friends who were full-time flower farmers for years, selling cut peonies to local florists in season, and greenhouse grown flowers (not peonies) in the fall through spring, both locally and in the Boston wholesale flower market. I know it was a lot of work for not a lot of income, and included some really early mornings to get flowers to market. They eventually got other jobs so that they would be to afford to retire at some point in the future. I know that both of them had college degrees and years of working in the business for other folks before setting out on their own.

Before you get a mentor or start looking into buying plants, I'd look into taking some classes at your local ag school or land grant university. Here UNH has classes in various aspects of horticulture and business and has internships available for students. Or get a job in a garden center, greenhouse, or farm near you. The majority of small businesses don't make it, and if you are to succeed you will need to go into the venture with as much experience as possible in not only the growing part including such things as pest control, soil mixes, and varieties, but also the business part - startup funding, equipment, off-season income, taxes, licensing, etc, etc.

There are probably growers' or nursery owners' groups near you. Join them and you may make connections that will help as well.

Here is a link that might be useful: So You Want to Start a Nursery

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 10:54AM
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The good thing about peonies as a crop is that there are tricks to get a very long season out of the blooms. I saw a show about it once on tv, something about harvesting buds at the first sign of color and then storing them in large chiller for months and months. I believe the farmer was sending boxes of these dormant buds to shops via the mail and there they were revived and sold as freshly opened blossoms. It was almost a year round crop and very profitable.

I know there is a large peony only farm here in NC so people are making money doing this.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 3:25PM
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Last year my wife and I sold cut peonies at farmers market. We bought a farmstead with a long row of established plants. We started by plucking off lateral buds on the flowering s talks. That will make a bigger terminal flower. Train the stalks for straight growth. Harsvest them when the buds are colored and starting to open. Hold the bud between your fingers and press on the flower with your thumb. It should have some resistance, called the 'marshmallow stage'. Flowers harvested earlier will still open but will be much smaller. Flowers should be greater than 30mm in diameter and have straight, 20 inch stems in order to be the highest grade. When cutting stems, leave 3-4 leaves on the plant so that next year's harvest will not be affected, also don't harvest more than half the flowers off a single plant. Cut stems should be immediately placed into cool water. Processing must be right away or the flowers will open. Leaves should be stripped. We wrapped each flower in newspaper, made bunches, then wrapped each bunch with a think plastic sheeting rubberbanded in place. They went into our kitchen fridge, stacked 3 layers deep, filling it about 4/5 full. They could have lasted in the fridge for two months but they sold too fast. We sold them from . 75 - $1 per stem.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2014 at 11:45PM
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herbal(z7 MD)

Thank you all for your wonderful responses. I just recently joined the living again. I was in a bed preperation/ peony planting frenzy for the last 10 days. Fortunately, I believe in making all my mistakes up front, so nature obliged me :)
To answer some of your questions I plan to sell flowers and blooms. I don't have to get a license as a nursery just yet, I won't have anything to sell for at least two years. Yes patience is involved. I'm currently watching the peonies to remove any buds, and yes, several have them. I purchased about 70 plants, and ended up with close to 200 after dividing. I'm now very familiar with working from dawn to past dusk, working in wet clay, forced child labor, iron spine, and plenty more; including neglecting laundry, meal preperations, childrens hw. Ultimately I'm glad it's done (planted). I made many mistakes, learned a lot of on the job skills. Ultimately I'm really amazed that in had that kind of 100% work mode in me. I've never labored so hard. Of course, most of it was self inflicted extra work because I had to have the rows on contour lines and certain types of amendments that had to be hauled in, again by me. I rented and drove my first pick up truck! I feel exhausted, and elated. I can't wait for all of you to see my first blooms.
I do plan to start working with a flower nursery locally. I won't be able to until summer, but I have some time to learn. I would have preferred to learn, then get the peonies but once life offers you an unbelievable deal you have to rise to the occasion. In terms of classes, I've taught several classes on soil building and gardening locally. I just started a permaculture design course, so I think it may guide me to pinpoint where I need further study.
Thank you all for your detailed information. I will get the suggested books. Now that their ticked into their beds, I can begin my knowledge building.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 9:04AM
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