Finding myself utterly broke and apparently unemployable a few years ago, I decided that if I wanted to work, I would have to start my own business.
Since I didn’t have any startup money or business experience, I was forced to narrow down my ideas to the bare skeleton and ask myself two questions:
- What resources do I have already?
- What do I already know how to do?
Not much. I didn’t have a degree or own anything valuable I could sell.
But I was living with my parents, with a roof over my head, food to eat and a few acres of grass and trees at my disposal.
And I knew how to garden.
How to Sell Plants and Start a Gardening Business
In the Midwest, trees pop out of the ground each spring, just to get mowed over by well-meaning suburbanites, who flock to nurseries and garden centers to pay big bucks for new ones to plant.
I decided to take advantage of this cycle. Armed only with determination, a spade and a wheelbarrow, I began digging and potting.
I made a small profit the first year. It helped pull me out of “brokedom,” but it was nothing to brag about.
However, the realization of money actually can grow on trees inspired me to go full force the next season.
That year, I made $1,200.
Think you want to give it a shot? Here’s what to do:
How to Choose Plants
Chances are, if you have any kind of garden or yard, you have perennials growing out of control.
Carefully thin these out and repackage them, and you’ve got your stock.
Want to give gardening a try before you buy? Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. have seed-sharing programs free to patrons. Most programs only ask that you return some seeds from your yield.
I can almost guarantee you when friends hear about what you’re doing, they’ll offer you their own overrun gardens, too. Four of my friends did!
You can make small investments, too, such as raising tomatoes from seeds in early spring. Plus, the fruit that demands to be a vegetable also offers some of the biggest bang for your gardening buck — cherry and heirloom tomatoes offer some of the highest ROI among veggies.
Where to Get Compost
I was fortunate that my parents’ yard already had several compost piles in its corners — all I had to do was dig for limitless black soil.
If you don’t have one, here’s how to start a compost pile in your backyard.
How to Create Containers for Your Plants
Like most families who garden, mine had an arsenal of used plastic containers in our garage. I went through those first.
Throughout that first winter, I checked every container in the recycling bin to see if I could cut off the top and poke holes in the bottom.
Wrap newspaper around containers like coffee canisters to form cheap seed-starter pots. Customers can plant with the pot still on — the paper will gradually break down in the ground.
I broke a knife in the process, but by spring I had enough containers for the entire season. Quite a few customers even brought me their extra containers at no cost.
Capitalize on the fact you’re only using natural methods and reused containers — customers will be happy knowing they’re helping the environment.
Fertilize for Free (Almost)
There’s no need to buy fancy, expensive supplies from a garden center.
An elderly woman taught me this simple hack: Set up an old garbage can under a gutter to catch excess rain water. Throw eggshells in and cover it with a lid.
Let your fish feed your plants. Use the dirty water from a freshwater aquarium (and the accompanying fish waste, full of beneficial bacteria) to fertilize your plants for free.
Use this to water your plants. The nutrients from the shells provides them with all they need to flourish.
Make Your Presentation Perfect
My setup soon spread from a bench alongside the garage to cover the entire back porch and parking area.
I put the plants in sections and made sure there was space to walk between them so customers would feel comfortable. I set up a tarp for the shade plants.
Keep your “store” looking nice by keeping it clean and weeding out any droopy daisies (or other dying plants).
Be available and friendly to customers — explain what the plants are and how to take care of them. Do your research!
Price to Sell
I kept pricing simple: Most plants were $3, or two for $5. Large plants were $5, and nothing ever went over that price.
If people bought a lot of plants, I’d give them a few for free.
For example, if their total came to $70, I’d just ask for $60. You’ll be surprised how quickly the money adds up, even at these prices!
Don’t Forget Advertising
I advertised on Craigslist every few days, posting a detailed description of what I had in stock, how to find the store and prices.
I always added nice pictures of my best-looking plants.
Connect with your customers on picture-heavy social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram. Include photos of your prize plants as well as gardening tips to create a community of loyal fans.
Be sure to provide a phone number in case customers have questions or can’t find you.
And in case you were wondering, I also hung up some old-fashioned posters around town and looked into newspaper advertising. Neither was effective.
Before You Get Started, Consider These Factors
Potting plants and taking care of your store takes time and muscle, but if you enjoy working outdoors, this could be the business for you.
You’re also at the weather’s mercy. My third year in business, it rained nonstop all spring, and I sold almost nothing.
Running your own business also can be mentally stressful. Frankly, for the number of hours you put in, you might make more money working for minimum wage as a cashier or server. You’ll have to motivate yourself to keep things running and turning a profit.
But at the same time, there’s nothing like the freedom and satisfaction of being your own boss.
Stephanie Spicer is a freelance writer, filmmaker and artist.