Starting a woody ornamental business can be quite easy if you have a plan of action to help guide you through the steps necessary to ensure your success. Follow these steps for new growers, and you’ll have woody stems ready to harvest and sell in almost no time.
1. Before you start. Your first step must be to make sure the land you plan to use is suitable. How is the drainage? Are there wet areas? Is the soil suitable? Watch out for hardpan, rocky or heavy clay soils. Is the land in a flood zone? Does zoning allow a commercial nursery use? Do you have an adequate year-round water supply?
2. Choose the right woody ornamental species. Take the time to do your homework to find the best woody ornamentals for your climate and markets. Talk to county extension agents, florists and other growers in your area. Seedling suppliers can also be helpful, as they can tell you which woodies are suited for your plant hardiness zone and are steady sellers.
3. Site preparation. Till the new growing area at least twice well before planting seedlings to bring dormant weed seeds to the surface where they can be eliminated. Work in any required fertilizers or soil amendments. Layout planting rows with stakes and twine, and plant seedlings in the spring so they can establish a healthy root system over the summer growing season. Most new woody seedlings will benefit from a simple drip irrigation system to boost growth and stem production.
4. Harvest time. For the best cut stems and prices, be sure to harvest when each species is at it’s peak for flowers, fruit or stems. If you’re not selling at farmer’s markets, be sure to have your buyers line up well before harvest time. Established growers use “forcing,” a method used to produce flowers earlier than their natural blooming time. For example, many shrubs produce flower buds in the summer, but do not bloom until the next spring. These stems can be cut in the winter for forcing.
5. Selling woodies. Some growers sell their entire harvest at local farmer’s markets, where they can cut out the middleman and keep the full retail prices. Retail florists are also a great market for growers who prefer to sell locally. Growers who would rather spend time growing than selling often sell their entire crop to wholesale florists.
6. Value added products. Woody growers have found they can easily double or triple their profits by turning their stems into a higher-value product. These include food products such as jams and jellies, wreaths and garlands, willow crafts like basketry, furniture, garden art, wreaths, even doll furniture. Most woody growers also sell potted woodies to customers who want to plant their favorites in their own yard.
Growing woodies is not rocket science, as these profitable plants are generally easy to grow and low maintenance. In addition, once planted, woodies will continue to produce stems year after year for decades and decades. In Europe, it is not uncommon to find trees that have been harvested every year for over one hundred years. To learn more about woody ornamental production, read: Growing Woody Ornamentals For Profit.