How to Start a Mail Order Nursery

Starting a mail order nursery presents some unique challenges; here are some things to consider before you begin.


| September 2014



Plants in boxes

It is important to choose your boxes and packing materials carefully to ensure that your plants will arrive at their destination safely.


Photo by Fotolia/fotocof

Tony Avent wrote So You Want to Start a Nursery (Timber Press, 2003) as "a reality check for anyone wanting to start a nursery," drawing on his own experience transitioning from a government job to a full-time nurseryman. Now the owner of Plant Delights Nursery, Avent shares his expertise on how to start a nursery with wit and clarity; the book is devoted to the business and planning concerns of the nursery owner. The following excerpt from Chapter 9 deals with setting up a mail order nursery, from deciding what products to offer to shipping and delivery concerns.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: So You Want to Start a Nursery.

The Mail Order Nursery

Most mail order nurseries started as backyard operations that evolved into mail order businesses without a real business plan. These nurseries are typically those that grow their own plants. The larger mail order nurseries, by contrast, purchase plants that they then offer for resale. One disadvantage to this latter strategy is that nurseries without a retail component to dispose of unsold inventory must get rid of it at the season’s end even though so much money is tied up in those unsold items. While nurseries that grow their own plants may suffer this same fate, the costs involved are usually much less.

What Products Will You Offer?

Starting a mail order nursery requires that you ask many of the same basic questions you would if you were starting a retail nursery. Will you grow or purchase your plants? Will you sell potted or bare-root plants? What types of plants will you handle and in what sizes? Of course, answers to most of these questions should form part of your mission statement.

Nurseries in the South tend to lean toward container plants, whereas those in the northern zones offer more bare-root plants. The higher cost of overwintering plants in containers often prevents the more northern nursery from competing on price with those in the South where overwintering costs are much lower because of the milder winters. Although containerized crops can be much more easily accommodated into an extended shipping schedule, it is often more expensive and difficult to maintain them in containers during the growing season.

Plants that will be shipped bare root must be dug in the fall and stored in cool conditions, usually in refrigerated coolers. Many deciduous woody plants and perennials are handled in this manner. Storing plants in coolers is anything but an exact science, and you should expect high losses with certain crops. No matter where your nursery is located, coolers will be a necessity if you are handling bare-root materials.





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