How to Start a Gardening Business [Step-by-Step Guide]

Detailed guide with helpful information on fees, costs, requirements, licences, formation, marketing, and hiring. Also includes tips, FAQs, and a checklist.

Updated on January 16th, 2020

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Gardening can be developed into a full-time business as there is a great demand for skilled, knowledgeable gardeners. People with a green thumb, who enjoy the outdoors and working with plants and flowers, and want to help others to get their gardens started should consider starting a gardening business.

70% of people aged 25 - 34 enjoy spending time and entertaining outdoors. This is leading to a rising interest in gardening. Gardening is also a lucrative industry because of the small living spaces in urban environments, which increases the need for small-space gardening.

In the last 5 years, the Nursery and Gardening Store industry has seen an annual growth of 3.6% between 2014 and 2019 and this percentage is expected to grow by 1.1% this year. Total revenue for 2019 was $50 billion. In 2019, there were 24,642 gardening and nursery store businesses reported in the U.S. and the industry's employment was at 144,226.

Gardens can be outdoor plots, containers, or "outdoor rooms," rooms created to look like an outdoor space. Gardeners generally perform tasks like watering, trimming, raking, digging, planting, hoeing, leaf-blowing, and snow-clearing. To start your own gardening business, follow our step-by-step guide below.

Gardening Business Plan Template

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What's the difference between a gardener and a landscaper?

Gardening and landscaping are closely related, but there are some significant differences. Of course, there is also some cross-over of tasks.

Gardeners are focused on the health and wellbeing of plants and will usually maintain what a landscaper has created. They mow lawns, prune plants, do weeding, and fertilize the soil. They will identify pests and diseases and apply herbicides and feeds. A good gardener knows which plants flourish in a particular area and season and where to buy the best plants. Gardeners know all about plants and horticulture, including how they grow, how to make them last longer, and the best position in the garden. Gardners may also work on landscaping, such as inserting irrigation systems or outdoor furniture.

Landscapers often construct gardens where there were no gardens before. They will design the project and implement the construction, from putting together the plants, flowers, and other flora, to installing landscaping constructions such as pathways, decks, pergolas, and water features.

Landscape Architects must get a degree and pass a national examination for a license, while landscapers do not necessarily need a license or qualification and may just implement what the landscape architect has designed. Landscapers may also work to maintain the garden they have constructed.

How to Start a Gardening Business Checklist - Free PDF

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1. Determine if starting a gardening business is right for you.

Gardening is a great stress reliever as a hobby, but turning your hobby into a business can be a difficult and stressful path. The size of your business will depend on your free time, the amount of money you are willing to invest, and the scale of the services you intend to offer.

Understanding the business:

Gardeners may work for residential or commercial clients or both and will work with clients to understand their gardening vision and what they want from the design. You will then need to sketch out the design and draw up a budget and an estimate for your client.

Gardeners must interact and work with tradespeople to order gardening supplies and equipment to complete each gardening project. Typically, gardeners cultivate turf, plant trees and shrubs, construct water features, and order outdoor furniture, among other tasks.

Tip:

You can use accounting software, such as Quickbooks, to create quotes and track your work hours as well as your hourly rate.

Gardening Project Quote Template

Use our downloadable Microsoft Word template to estimate your project costs and quote your customers.

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Tip:

Check out our article on How to Name a Business for steps to choosing and securing a great name for your gardening business!

Having the necessary skills:

There are no formal qualifications necessary to go into the gardening business but you do need to have extensive knowledge of plants and the care of plants. There are also some necessary soft skills. To be a good gardener, you need to demonstrate a love for the outdoors as well as outstanding creativity. Some additional skills include:

  • Great communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Excellent planning, organizational, and design skills.
  • Experience in gardening (you can use your own garden, friends and family's gardens, or volunteer gardening jobs to build experience).
  • Good negotiation skills for settling the cost of any job and ordering supplies at the best price.
  • Flexibility and a calm disposition in the face of clients changing their minds, accidents, and unforeseen poor weather conditions.
  • Basic administrative and business management skills.
  • Basic marketing skills.
  • A drive towards growth no matter how successful you become.
  • An eye for innovation and new ideas.
  • Good physical health and strength to handle the heavy lifting.

Consider the downsides and dangers involved:

The biggest issue with starting a gardening business is that your income will be dependent on the weather, and there may be lags during the winter periods. To overcome this, you can plan tasks that can be done in all seasons.

While you may be physically fit and strong, gardening requires repetitive bending, squatting, and reaching, which can lead to joint and back problems. Furthermore, prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause issues such as dehydration and skin cancer.

The equipment you will need can be quite expensive, and you may need to apply for a loan to finance your equipment needs. In addition to this consideration, there are many casual workers who may take your business with lower rates and more flexible hours.

Gardeners can be asked to do some dangerous activities, such as pruning tall trees, working in close proximity to electrical wires, and operating dangerous equipment, such as power saws. By owning your own gardening business, you will need to accept these risks.

The Pros and Cons of Starting a Gardening Business:

Pros

  • You can make a living doing what you love with enjoyable, outdoor work.
  • The potential profit of starting a gardening business is high as there are many people who are interested in maximizing their outdoor space but don't know how to.
  • There are many different directions you can take with your business: offering setup services, teaching, providing maintenance, or specializing in a specific area or feature.
  • You will enjoy flexible working hours.
  • Gardening is a consistent and ongoing process as gardens require constant maintenance.

Cons

  • If you live in a seasonal climate, your business may slow down in the winter seasons.
  • There are many large companies to compete with.
  • You will need extensive knowledge of organic materials, products, pesticides, and equipment to help you stand out among your competitors.
  • The work is labor intensive and you will also lose paid time to travel between jobs.
  • If you damage your tools or the client's property, the cost to repair the damage will be high.

2. Write a business plan.

To successfully start your gardening business, a business plan is a must. The business plan helps you to plan out all the necessary steps you must take, the finances you'll need, marketing solutions, and your long and short-term goals and assets. You will need to have sales goals and an inventory to reach those goals, but since you can't grow everything yourself, you will also need to outline where you will source your products.

A great gardening business plan consists of:

  1. Executive summary.
  2. Start-up summary.
  3. List of products and services with prices.
  4. Market analysis.
  5. Financial strategy.
  6. Marketing strategy.

The most important information that must be added to a gardening business plan is about the products you will offer. With your list of products and services, you will need to detail how you will grow or source your products, how your products will be distributed or stored, and how you will care for them during the winter seasons. Since you cannot grow all of your own products, you will also need to research suppliers and provide an outline of the top suppliers you will use and their prices in your business plan.

Another important detail to note is how the services you offer will change depending on the season. For obvious reasons, you cannot plant flowers or shrubs in winter when it is snowing and the ground is frozen but you also don't want your business to be closed for a whole season. So you may need to outline what services you can offer for the different seasons that will keep your business going and generate income year-round.

Lastly, specific to gardening business plans is the start-up summary and your list of short and long-term assets. These are lists of the tools and equipment you will need to start your gardening business. Large equipment, such as lawnmowers, can be expensive if you buy quality products, which you will want to do. You will need to divide your equipment and tool needs into short-term assets, such as protective gear, and long-term assets, such as a lawnmower.

What types of services can gardening businesses offer?

  • Landscape design: installing plants, pathways, water elements, outdoor fixtures, fences, and pool decks.
  • Lawn services: fertilizing and maintaining lawns with the correct equipment.
  • Decorative pots: finding the right pots to suit the plants and balancing the overall space. Used in small-space gardening.
  • Garden maintenance: periodic landscaping, feature maintenance, lawn mowing and edging, pruning, and pest control.
  • Consulting: providing advice and coaching.

Tip:

Set a plan for the year with different tasks that can be completed each season. For example:

  • Summer: lawn care, border trimming, feature maintenance.
  • Fall: leaf clearing, pruning.
  • Winter: landscaping, feature maintenance, snow clearing.
  • Spring: planting, weeding, prep work.

Being a gardener does not require any qualifications, but starting a gardening business does require some legal licenses and permits.

Business Account and Credit Card:

Apply for a small business account and a business credit card and use this account when applying for licenses, permits, taxes, and insurance. This will help you to keep your business expenses separate from your personal expenses.

When planning your gardening business, you will need to choose a legal structure for tax purposes. The simplest and most popular route for gardeners is to operate as a sole proprietor. However, you can also set yourself up as a limited liability company (LLC) or, if you have a partner, as a limited liability partnership.

Taxes:

Once you have chosen your legal structure, you will need to register with the IRS and receive your Employer Identification Number. There are various tax deductions you can make as a small business owner.

Licensing and Insurance Requirements:

Each state has its own licensing and insurance laws and requirements. You may also need to apply for permits within your particular town. To check what the requirements are for your area, your county clerk, small business association, state department of business regulation, and tax revenue office can advise you.

Pesticide Charter:

If you are planning to work with pesticides, you will need to check if your state has a pesticide charter. The pesticide charter is a permit issued by the state department to a business that offers custom pesticide applications. A pesticide charter permit is required for each location in the state that the business operates in.

This can be a complex and involved process with testing, different licensing categories, and the number of individuals within your company who apply for licensing. It also requires surety bonds and liability insurance valued in the 100,000s of dollars. For example, Tennessee's pesticide charter requires new companies to hold a surety bond of $50,000 and proof of liability insurance with a minimum coverage of $250,000 per incident and a $500,000 aggregate. On average, landscape gardening businesses can expect to pay around $45 per month, or $530 per year, for general liability insurance with a $1 million per occurrence limit.

Basic equipment needed for a gardening business:

  • Gardening wear: Gloves, sun hat, and other protective gear.
  • Tools: Spades, hand trowels, garden forks, garden hoes, rakes, hand cultivators, bypass pruners, long garden hoses, watering cans, wheelbarrows, etc.
  • Large equipment: Lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, a vehicle.
  • Gardening products: plants, trees, compost, lawn care products, paving, soil.
  • Gardening design and administrative tools: drawing board, stationery, a laptop.

4. Outline the finances you will need.

The good thing about going into business as a gardener is that you don't need a lot of outside funding. You can start with what you have and what you know and then expand on your services and tools as you gain a dedicated customer base.

However, you will need to set aside financing for the following:

  • Training: Having qualifications and certifications can help you to stand out from your competitors.
  • Tools and travel: The majority of your finances will go towards buying the right tools for your business as well as fuel costs for transporting your equipment and reaching your clients' homes or businesses.
  • Suppliers: You will not be able to grow all of your own plants and will probably source most of your materials and supplies from wholesale stores and online sites.
  • Office and storage locations: You can work from home, but a storage location is essential for your larger pieces of equipment as well as storing plants and products for a particular project.
  • Business license and permits: Each state has unique licensing and permit requirements that you will need to legally start your business.
  • Marketing: You will need funding for buying ads, printing flyers and posters, putting up signs, and developing a website.
  • Insurance: Buying insurance is a must for any business, but as gardening can be a dangerous occupation and is dependent on weather conditions, you should definitely consider business interruption insurance.

Top Resources for Replenishing Garden Supplies:

Store Name

Available products

Amazon

A solid company with a wide range of tools, pots, fencing, protective gear, and equipment. You can find both new and used gardening supplies here.

Gardener's Supply Company

A great online store for commercial and private use. The garden supplies section includes irrigation systems, plant supports, tools, pest and disease controls, protective clothing, soils and fertilizers, planting accessories, seeds and plants, and season extenders.

Agri Supply

An online store with various brands that supplies fertilizers, grass seed, herbicides, landscaping tools, irrigation systems, lawn care products, and a variety of gardening tools.

AeroGarden

A resource for indoor gardening, including containers, seed kits, grow lights, and accessories. However, products are restricted to AeroGarden's patended technology.

Seeds Now

A resource for a variety of seeds, such as herbs, flowers, vegetables, and fruits, as well as storage containers, books, tools, and labels.

Overstock.com

A general store with a dedicated gardening section which offers tools, watering systems, pest controls, greenhouses, seeds and seed starting kits, and other essentials.

Burpee.com

Features a wide range of seeds and plants, including heirloom vegetables and flowers, and all the gardening supplies you could need.

Plow & Hearth

A trusted company with both physical stores and an online presence. Offers outdoor furniture, garden and landscaping accessories, and garden tools and supplies.

PlantsExpress.com

A California-based business that sells various kinds of plants and soils suited for the California climate.

Greenhouse Megastore

A great resource for greenhouse and shelter materials, plastic and cloth coverings, containers and trays, hardware, gardening supplies, and heating, cooling, and irrigation equipment.

Monster Gardens

Offers hydroponic supplies, grow lights, nutrients and additives, portable grow rooms, climate control, fans and filters, pots, harvesting and trimming tools, growing accessories, plumbing and irrigation tools, pest and mold control supplies, and outdoor gardening supplies.

Plant America Nursery

Sells quality plants online at low prices and they ship to any state.

Home Depot

Offers a wide range of products, including garden accessories, tools, soils, and fencing.

5. Buy business insurance.

Buying business insurance is a good idea for any business and may also be a requirement in your state. As a self-employed gardener starting your own business, you should consider the following basic insurance needs:

Tips for building your brand:

  • Take on any job at first to build your expertise and spread word of mouth.
  • Sell tools, products, and advice if job bookings are not going well.
  • Attend gardening events and contests to get noticed, build a network, and find and share new ideas.
  • Keep up to date with technology, new tools, and innovations in the industry.
  • Organize your business documentation so that you don't miss appointments, mix up designs, or miss tax filing deadlines.
  • Be friendly and pleasant to all clients.

6. Create a website and business portfolio.

Build a great website:

One of the best ways to provide clients with information about your services is to build a website. Your website should mainly provide information about your services, the physical area you cover, and your contact details (phone, email, booking form, etc.). You should also include a digital portfolio with pictures of gardening work you have done.

Search engine optimization can help bring your business to the top of Google searches, putting your business at the forefront for new clients.

You can also use appointment scheduling software integrated with your website so that clients can book online. That way, you won't miss an appointment because you are out on a job. A great appointment scheduling software will also send reminder notifications to you and your client.

It's a great idea to also include a blog section on your website for content marketing. Here, you can post helpful tips and information about different gardening topics, such as local issues gardeners may face and solutions to them.

Add social media links to your website to use as marketing tools. You can use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google, and Pinterest to post ads and links back to your website.

All gardening businesses should have a portfolio:

A business portfolio is a way to showcase your work and promote your services to potential clients. It should include samples of your work, such as pictures, videos, and other visual materials. You can show before and after pictures and use your own garden as a real-life presentation.

You should include a list of accomplishments where you can list exceptional things you have done as well as your specialties. You should also include reviews and references from previous clients, contests you've entered, and other professionals in the field. If you are just starting out and don't have any clients, take on some volunteer gardening work. This will give you some experience as well as potential references and reviews.

A business portfolio can also include details of your business, such as when and why you started the business, how many customers you have, your key suppliers, the products and brands you specialize in, any promotions you may have or will run, details of your website, and details of any publications you may have been featured in.

Tip:

When creating your portfolio, make sure it is presentable if it is a hardcopy. You should also include a list of contents so that clients can easily find what they are looking for.

Make a digital copy on your website so that potential clients can easily see examples of your work.

7. Start marketing your business.

There are various ways you can market your business, but before launching your marketing campaign, you need to know who to target.

Obviously, your target clients will be anyone who has an outdoor space, but there are some demographics who won't need your services. The National Gardening Survey showed that 18 to 34-year-olds occupy 29% of gardening households and were the highest spenders at gardening centers, indicating that they are more likely to do their own gardening. So, you may want to focus on targeting your services at the elderly or busy professionals.

Also, look for people who have not realized that their outdoor space needs care. Pointing out things you can do to improve the appearance of their gardens is a great way to gain new clients, although they will probably only accept your cheapest services.

Another avenue for potential clients is businesses or commercial properties with outdoor spaces that can be used to make the property more attractive. This may include apartment buildings, residential estates, property management companies, communal gardens, public spaces, and commercial grounds. There are also people who may need maintenance for greenhouse or office plants.

Here are some tools to market your business:

  • A creative logo design: Having a great logo design builds recognition for your brand and makes a good impression. Having your logo prominently displayed on your work vehicle will also work as free advertising.
  • Your website: Use your blog and the photos on your website and business portfolio to showcase your strongest work. Use a good DSLR camera to take quality photos and review and update your photos regularly.
  • Social media: A great way to share content, connect with new clients, and maintain relationships with existing clients.
  • A mailing list: Create a mailing list for your clients and send them email letters about your latest changes, new blog posts, promotional activities, discounts, etc.
  • Mainstream and online advertising: Advertise in newspapers and on billboards, if you can afford it. You can also use social media and Google for online advertising.
  • Promotional activities: Use both online and offline activities to build recognition for your brand, such as flyers, signs, posters, etc.
  • Word of mouth: Don't be afraid to ask your clients for references and reviews. If they are happy with your services, they will recommend you to others. You can also go door-to-door to talk to people and hand out flyers.

Tip:

A great way to instill confidence in your abilities is to make a good first impression. Here's how:

  • Wear a uniform: this presents a professional appearance. If you have employees, it shows you're all on the same team.
  • Get a logo for your vehicle: this will also add to your professional appearance as well as setting the neighborhood at ease. It will also be free publicity for your business.
  • Be open and friendly: clients are more likely to recommend your services if they are comfortable contacting you.
  • Be easy to contact: people generally don't like to spend too much time finding telephone numbers or emails. Having a website where potential clients can check your services and send you a message is a great idea.

8. Set your rates.

There are a lot of factors to consider when setting your rates, such as costs involved, costs of labor, and competitors' pricing. You also need to consider the types of services you offer.

Generally, garden maintenance is offered at a set rate and garden manicuring (ensuring a perfect garden) is charged at an hourly rate. Also, don't allow the size of the garden to dictate your pricing. A large garden may only require lawn maintenance while a small garden could require a lot more work.

You should also consider implementing a minimum call-out charge as your travel time between jobs will be unpaid. Check your competitors and compare pricing to help you set your rates.

The average rate for garden maintenance in the U.S. is around $20.00 to $50.00 per hour.

Once you have set your rates, you will want to implement an invoicing and payment system to keep things simple and organized. Great invoicing software will include time tracking integrations so that you can keep track of the hours you work and add them to your invoices. It's also important to keep track our your expenses.

For more information on how to handle your accounting, check out our small business accounting guideline.

Earning Potential for Gardening Businesses:

According to PayScale, the average hourly rate for a gardener in the U.S. is $15.02, with hourly rates ranging from $9.94 to $25.59. Bonus pay can range from $102 to $3,000 and profit-sharing can range from $125 to $54,784.

The average gardener can expect to earn around $25,650 a year, supervisors can earn around $45,160 a year, and gardeners in the building services (organizations that provide gardening and landscaping services to businesses and homes that don't have their own gardens) can expect to earn around $24,800. However, the highest wages seem to be in the governmental sector, with an average yearly pay of $46,190.

When to hire help.

Hiring help depends on how much work you have, how much you can handle on your own, and whether your employees will have enough work. You can hire some workers if your research has shown that you will have a lot of work, but it is usually best to wait until you have a confirmed list of clients. Generally, when you have more work than you can handle, it's a good time to start looking for employees.

You can start by hiring workers on a part-time basis to be sure that there will be enough work for them to do. You'll also need to decide how to divide up the work and if you want your workers to have qualifications, but whatever you decide, your workers should have a basic understanding of gardening.

A good resource for finding employees is to contact nearby colleges with horticultural or landscaping programs and talk to them about student work/study opportunities. You can also use traditional job adverts or online hiring tools to look for qualified candidates.

When you are ready to hire a candidate, you will need to add them to your payroll and fill out all federal and state legal requirements for all of your employees.

Expert Advice:

Monique Allen - The Gardening Continuum

"Partnering with nature is critical, but partnering with fellow passionate and engaged professionals - each honoring the other's slice of expertise - is how we make some of the most positive impacts."

FAQs:

What tools do I need to start a gardening business?

Basic gardening tools include spades, hand trowels, garden forks, garden hoes, rakes, hand cultivators, bypass pruners, long garden hoses, watering cans, wheelbarrows, etc.

How much does it cost to start a gardening business?

Starting a gardening business does not require a lot of outside funding. You can start with what you have and gradually build your business as you gain clients, so your start-up costs could range anywhere from $500 for basic equipment to $100,000 to buy an existing business.

Here are some potential startup costs:

  • Business licenses and permits: $3,300
  • Business registration fee: $750
  • Insurance costs: $2,400
  • Stationary and utilities: $3,000
  • Quality equipment, tools, and work vehicle: $100,000
  • Building and hosting a website: $600

How do I market my gardening business?

Do you need qualifications to be a gardener?

No. The minimum requirement to be a gardener is a high school diploma. However, earning extra certificates and qualifications will help you to stand out among your competitors. You can get an associate's degree, a certificate, or a bachelor's degree in horticulture, landscaping, or a related field in gardening. Clients also generally prefer hiring gardeners with experience.

How much can a self-employed gardener earn?

The earning potential for a gardener is high, as gardens will always need maintenance. According to PayScale, the average hourly rate for a gardener in the U.S. is $15.02.

How much should a self-employed gardener charge?

There are a lot of factors to consider when setting your rates, such as your overhead costs, costs of labor, and competitors' pricing. You also need to consider the types of services you offer. However, the average rate for garden maintenance in the U.S. is around $20.00 to $50.00 per hour.