Growing plants for profit is a great way to turn your gardening skills into serious cash. While most of us immediately think of tomatoes or salad greens, the most profitable plants are specialty crops that are not always found in a home vegetable garden. Many specialty crops can bring as much as $90,000 per acre, and are quite easy to grow.
Best of all, most specialty crops can be grown without a full-time commitment. If you have a few extra hours a week, then you can be a specialty crop grower. Here are eight specialty crops worth growing:
1. Bamboo. Landscapers and homeowners are paying as much as $150 each for potted bamboo plants, and many growers are finding it hard to keep up with the demand. Why is bamboo so popular? It’s a versatile plant in the landscape, as it can be used for hedges, screens or as stand-alone “specimen” plants. Bamboo is not just a tropical plant, as many cold-hardy varieties can handle sub-zero winters. Using pots in a bamboo business, it’s possible to grow thousands of dollars worth of profitable plants in a backyard nursery.
2. Flowers. If you are looking for a high-value specialty crop that can produce an income in the first year, take a look at growing flowers for profit. A flower growing business has almost unlimited possibilities, from bulbs to cut flowers to dried flowers – often called “everlastings”, for their long life. It doesn’t cost much to get started growing flowers for profit either – just a few dollars for seeds and supplies. Most small growers find lots of eager buyers at the Saturday markets held in most towns.
3. Ginseng. Nicknamed “green gold”, the value of this plant is in it’s slow growing roots. Asians have valued ginseng for thousands of years as a healing herb and tonic. Even though growing ginseng requires a six year wait to harvest the mature roots, most growers also sell young “rootlets” and seeds for income while waiting for the roots to mature. Over the six year period, growers can make as much as $100,000 on a half-acre plot from seeds, rootlets and mature roots. That’s why ginseng has been prized as a specialty crop since George Washington’s day, when ginseng profits helped finance the Revolutionary war against the British. Ginseng production is only possible in areas with cold winters.
4. Ground Covers. Due to high labor costs and water shortages, ground covers are becoming the sensible, low-maintenance way to landscape. Growers like ground covers too, as they are easy to propagate, grow and sell. Bringing profits of up to $20 per square foot, ground covers are an ideal cash crop for the smaller backyard plant nursery.
5. Herbs. Growing the most popular culinary and medicinal herbs is a great way to start a profitable herb business. The most popular culinary herbs include basil, chives, cilantro and oregano. Medicinal herbs have been widely used for thousands of years, and their popularity continues to grow as people seek natural remedies for their health concerns. Lavender, for example, has dozens of medicinal uses, as well as being a source of essential oils. Lavender is so popular, hundreds of small nurseries grow nothing but lavender plants. So to start your herb business, focus on popular plants.
6. Landscaping Trees and Shrubs. With individual plants bringing as much as $100 in a five gallon pot, many small backyard plant nurseries are enjoying success on a small scale. Those that specialize in unique or hard-to-find tree and shrub varieties can charge premium prices and still sell out each year. The secret to success is finding a “niche” that you enjoy, and then growing the varieties that simply can not be found at your average plant nursery.
7. Mushrooms. For those without space to garden, growing mushrooms for profit can produce a great return in a small space. Exotic mushrooms, such as oyster and shiitake, make sense, as they can be grown indoors without soil. Oyster mushrooms, for example, produce around 25 pounds per square foot of growing space in a year’s time. At the current price of $6 a pound, that’s $15,000 worth of mushrooms from a 10′x10′ space! Exotic mushrooms do not travel well, so small local growers will always have an edge over distant producers. At our local Saturday market, the oyster mushrooms are also the first items to sell out.
8. Ornamental Grasses. Because ornamental grasses are drought-tolerant and low maintenance, landscapers are using more and more of them, as are homeowners. Because there are hundreds of shapes and sizes, they can be used for everything from ground covers to privacy screens. It’s easy to get started growing ornamental grasses, as you simply buy the “mother” plants and divide the root clump into new plants as it grows. Using pots, it’s possible to grow thousands of plants in a small backyard nursery.
These are my favorite profitable plants, as they all enjoy strong demand year after year, yet can be grown by anyone who has, or can learn a few basic gardening skills. Given the right care, any of these eight specialty crops can grow into a sizable income for you, and bring years of satisfaction to your customers.