Bootstrap Business: Garden-Grown Nursery

Our 3,000-square-foot garden grown nursery produces about three-quarters of the vegetables we eat in a year — and a bumper crop of nursery stock that brings us up to $1,000 of extra cash annually.

  • Garden Nursery
    A great way to supplement income is with a home nursery.
    Photo courtesy Susan D. Szwed
  • 207-100-01i2
    Potted willows, ready for buyers to take home, grow under the protective greenery of a neighboring asparagus patch.
    Susan D. Szwed
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    Susan D. Szwed

  • Garden Nursery
  • 207-100-01i2
  • 207-100-01i3

Our 3,000-square-foot garden produces about three-quarters of the vegetables we eat in a year — and a bumper crop of nursery stock that brings us up to $1,000 of extra cash annually. You, too, can easily earn a tidy sum by inter-cropping fruit tree saplings and woody ornamentals in your garden. Growing woody plants to sell also has an advantage over growing vegetable crops: If you don’t sell the woodies one year, you can keep them for another year or two, and often sell them for even more because they’ll be bigger.

Most nursery crops can be planted in rows about 3 feet apart in the garden, and you can use the space between some of these rows for vegetable crops. Sow lettuce or spinach, for example, between every other row of nursery crops. Leave the alternate rows unplanted so there’s a place for you to move about while tending both the nursery and vegetable crops.

When I started growing nursery stock, I sold potted plants at the local farmer’s market. I used two weathered oak boards straddling two rustic wooden barrels as my stand, and I displayed the plants — along with some flowering perennials — on top of the boards and on the ground in front of the display. The attractive setup added a unique flair to my display, and to the market.

By the time my two children were born, though, I was less inclined to spend summer Saturdays at the market. We are lucky to have a plant nursery co-op, Fedco Trees, so I switched to selling my bare-root stock through Fedco. This is a great outlet because I can dig up plants from my garden in the fall after they are dormant, shake the soil from their roots (thus saving a valuable resource in the garden) and send the bare-root plants to the Fedco warehouse, where they are stored until they’re ready to ship in the spring. Fedco takes care of all the marketing through its catalog. I receive a check for my efforts in late winter, after Fedco has received and tallied its orders for the year. This enterprise can be a good adjunct to a commercial vegetable operation, because it brings in cash when most vegetables aren't in season.

Lacking a local nursery co-op, you might consider potting some plants in the spring and selling them from your home through the growing season. (Woody plants that are growing in the ground have to be dug and potted — or sold bare-root — when they are dormant; most won’t survive being dug after they have leafed out.) Our local paper carries an ad from someone who sells 6-foot-tall weeping willows for $25 each — half the price charged at a local retail nursery. I know a couple who specialized in azaleas, growing a few hundred in pots each year and selling them in the spring by advertising in the local paper. Another enterprising local gardener sells potted pine trees, advertising with a sign at the end of his driveway.

Or you could establish your own catalog (or form your own co-op). Start with one, two or three specialty woodies and work your way into the business as time, space and funds allow.

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