One of the very best ‘shoestring startups’ for anyone who enjoys gardening is starting a tree nursery in their backyard or acreage. A tree nursery can be started with just a few hundred dollars and a few essentials. Here is what is needed:
Room to grow. Although many established tree nurseries cover over a hundred acres, most started on a much smaller scale – often as a backyard venture. If you have acreage available, that’s great, but you can start small and expand.
Two ways to produce a large number of trees in a smaller space like a backyard are growing trees in pots or choosing compact tree varieties to grow. Using standard two-gallon pots, a modest backyard with only 1,000 square feet of space can hold over one thousand trees. Compact trees include bonsai trees, Japanese maples and table-top Christmas trees, such as the Elwood cedar and Italian stone pine.
Hand tools. You would be amazed at how many million dollar plant nurseries started with just a wheelbarrow and a few hand tools. When starting out, a wheelbarrow can be used for mixing potting soil, moving potted trees and a multitude of other uses. Add a square-point and a round-point shovel, a rake and pruners, and you’re in business!
Water. Growing trees requires a dependable water supply, which can come from a pond, a private well or a municipal water supply. To avoid wasting water, use a drip irrigation system to supply water directly to each tree.Drip systems are cheap, costing less than fifty cents per tree, and can pay for themselves in less than a year in water savings, if you’re paying for metered water.
Soil. A soil mix that both holds moisture and provides good drainage is essential for high-quality healthy trees. You can blend your own for far less than the pre-bagged mixes, using a blend of topsoil, peat and sand.
Containers. Readily available new or used plastic pots makes it easier to grow trees than growing in the ground. It’s a system that makes a lot of sense for a small tree nursery, with less digging, watering and weeding required.
Fertilizer. Slow-release or time-release fertilizers are best for growing healthy young trees, as they slowly release nutrients over a period of time, usually up to a year, which means less work for you.
If you have a growing space and a water supply, the other essentials can be purchased at any time. Now, here’s how the tree growing business works, in four simple steps:
- Step one – purchase tree seeds or seedlings. When you’re just starting out, tree seedlings make more sense, because you’ll have salable trees, and profits, about two years sooner than when growing from seed. Most tree seedlings are inexpensive, averaging about 75 cents each. As seeds are cheap, you can plant them at the same time as the seedlings, and in a year or two, you’ll have as many two year seedlings as you want, for just the cost of seeds.
- Step two – propagate trees from cuttings. Some tree species, such as willows, are best started from softwood cuttings taken from a mature tree. The cuttings are stuck in a blend of sand and peat, then misted until they are ready to transplant to pots. Rooting cuttings allows you to create as many new trees as you want and guarantees the new trees will be exactly the same as the parent tree. Trees started from seed, just like children, may not turn out exactly like the parents! This is important if your goal is to create an exact match of named cultivars, such as with Japanese maples.
- Step three – grow trees. Depending on the type of trees you are growing, seedling can be ready to sell in as little as a year. As the trees grow, they can be re-potted in larger pots to allow them to grow larger and more valuable. Once a year, add a tablespoon of time-release fertilizer to each tree to keep them strong and healthy.
- Step four – marketing trees. When your trees are ready, it’s time to sell them. The one and two gallon sizes are more affordable, and will appeal to budget-conscious buyers. Landscapers usually prefer the 3 and 5 gallon sizes for landscaping projects. Larger projects, such as restoration and mitigation projects, may require hundreds of smaller trees.
- A popular way for small tree growers who don’t want to retail directly is to work with local groups, such as church groups, the Boy Scouts or Kiwanis, to do a fundraiser. The group does the selling in return for a cut of the retail price, usually 25%, and you sell a lot of trees in a short time. Many growers sell out their yearly production using this win-win method.
Growing trees is a great way to turn a 50 cent seedling into a $10 to $50 sale in 2-5 years, with not much work. Just keep repeating the four steps for a steady ‘green’ income from a backyard tree nursery. You’re the boss, working on your own schedule, and you keep the profits. Best of all, it’s a business anyone can start with just a few hundred dollars.
To learn more about how to make money growing trees, read Growing Trees For Profit.