Components of a wholesale container
container nursery requires a thorough review of selected production
site, and building a detailed inventory of all the facilities that
will be required for the efficient production of plants. While container
nurseries don't require the extensive holdings of land as would
be the case for a field grown nursery, their intensity of management
is considerably greater (1). A small container nursery may only
consist of 5-10 acres of ground (2). While container raised crops
can be produced in as little as 6 months, the developing plants
will need good cultural care over their entire life spans.
Principal components of a modern wholesale
A well-managed nursery has all the attributes of any other manufacturing
business. As an enterprise they often start out small and expand
as production expertise is gained and as sales grow. Smaller facilities
give way to larger units. Can yards expand in size and sophistication.
Additional labor is required to meet the higher work loads. Even
if the size of the nursery does not expand, most container nurseries
develop better materials handling, irrigation, pest management,
and shipping practices as they evolve.
By reviewing all of the different aspects of a modern container
nursery, a manager will be better able to plan an efficient operation
initially, while still retaining a positive attitude to the opportunities
for future expansion (3). Whether a nursery begins as a part-time
enterprise to supplement the family income, or starts out with a
large sum of investment capital, they all consist of common features
and facilities. New growers should tour facilities similar to the
size and complexity of the enterprise they are considering establishing.
Generally there are both retail and wholesale operations within
a day's drive, in the Pacific Northwest, that can be called upon
for a tour. Include a camera and notebook on any tour so that comments
and images can be recorded for latter review.
Design a layout
The first step in any building plan involves carefully measuring
the size of the site and noting its general features including soil
types, prevailing slope and aspect, native vegetation, any water
features, and the position of any existing buildings. As with a
field grown nursery, a hand held GPS unit can accurately measure
dimensions, and pinpoint the location of notable features on the
site. More sophisticated GPS units can also be used to denote changes
in elevation which is very important for the lateral movement of
rainfall and potential irrigation runoff. After collecting GPS data,
and transferring it to a personal computer, drawing software can
be used to design the hypothetical location of structures, can yards,
and service roads. When the final layout has been determined, a
poster of the nursery can be produced on a large capacity printer
for others to view.
By having the schematic for the nursery on a personal computer
the various sizes and stages of production can be moved and altered
easily. Drawing software can display maps with scales so that distances
between operations can be visualized. If plants will be moved from
one stage to another with forklifts or other motorized equipment
additional space will be needed to maneuver, than if the plants
are moved by hand or conveyer belts (4). In designing the layout
thought should be given for expansion of each phase of the operation.
Building architects should be consulted to explore the possibilities
of building designs that can be added upon to at a latter date.
Greenhouse supply companies often have sales staff that can suggest
methods to add onto existing greenhouses. New operators will usually
find that other members of ornamental trade will review a nursery
layout, more so if it's for a new operation distant from their own.
Plan for efficiency
A nursery can be thought of as an assembly line for producing plants.
Each phase of the operation should supply the next. There are essentially
4 stages in the production (5). During the initial propagation stage,
plants can be started from seed or cuttings, or liner stock is procured
from other growers. This stage may require a greenhouse for faster
production. During the second stage, referred to as the transplanting
stage, container media, pots, and plants all come together for assembly.
In the third growing-on stage, which can occur in either a greenhouse,
outdoor can yard, or in shade house, plants are allowed to mature.
In the final shipping stage, plants are either loaded onto carts
or into cardboard boxes for truck shipment. In every step of way,
labor will be required to move and handle plants. As 25% to 35%
of the total production costs of producing plants consists of labor
(2), and 60% of labor involves moving plants, it is imperative that
travel distances between areas is minimized. A good design that
has industry wide acceptance consists of having the office, propagation/transplanting,
and shipping/receiving facilities located near the nursery entrance
with the container yards radiating out to fill the acreage (1, 2).
Nursery owners often take a great deal of pride in landscaping the
grounds surrounding their office and parking lot. By showcasing
the types of plants sold by the wholesaler, a company can attract
a wider diversity of retail garden shop owners and landscape contractors.
Plants can be displayed both in the ground as well as in the containers
they will be sold in. Directional signs should be clearly provided
showing where customers should park, as well as the direction of
traffic for truck drivers. All entrance roads should be wide enough
to allow standard highway trucks and trailers to turn off of easily.
A well designed entrance sign, flanked
by a suitable display garden, can help attract passing motorists
as well as provide a visual reminder of name and layout of
the entire operation.
Work with a reputable sign designer to make an eye-catching,
all weather sign that will become a pleasure to own and display.
The office facility should contain enough space for individual business
suites, partitioned areas for secretarial staff, a copy machine/work
center room, and a small conference room where sales meetings can
be held. On smaller pieces of property a residential home can serve
as the office. One room of the office should be large enough to
seat visiting guests and display color posters of nurseries' collection
of plants in bloom to buyers. A firm should employ knowledgeable
sales representatives, who can provide buyers with information on
gardening trends (6). As in the world of retail, a wholesale business
is based on quality plants, customer service, and a good selection
different types of plants in various stages of growth.
The heart of a container nursery lies in the propagation/transplanting
facility. Nursery owners will direct the propagation crew to produce
a certain number of plants based upon either consignment or projected
sales. Generally the goal is to produce enough plants to meet the
year's demand without having too much extra stock at the end of
Propagation can take the form of:
- Greenhouses where media-filled trays are set out for starting
seeds, leaf or stem cuttings, or root divisions.
- Tissue culture labs.
- Pole building with lower benches for transplanting container
stock from smaller pots into larger ones (referred as "bumping
- Greenhouse with benches for starting softwood or hardwood cuttings.
- Pole barn with benches for dividing herbaceous perennials.
As for structures, small growers generally start out with poly-covered
greenhouses (7) and pole barns for dividing plants. As the nursery
matures, larger and more sophisticated structures are usually built
(8). Single layer PVC greenhouses are recovered with double layers
of poly. Soil heating cables are utilized to warm the base of the
propagation trays. Fans are hung to ensure good air circulation.
Fog systems are installed to replace misters. Heated and insulated
structures are used to replace drafty pole barns. In short, every
effort is made to speed and ease the production of the young plants,
and to improve the working conditions for labor.
Trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials that will be grown into
larger sized plants will be set out into container (can) yards.
The greatest percentage of ground (60-70%) in a container nursery
will be taken up by the can yards. While the office, propagation
facilities, and other structures can located on un-even ground,
can yards need to graded smooth and not exceed a slope of more than
5% (2). Can yards don't have to occupy a contiguous piece of ground.
A typical yard will cover an area 50' wide by 200' in length (3).
If there is sufficient flat ground beds can be sized as large as
50' by 600' in length (2). By having can yards 50' wide no pot has
to be carried more than 25' to an access road where it can be loaded
onto either a trailer or truck.
Container plants are typically grown in mixtures of bark, pumice,
and peat moss (9). Yard debris compost can substitute for the peat
moss. As these materials lack nutrients, growers need to add back
either slow or controlled release fertilizers. Growers have the
choice of buying custom blended potting soils, or mixing their own.
Cement mixers or front end loaders can be used to mix media. Generally
smaller firms purchase pre-mixed potting soil, while larger firms
mix their own in order to save money (10). In either case the media
mixing/storage area should be located close to the propagation facility
in order to reduce the time and expense of handling and moving media.
Conveyor belts, in combination with potting machines, can help during
As in any other production facility, nurseries require a shipping/receiving
facility to move finished product out and to receive supplies coming
in. A standard 4' high loading dock will be needed to service truck
trailers, via the use of fork lifts. In the absence of a loading
dock it is possible to use portable ramps to allow forklifts to
gain access to trailers, but this introduces more chances for spills.
Be sure to build enough space outside of the loading dock for truck
drivers to turn and
This container nursery uses a forklift
to load pallets. This type of loading works when a dedicated
loading dock is not located conveniently close to waiting
backup their trailers. Roads leading up to the loading dock should
be at least 30' wide so that vehicles can pass each simultaneously.
At larger nurseries it's common to find shipping managers having
their workers organize plants, referred to as 'staging', on pallets
so that trucks can be loaded quickly and efficiently. It's generally
considerably slower to load trucks by hand. During the height of
the shipping season trucks will be leaving on a daily basis as product
is moved out.
Container grown plants will need to have an Integrated Pest Management
(IPM) program to control weeds, insects, diseases, animal and bird
pests, and slugs and snails. A wide diversity of Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) approved pesticides are registered for use on ornamentals.
Larger wholesale nurseries typically employ a horticulturist who
will monitor the crops and direct workers to help control them.
Pesticides are often purchased in bulk to help lower their purchase
costs. A recognized pesticide storage facility is generally required
by insurance companies to protect a company against lawsuits in
the case of mishaps. Further information on pesticide storage is
This facility is used to house a lunch room, a rest-room with showers,
and personal lockers. The walls in the lunch room can be lined with
cork boards to post notices for workers. Larger firms often host
catered meals or pot lucks for their workers at the end of the season.
Supervisors that cater to the personal needs of their workers will
find their efforts are greatly appreciated!
There are plants that do require summer shade to keep them from
drying out under conditions of full sun. Shade structures often
consist of hoop houses covered with shade netting or pole structures
covered with wire and shade cloth. Hoop houses can be constructed
with either galvanized pipe or PVC. Some nursery sites have mature
trees on the site that can be utilized to provide shade. Hoop house
structures can serve dual purposes by being covered with white plastic
sheeting during the winter.
Every nursery will need some sort of pole barn for storing tractors,
sprayers, un-used pots, and all the other various implements and
supplies that come with running a productive farm. This type of
structure can also serve for minor equipment repair and maintenance.
Given the relatively small size of container nurseries, equipment
storage facilities don't have to be extensive.
Container crop producer are creating a unique environment for their
plants in comparison to field grown crops. Containers only hold
a limited amount of water, retain only a limited amount of the nutrients
supplied to them, and produce plants with limited root systems.
Container crops are irrigated frequently during the heat of the
summer. With the lack of vegetation surrounding the pots, its imperative
that consideration is given both summer runoff from irrigation,
as well as storm-water runoff from winter rains. The goal of nursery
manager should be to prevent all runoff from leaving the nursery
property (12). Collection basins can be graded and then sealed with
clay-like materials or heavy plastic. Basins can serve as a source
of water for further irrigation. When runoff water is re-cycled
through a sand filter, or mixed with fresh water, the chances of
introducing waterborne organisms (Phytophthora spp.) back into the
containers is reduced (13).
started in the nursery business. 1. Nursery production options.
2002. Gregory Eaton and Bonnie Appleton, Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University.
2. Starting a Container Nursery Business. 1993. Ken Tilt,
extension horticulturist. Alabama
Cooperative Extension Service, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.
and design consideration for a wholesale container nursery.
1999. Thomas Yeager, and Dewayne Ingram. University of Florida Extension.
HTML version is located here.
4. The Container
Tree Nursery Manual: Volume 1 Nursery Planning, Development, and
Management. 1995. Tom Landis, USDA Forest Service, Portland,
OR. An on-line, PDF version of this reference is available here.
5. Nursery Management. 1994. John Mason. Published by Kangaroo
Press Pty Ltd, Kenthurst, New South Wales, Australia. Carried
Nursery and Garden Centre Marketing Manual. 2000. John Stanley.
The Reference Publishing Company, Auckland, New Zealand.
department. Ted Bilderback, Nursery Crops Extension Specialist,
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. A 57-page PDF with
numerous color photos of all stages of plant propagation.
8. Secrets to a successful greenhouse and business. 2002.
T.M Taylor. GreenEarth Publishing
Company, Inc., Melbourne, FL.
9. Pro-Gro Mixes
and Materials, Sherwood, OR.
10. So You Want to Start a Nursery. 2003. Tony Avent. Timber
Press, Portland, Oregon.
storage. Robert G. Bellinger, Extension pesticide coordinator,
management practices for container-grown plants. 1999. Maryland
Department of Agriculture. Source: Southern Nurseryman's Association
publication: Best Management Practices: A Guide of Producing Container
13. Capturing and recycling irrigation water to protect water supplies.
Sharon von Broembsen, extension plant pathologist, Oklahoma State
University. From: Water Quality Handbook for Nurseries, E-951.