I just wanna sell some plants! (&seeds, &stuff)

pufftrinket(5MI)December 29, 2007

OK, I have read, and am continuing to read the FAQ and searches on starting a nursery business.

My ulterior motive is to get people hooked on native plants. I'm not limiting myself to them, though- I love marigolds, for example, and have lots of all kinds of open-pollinated seeds which native plant purists would notbe satisfied with, becuase I cna exactly determine the species. I figure when they discover how easy these plants are, they will grow more of them themselves. So, my mission is to get healthy native plants (especially caterpillar host plants for LOCAL butterflies) into as many gardens as possible throughout my area.

I don't think I want to make a big profit. In fact, I really don't want to worry about that at first. I don't want to compete with my local greenhouse and garden friends who run businesses. But I do want a wider audience.

I'm thinking- Hey, I have all these extra plants, can I sell them fro my yard? Can I go to a farmer's market? Can I take my truck somewhere and just set up shop? How about a website? Does that mean mail order?

It all sounds so complicated. I'm not in it for money- at least not yet. I'm human, so greed will probably kick in sometime.

So where do I start? Is a master gardener class really the way to go? Joining native plant societies? Could some of you give me some advice to help me keep it simple and do the right thing?


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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

It's a heckuva lotta work to do it just for the love of it. Even if you're trying to make a profit, it's really hard to do more than break even.

That said, a master gardener class really won't help in your situation. Joining native plant societies might. You could network there, and perhaps they have periodic plant sales. Of course, you'd kind of be preaching to the choir there, since those folks already appreciate native plants.

Farmer's markets are an option. I have done them. They take a tremendous amount of time and energy. You need to find one that has the proper demographics - mine was mostly old ladies and young moms, both on very tight budgets, so there wasn't much money to be had there.

Check with your local zoning office about selling stuff from your yard. It might work if you have high visibility. But you do open yourself up to insurance issues if someone trips and hurts themselves on your property and you don't have business insurance.

Selling from a truck? I have no idea. To do it legally, you probably need a permit from some government bureau. Check with your local authorities.

You can do a website, but it takes a ton of time and work. It can give you some visibility if you're lucky. Mail order is up to you. I personally wouldn't want to pack plants - I've done some waterlilies for trades and that was hard enough. You are at the mercy of the post office, and then there are the morons who don't open the box for days and then complain that the plant looks bad.

I know I sound like a broken record, but get a copy (from the library or buy one) of Tony Avent's book, So You Want to Start a Nursery. It will answer all your questions, and give you a good inside look at the work, risks, and rewards involved.

Good luck, and keep us posted!

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 7:43AM
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Usually if you google your state's name along with words like nursery regulations or something similar you will find your states rules for selling live plants. Many states have relaxed rules if you are small time or backyard growing and not involving greenhouses and many acres in production. I live in NC and they have wonderful laws concerning sales tax for home grown plants (like, no license required and no sales tax collecting). You can start small and grow over time.

There is a reason that mail order nurseries charge an arm and a leg to ship plants - it is a nightmare! Dealing with shipping providers that want to raise their rates everytime gasoline goes up a penny; that commit to certain pick up date and time and then forget to tell you that they've changed their schedule; that decide to change the nature of their contract with you on a whim... the list goes on and on. When you look through all the prices being charged for shipping and handling - remember that no one is making money with these charges except the carrier. So the last thing I would consider if I was small time would be mail order. That being said, selling plants on ebay is often the easiest way to get into business.

Farmer's markets are different city by city and town by town. Some only allow so many plant vendors, some only allow home grown plants (no buying in plugs and growing them up - which is the industry standard nowadays). So you have to check on your area markets and see what's available. And you have to check your communities rules and regulations on being a vendor (something you have to do no matter where you want to sell).

Most states have native plant societies and these organizations often have spring plant sales which are more like a big craft sale and often booths are available for vendors. You do not always have to be a member of the organization in order to sell at the festival but sometimes you do. Keep in mind that everyone wanting to market native plants will be there right beside you. The same goes for butterfly organizations.

I sell plants at a small local farmers market. I started out promoting natives and butterfly plants. They are not big sellers in my community. Butterfly gardening and native plant gardening are a big thing here and many very accomplished gardeners belong to these organizations - and they share their extra plants with club members for free. So the people I expected to sell to aren't used to seeing a price tag on their favorite plants. The customers that attend the market I sell at seem to enjoy seeing native plants for sale, and they enjoy my enthusiasm for natives and butterflies, but they never buy them.

Since you said you weren't in it for the money, consider yourself warned - every person putting in a butterfly garden for the local elementary school and nursing home will be hitting you up for free plants. They have all the drive but no funds. For every 10 plants I end up donating I probably sell one plant (this is not the way to conduct business).

Not only do I feature natives and butterfly plants, I also often have host plants with larvae already on them (like fennel with swallowtail caterpillars). Kids LOVE them, but when their mother lets them choose one plant to buy, they pick the fruiting strawberry instead. Don't get your hopes up too high.

Growing plants and Selling plants are two different things completely. The first thing you need to do is figure out where you can sell stuff (from your home, at a festival, at a market), then figure out what rules apply to that type of selling, then start selling stuff. You'll never learn how to sell stuff by reading about it - you have to jump in and start selling.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 6:52PM
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Thanks you both so much. Those are the kinds of things I needed to hear. I think I will look for a market somewhere near me, and start with that in the spring.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 6:59PM
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