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Wholesale Nursery Management

Course CodeBHT212
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Become Skilled in Nursery Management

This course covers all aspects of running a plant nursery efficiently and profitably. Whether you are planning a nursery or aiming to run an established one - all aspects of organising the work from choosing a site to marketing the final products are covered. 

Managing a production nursery involves more than just propagating and potting up plants. Even the small nursery must be able to not only producer plants, but do it at a predetermined cost, then sustain those plants before and during marketing. The nursery industry currently has a real need for people with skills and knowledge in managing production plant nurseries! This course provides a solid grounding for developing those skills.

This is an example of what you will do in the course:

  • Investigate existing wholesale nursery operations.
  • Conduct tests to determine chemical and physical characteristics of three different potting mixes.
  • Design a classified advertisement, to promote a wholesale nursery, in a specified publication.
  • Analyse the management structure of an existing production nursery.
  • Evaluate the efficiency of propagating and potting up plants.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Nursery Site Organisation
    • Buying an established nursery or establishing a new site, site planning, estimating space requirements.
  2. Management
    • Government and commercial nurseries, partnerships, companies, sole proprietorships, developing a management structure, labour relations and seasonal staff, work programs and production timing.
  3. Nutrition and Pest Management
    • Field crops, container plants, principles of fertiliser use and plant nutrition.
  4. Growing Media
    • Soils and soil-free mixes, rockwool, sterilisation, techniques.
  5. Irrigation
    • Methods and equipment, estimation of water requirements and use of liquid fertilisers through irrigation.
  6. Modifying Plant Growth
    • Modification techniques, flower forcing and quality control.
  7. Marketing Strategies
    • Exploiting existing markets, developing new markets, advertising, product presentation, pricing, plant recycling.
  8. Selection of Nursery Crops
    • Developing a stock list, operational flow charts, market surveys.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Explain the significance of property, marketing and contracts to site selection.
  • Estimate the cost of producing different plant varieties as specified marketable products.
  • Develop a nutritional program for plants in a wholesale nursery.
  • Explain the implementation of integrated pest management in a specified nursery situation.
  • Explain different chemical methods of controlling plant appearance.


In the past, nurseries were involved in almost all aspects of the production and culture of plants. They grew a wide variety of plants, and they sold them both wholesale and retail, as well as supplying a wide range of allied products and services. Today all but the largest nurseries tend to specialise. 

Nurseries can be public (for example, run by government, community or conservation groups) or private enterprises. Private nurseries may be individually owned partnerships (perhaps owned by a husband and wife or two friends), or corporate, such as a company, where they have a legal identity of their own.

Some nurseries are focused on producing plants, and others retailing. Some do both, but most do not.

This course is relevant to any type of production nursery, whether public or private, whether propagation or growing on
Nurseries which try to do everything rarely succeed. New nurseries should consider the following options carefully and define the scope of their operation to fit their resources, skills and knowledge.

Production Nurseries

Production nurseries, also known as propagation or wholesale nurseries, propagate plants and either sell them direct to retail outlets, landscapers and council parks departments, or wholesale them to growing-on nurseries. Success of production nurseries is affected by:

  • Innovation – supplying new varieties to the market or developing new ways of growing and presenting existing varieties allows the grower to develop new markets.

  • Specialisation – growing fewer lines in larger quantities allows the grower to improve efficiencies in the nursery.

  • Forecasting trends and meeting market demands – knowing what plants customers want, or are likely to want, and growing them in sufficient quantities allows the grower to meet consumers’ requirements, and through doing this, maintaining customer loyalty. 

Growing-on Nurseries

Growing-on nurseries buy bulk quantities of seedlings or small plants from propagators. At the time of purchase, the plants are growing in plugs, trays or tubes; the plants are then potted into larger containers and grown on for a period of time, adding value to the nursery’s original purchase. 

In addition to increasing the plants’ size, specialised growing techniques, such as topiary, may be used to add value to the plant during the growing-on phase.

The most critical aspect of production in growing-on nurseries is developing a quality product for the retail market. At the time of resale, every plant must be at its peak, displaying healthy, vigorous and sturdy growth. The plant is commonly presented appropriately, in a clean, attractive pot, with fresh potting mix (no weeds or residues on the surface) and appropriate support (small stake or trellis) if necessary. Labels may also be supplied.


The amount of land required for successful operation can vary from 0.1 hectare (1/4 acre) up to hundreds of hectares. The amount of land you acquire may depend on the following:

Cost of land – You may have to compromise your ideals for what you can afford;

  • Availability of land – You may be unable to get the exact size you want. For example, if you need a 1 hectare (2.5 acre) lot, land might only be selling in 2 hectare (5 acre) lots in your preferred locality.
  • Spacing and size of plants – Consider the final pot size prior to sale and the space required between plants.
  • The proposed output of plants – You will need to estimate the maximum numbers of plants in the nursery at any one time.
  • Space required for buildings, storage areas, roads, paths, car parks, dams, waste management facilities.

There are viable commercial nurseries operating out of backyards with as little as 400 square metres of space devoted to plants. Some of these backyard businesses generate enough income to support a family, but good management is particularly critical for businesses where space is at a premium. Many of the largest nurseries started out as small backyard operations. 

Propagation nurseries and tissue culture operations generally require less space because the plants don't take up much room and they don't need to be kept and grown on for long before they are sold. There are a large number of plants produced with respect to space used in these nurseries, and a high income per unit area. Nurseries which deal with very valuable collectors plants (such as rare plants, bonsai, carnivorous plants and orchids) may also require less space than other nurseries because they are able to generate more money per plant.

Retail nurseries can vary in size from a small shop in a suburban shopping centre up to a large regional garden centre that may be five or more hectares in size. Retail nurseries with a fast turnover of plants need less space because they don't need room to hold or store plants for lengthy periods between sales. 

Advanced plant nurseries generally require considerable space as plants can be grown for years either in containers or in-ground before being sold. Nurseries that grow grafted plants or advanced trees in field rows will require at least one hectare of land as a minimum to be a viable operation.


GreenPlant is a hypothetical business located about 100 km from the nearest capital city. The site has two hectares available with the option to expand. The nursery will be a relatively simple operation, with the production of tube stock limited to varieties easily grown from seed or cuttings, the principal markets for these plants being retail and wholesale growing-on nurseries. Other markets might include direct sales to the general public, farmers, parks departments, tourists (e.g. wildflowers and other indigenous plants) and production for specialist retailers.

The aim is to produce at least 150,000 plants in the first year, increasing to 500,000 within three years. The nursery will initially require a work building, storage areas, a propagating structure (polyhouse), an additional two polyhouses for establishing newly transplanted seedlings and rooted cuttings, and a shade area for growing on and hardening off stock. The final desired plan for the 2-hectare site is a wholesale propagation nursery with a retail area and a display garden, which will also provide a source of propagation material.

It is envisaged that a nursery will initially provide enough work to fully occupy three to four full time workers, and several casual/part time staff. The staff employed will be experienced personnel, plus trainees which will become a larger percentage of staff as time progresses.


  •  Develop a broad concept plan for developing the site. The design should include the garden and stock plant areas in addition to the nursery layout, and must allow for expansion and other future developments. It should be drawn up by a consultant skilled in both nursery operations and landscape design.
  • Develop basic nursery facilities - employ qualified tradespeople or experienced contractors.
  • Ensure there is sufficient propagating material available when required. Purchase or collect seed, and obtain stock plants while the construction of basic nursery facilities progresses. Propagation should commence as soon as construction of the main nursery facilities are complete; with some collection and preparation of propagating material having occurred prior to and during construction. The first month of operations (including at least two weeks of propagation activity) should be considered a training period. It is extremely important that a skilled, experienced and commercially successful nursery person manage this period of the operation. In addition, propagators must also be experienced to ensure high productivity and quality.

Plant selection

When deciding what plants to grow or stock, the following criteria must be considered:

  • Ease of propagation: varieties that are easy to propagate may bring a lower wholesale price, due to an oversupply in the market, and although the more difficult species are often more costly to produce due to high losses and/or long time in production, they can fetch a much higher price.
  • Time: some species can be ready to sell in less than a month, while others may take much longer. In the initial stages of the nursery, it is extremely important to produce plants quickly, in order to generate cash flow and establish a market profile.
  • Suitability to your facilities: the facilities briefly described in the introduction should provide the basic requirements for the propagation of a large range of seed and cutting grown plants.
  • Suitability of climate: it is always more efficient to work with the environment rather than trying to recreate different environments.
  • Demand for particular varieties: It is important to grow plants for which there is a market. The initial market research will provide some information on the types of plants to grow. Further plant varieties can be added based on information included in the marketing section of this plan. This can be amended or updated according to market demands, the availability of stock, and as skill levels and facilities are improved/upgraded.

Funding and projecting returns

No matter what kind of venture you are starting - even a non-profit one, if it is not funded properly, it will not be around very long. All economic aspects of your enterprise must be well thought out and organised, with as much formal planning as possible. Startup costs must be calculated, and the source or sources of funding confirmed. Ongoing monthly costs must also be estimated, and methods of payment established.

The following production schedule provides for the progressive development of the GreenPlant Wholesale Nursery to a production level of approximately 500,000 plants per annum after three years.

Learn - develop your knowledge and your business

Learning about all areas of a nursery - from planning, to marketing and management, will provide a good foundation of knowledge whether you are looking to take on an existing nursery business or start your own.

Do you want to know more? If you have any questions or need help in choosing a study path for your goals, get in touch with our expert Horticulture tutors - they will be happy to help you.

Meet some of our academics

John Mason Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant. Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK. He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and editor for 4 different gardening magazines. John has been recognised by his peers being made a fellow of the Institute of Horticulture in the UK, as well as by the Australian Institute of Horticulture.
Maggi BrownMaggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more than three decades. Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .
Diana Cole B.A. (Hons), Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector), P.D.C. In addition to the qualifications listed above, Diana holds City & Guild construction qualifications and an NPTC pesticide spraying licence (PA1/PA6). Diana runs her own landscape gardening business (Arbella Gardens). Active in many organisations including the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

Check out our eBooks

Starting a Garden or Landscape BusinessExpert advice on how to get started in your own garden or landscape business! Packed with valuable business advice, horticultural and landscaping knowledge, and practical ideas - this book is a must have for garden lovers. It is great for anyone thinking about (or already involved in) a horticultural, landscaping or garden business. This updated re-print is only available as an e book. Originally published by Simon & Schuster. 125 pages
RosesThe rose is the “queen of flowers” - classic and ever popular! Explore the richness of roses over six chapters covering: cultivation, soils, pruning, pest control, types of roses (hybrid teas to old world), using roses (from landscaping to cooking and perfumes), and an A-Z of cultivars. 56 rose cultivars described and illustrated with stunning photos. 81 colour photos 59 pages
Getting Work in HorticultureFind out what it is like to work in horticulture; how diverse the industry is, how to get a start, and how to build a sustainable, long term and diverse career that keeps your options broad, so you can move from sector to sector as demand and fashion changes across your working life.
Retail Nursery ManagementLearn how to set up and run a profitable nursery business. Retail Nursery Management is a detailed reference containing essential information covering production, wholesale and retail nurseries. The book covers all aspects of nursery management - from site selection, to financial management, administration, and marketing.