Wholesale Nursery Management

Study at home to manage a wholesale nurersy, wholesale nursery stock, production nursery, tube stock, cutting production, establishing a wholesale nursery

Course Code: BHT212
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Learn to Manage a Production Nursery

  • A Course for Horticulture Students, Nursery Staff, or Nursery Owners.
  • Learn to manage the things that make a difference to the productivity and viability of a plant production nursery.

“This fascinating course works as a compendium of all you need to know about establishing a nursery and running it to its maximum profitability. Everything from site selection, plant specialisation, irrigation and feeding techniques, to marketing strategies, cost analyses, and employee productivity is covered. Nursery managers and owners alike will benefit tremendously from completing this course.” - Gavin Cole B.Sc., Psych.Cert., Cert.Garden Design, MACA, ACS Tutor.

Why not start your own production nursery?
Do you want to supply quality plants to the retail market?
Sell direct to the landscape trade.
Supply plants to growers, garden centers or anyone else

... Then learn about establishing your own business here!


Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Nursery Site Organisation
    • Nature and Scope of Wholesale Nurseries
    • Specialist Nurseries
    • Location and Site Selection Characteristics;market proximity, land cost, climate, isolation, air quality, water etc
    • What to Grow
    • Determining Marketable varieties
    • Site Surveying
  2. Management
    • Starting as a Nursery Producer
    • The Mission Statement
    • Controlling Quality
    • Revamping an Existing Nursery
    • Nursery Standards; Cost Efficiency, Quality standards, Size
    • Business Planning
    • Quantity
    • Case Study
    • Production Systems
    • Flow Chart for Growing a Nursery Crop
    • Production Methods
    • Cutting Production Efficiencies
    • Work Scheduling
    • Type and Number of Employees
    • Human Resource Management
  3. Nutrition and Pest Management
    • Overview of Nursery Pests and Diseases
    • Identifying Problems
    • Disease and pest management
    • Nursery Hygiene
    • Resistant Plants
    • Controlling Problems through Cultural Practices
    • Physical Control of Problems
    • Biological Control
    • Chemical Control
    • Minimising Chemical Use
    • Conducting Inspections within the Nursery
    • Nutrient Management
    • Fertiliser use and plant nutrition.
  4. Growing media
    • Growing Media for Container and Field Grown Plants
    • Understanding soils
    • Soil Testing
    • Improving Soils
    • Potting Mixes and soil-free mixes
    • Components of Potting Media
    • Selecting Potting Media
    • Problems with Potting Media
    • Propagation Media
    • Sanitation
    • Sterilisation techniques.
  5. Irrigation
    • Water Supply
    • Town Water
    • Water Courses and Groundwater
    • Rainwater
    • Water Quality
    • Water Treatment
    • Recycling Water
    • Irrigation Systems; overhead sprinkler, drip, etc
    • Pulse Watering, Demand Watering, Precision etc
    • Pumps
    • Scheduling Irrigation
    • Irrigation System Maintenance
    • Use of liquid fertilisers through irrigation.
  6. Modifying Plant Growth
    • Plant Uniformity
    • Holding Stock
    • Making Stems Sturdier
    • Making Plants Taller
    • Developing a Compact Root System
    • Creating a denser, bushier Plant
    • Improving Foliage Colour
    • Encouraging Flowering
    • Flower forcing out of Season
    • Using Light to Modify Plant Growth
    • Greenhouses and other protective plant structures.
  7. Marketing Strategies
    • Overview of Nursery Marketing
    • Nursery Products
    • Marketing Mix
    • Market Research
    • Marketing Budget
    • Marketing Plan.
  8. Selection of Nursery Crops
    • Considering Options
    • Choosing a Plant Variety to Market
    • Developing a stock list
    • Criteria for Selecting Plants
    • Quarantine Concerns
    • Clearing Surplus Stocks
    • Nursery Industry Trends
    • Surveying Customers
    • Terminology

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.


  • Describe how site characteristics influence the establishment and management of wholesale nurseries.
  • Explain management structures and work scheduling in wholesale nurseries.
  • Describe the management of pests and diseases and plant nutrition in production nurseries.
  • Explain the physical and chemical properties of growing media used in production nurseries.
  • Describe the techniques and equipment used to irrigate plants in nurseries.
  • Explain techniques used to modify and influence the growth of plants in production nurseries
  • Describe strategies used by production nurseries to increase sales.
  • Explain criteria for selecting plants and developing a nursery stock list.

Learn How to Manage a Production Nursery

There are lots of things involved in running a nursery which don't particularly have anything to do with horticulture. In fact, businesses are sometimes managed just as well by people from different industries - as long as they have good general management skills.

Management is all about control, and by exercising control, achieving better results.

Good management only occurs when the manager is well-informed, hence the first task for any manager is to get to know the organization they are responsible for.
Managers must appreciate their own role as being the person who controls what happens, NOT the person who actually does the work, unless the nursery is a small operation. A manager who spends a lot of time potting up, weeding plants or talking with customers may find that too little time is being spent managing the nursery, and that can result in a loss of control. In a small nursery the manager is often also half of the worforce, so these jobs must be part of his routine. A good manager however maintains a delicate balance between the various tasks he performs each day, and is able to delegate jobs to others in order to help maintain that balance.

Learn to Manage the Plants Properly
A big part of any nursery work is simply keeping plants alive and healthy. The biggest and healthiest plants are inevitably the ones which customers prefer to buy. Healthy plants will also reach a saleable size a lot quicker than if they are are stressed in some way, such as pest and disease problems, or poor watering and nutrition. It costs a lot of money to look after plants in a nursery. They need to be fertilized, watered, sprayed, moved about, pruned, potted up, dug up, transplanted; and on the list goes.

Propagation nurseries MUST have a good quality, reliable supply of plant material to propagate from. This might be seed from reliable seed suppliers or from plants which can be collected from. It might also be cutting or grafting material from easily healthy, well identified (known varieties) plants. Plants which are used as a source of propagating material are called "stock plants".  Stock plants might or might not be on the nursery site, but they ideally should be in a convenient and accessible location. They are extremely important to a nurseries operation, and establishing a reliable source of stock plants is one of the nurseryman's biggest problems.

The quality of the stock plants is perhaps the biggest influence upon everything which happens later in a nursery. If stock plants are in poor condition:

  • Cuttings or grafts may have a lower rate of success.
  • Cuttings may be slower to form roots, and grafts slower to grow together.
  • Pest or disease problems can be transmitted from stock plants to other plants in
     your propagation area or greenhouse.
  • New plants might not develop as strongly as those taken from healthy, vigorous

Why Study Here?

  • We have more experience teaching these subjects by distance education than most, if not all other schools (teaching plant propagation and nursery management since the 1970's)
  • We have expert, highly qualified and internationally experienced tutors (eg. The principal, John Mason, is author of the classic text book "Nursery Management" (published by CSIRO / Landlinks Press), which has been used as a text by many other colleges in teaching this subject.
  • We provide very strong, personal attention -students here are treated as "individuals"


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 tubestock or plugs, 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 (eg. 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 nurseryperson 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.

Production schedule and estimated gross 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.

The following notes apply to the figures listed in the production schedule:

  • A relatively unskilled propagator produces about 750 cuttings per day, or 14000/month.
  • The number of cuttings taken is based on initially one propagator working on cuttings 5 days/week and one propagator/tuber working on both seeds and cuttings, both working an 8 hour/day, 45 weeks per year. During spring and summer, further casual staff will be employed to take extra cuttings. By the end of the third year, three full time propagators will be employed to produce the half a million plants required, extra greenhouse space will be available, and hopefully, there will be many loyal customers ready to purchase.
  • The estimates for cutting strike rates (80%) and the survival of cuttings and seedlings after tubing (95%) are based on survival rates for similar nurseries in Victoria, Australia.
  • Returns based on an average price of $1.10 per/plant (prices range from 75c to $1.80).



Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason, is fellow of the CIH.
Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason, is fellow of the CIH.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
Member Nursery and Garden Industry Association.
Member Nursery and Garden Industry Association.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

John Mason (Horticulturist)

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.

Adriana Fraser (Horticulturist)

Over 30 years working in horticulture, as a gardener, propagator, landscape designer
, teacher and consultant. Adriana has spent much of her life living on large properties, developing and maintaining her own gardens, and living a semi self sufficient lifestyle. She has decades of practical experience growing her own fruit, vegetables and herbs, and making her own preserves. She is well connected with horticulture professionals across Australia, and amongst other things, for a period, looked after Australia's national collection of Thymus. Advanced Diploma in Horticulture, Advanced Certificate in Horticulture.

Jacinda Cole (Horticulturist)

B.Sc., Cert.Garden Design. Landscape Designer, Operations Manager, Consultant, Garden Writer.
She was operations manager for a highly reputable British Landscape firm (The Chelsea Gardener) before starting up her own landscaping firm. She spent three years working in our Gold Coast office, as a tutor and writer for Your Backyard (gardening magazine) which we produced monthly for a Sydney punlisher between 1999 and 2003. Since then, Jacinda has contributed regularly to many magazines, co authored several gardening books and is currently one of the "garden experts" writing regularly for the "green living" magazine "Home Grown".

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