For several decades, there has been a quiet revolution in America’s gardens as a growing number of people switch from thirsty, high maintenance landscapes full of lawn and exotic plants to landscapes featuring beautiful, low maintenance grasses, wildflowers, trees, and shrubs native to North America. Thanks to water restrictions in many regions of the country, wilderness areas overrun with invasive foreign plants in others, and growing awareness around the nation of the importance of sustainable landscapes, this movement has accelerated in recent years.
Starting a native plant nursery is a great green business opportunity that offers a perfect chance not only to take advantage of this trend but also to help introduce more gardeners to the beauty and ecological benefits of native plant landscapes.
Planning Your Native Plant Nursery
One of the biggest questions to decide when planning your native plant nursery is what plants to grow and sell. The definition of a “native plant” varies depending on who you talk to. For example, the Colorado Blue Spruce is a beautiful tree native to the Rocky Mountain region of North America. Some gardeners consider the blue spruce to be “native” because it is indigenous to North America. Others feel that a Colorado Blue Spruce planted in, for example, Virginia is just as foreign as the invasive Asian kudzu that has devastated native landscapes across the state.
In addition to considerations about what is and is not native, you may wish to specialize in a particular type of plant. For example, the incredible diversity of the native prairie ecosystems of the Midwest and Great Plains has led a number of native plant nurseries in those regions to focus exclusively on the hundreds of species of native wildflowers found on the prairies, while a number of nurseries in the eastern US focus especially on native shade plants suited to the natural woodland ecosystem of that region. Other nurseries generalize and raise native plants of all types and habits.
Another question is where to acquire your plants. Many native plant gardeners value local ecotype plants grown from seeds collected nearby, rather than collected and grown hundreds of miles away, potentially in completely different climates and soils. Growing and selling local ecotype seed improves the probability that the plant will thrive in the area and also increases genetic diversity, but collecting it can be difficult and dependent on local regulations and the generosity of private landowners.
Finally, you need to decide whether you are interested in being a wholesale or a retail nursery, and what other services, if any, you wish to provide. Many retail nurseries offer gift shops and landscaping services in addition to plant sales. Native plant nurseries combine especially well with xeriscape landscaping services, since native plants are especially well suited to xeriscapes. Many native plant nurseries also offer regular workshops, classes, and other events to raise awareness of the benefits of gardening with native plants.
Three Nurseries For Beautiful Native Landscapes
With more than 4000 native plant species, California has one of the most unique and diverse collections of native plants in the country. Las Pilitas Nursery offers hundreds of species, from wildflowers just a few inches tall to a selection of California’s towering native oaks and redwoods, for sale in its two stores, located in Escondido and Santa Margarita, and online. The website also offers a wealth of information about California’s native plants, wildlife, and ecosystems in addition to plenty of advice for designing and planting native California landscapes.
Prairie Nursery Native Plants and Seeds is located in Westfield, WI and sells primarily plants native to the beautiful tallgrass prairies, woodlands, and wetlands of the Upper Midwest. In addition to hundreds of species of native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers, Prairie Nursery offers specialty seed mixes, pre-planned gardens, and landscape design and installation services. Knowledgeable staff also lead regular guided tours of the nursery’s large display gardens, and self-guided tours are available at any time.
Go Native Tree Farm, located in Lancaster County, PA, specializes in container-grown native trees of the Eastern woodlands, including all eight native magnolias, eight different species of hickory, including the delicious native pecan, twelve species of oak, and many other unique native trees, such as the pawpaw, a favorite fruit of George Washington, and hard-to-find blight-resistant American Elm and American Chestnut cultivars.
Main Image Credit: Frank Mayfield