Money Can Grow on Trees: How I Made $1,200 in my Parents’ Backyard

garden business

One day in the midst of the recession, finding myself utterly broke and apparently unemployable, I decided that if I wanted to work, I would have to start my own business.

Since I didn’t have any startup money or business experience, I was forced to narrow down my ideas to the bare skeleton and ask myself two questions:

  • What resources do I have already?
  • What do I already know how to do?

Not much. I didn’t have a degree or own anything valuable I could sell.

But I was living with my parents, with a roof over my head, food to eat and a few acres of grass and trees at my disposal.

And I knew how to garden.

In the Midwest, trees pop out of the ground each spring, just to get mowed over by well-meaning suburbanites, who flock to nurseries and garden centers to pay big bucks for new ones to plant.

I decided to take advantage of this cycle. Armed only with determination, a spade and a wheelbarrow, I began digging and potting.

I made a small profit the first year. It helped pull me out of “brokedom,” but it was nothing to brag about.

However, the realization of money actually can grow on trees inspired me to go full force the next season.

That year, I made $1,200.

Think you want to give it a shot? Here’s what to do:

Find Your Plants

Chances are, if you have any kind of garden or yard, you have perennials growing out of control.

Carefully thin these out, repackage them and you’ve got your stock.

I can almost guarantee you when friends hear about what you’re doing, they’ll offer you their own overrun gardens, too. Four of my friends did!

Get Potting Soil

I was fortunate my parents’ yard already had several compost piles in its corners — all I had to do was dig for limitless black soil.

If you don’t have a compost pile, they’re easy to start, but they do take a while to process.

If you want to begin right away, check if you have a friend who’d like their pile cleared out.

Create Containers for Your Plants

Like most families who garden, mine had an arsenal of used plastic containers in our garage. I went through those first.

In the meantime, I checked everything in the recycling bin to see if I could cut off the top and poke holes in the bottom. I did this throughout the first winter.

I broke a knife in the process, but by spring I had enough containers for the entire season. Quite a few customers even brought me their own extra containers at no cost.

Capitalize on the fact you’re only using natural methods and reused containers — customers will be happy knowing they’re helping the environment.

Fertilize for Free (Almost)

There’s no need to buy fancy, expensive supplies from a garden center.

An elderly German woman taught me this simple hack: Set up an old garbage can under a gutter to catch excess rain water. Throw eggshells in and cover it with a lid.

Use this to water your plants. The nutrients from the shells provides them with all they need to flourish.

Make Your Presentation Perfect

My setup soon spread from a bench alongside the garage to cover the entire back porch and parking area.

I put the plants in sections and made sure there was space to walk between them so customers would feel comfortable. I set up a tarp for the shade plants.

Keep your “store” looking nice.

Be available and friendly to customers — explain what the plants are and how to take care of them. Do your research!

Price to Sell

I kept pricing simple: Most plants were $3, or two for $5. Large plants were $5, and nothing ever went over that price.

If people bought a lot of plants, I’d give them a few for free.

For example, if their total came to $70, I’d just ask for $60. You’ll be surprised how quickly the money adds up, even at these prices!

Don’t Forget Advertising

I advertised on Craigslist every few days, posting a detailed description of what I had in stock, how to find the store and prices.

I always added nice pictures of my best-looking plants.

Be sure to provide a phone number in case customers have questions or can’t find you.

Note: I also hung up some old-fashioned posters around town and looked into newspaper advertising, but neither was effective.

Before You Get Started, Consider These Factors

Potting plants and taking care of your store takes time and muscle, but if you enjoy working outdoors, it may not be a problem for you.

You’re also at the weather’s mercy. My third year in business, it rained nonstop all spring, and I sold almost nothing.

You can make small investments, too, such as raising tomatoes from seeds in early spring. You may not have a lot to risk, but seeds don’t cost much.

Running your own business also can be mentally stressful. Frankly, for the number of hours you put in, you might make more money working for minimum wage as a cashier or server. You’ll have to motivate yourself to keep things running and turning a profit.

But at the same time, there’s nothing like the freedom and satisfaction of being your own boss.

Your Turn: Have you tried to start a business selling potted plants and trees? Share your advice in the comments!

Stephanie Spicer is from Cincinnati, Ohio and currently lives in Europe. She is a freelance writer, filmmaker, artist — just ask! You can check out her art at