Orchid plants growing in greenhouse at nursery

Most people grow orchids at home for the love of bringing their beauty to life—not the money. That doesn’t mean that you can’t turn your favorite hobby into a lucrative gig to help pay the bills, bring in some extra spending money, or simply help pay for your orchid habit.

In the current economy, more and more people are finding ways to turn the things they do for fun into their primary source of income. Of course, monetizing a hobby is not as simple as it sounds. Similar to painting, pottery, and photography, growing orchids to sell takes planning, commitment, and savvy. From licensing requirements to sales and marketing, this guide will walk you through the special considerations every gardener should think about as they transition from hobby farmer to business owner.

Species Selection

When you’re growing for fun, your investment is smaller, and the stakes are lower. That means you can afford to experiment with exotic species that are more difficult to grow or appeal to customers with specific tastes. When you’re trying to make a profit, on the other hand, it’s important to choose a species of orchid that will grow — and sell — reliably.

By choosing a species that adapts well to indoor environments, you and your clients will likely have more success keeping happy, healthy plants. According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, there are three types of orchids that are best suited for growing at home. These flowers also work well together, since they bloom at different times of the year.

  • Cattleya orchids are the most familiar species because they are commonly used in corsages and floral arrangements. They require more light than other breeds and prefer 60 to 75-degree temperatures. Flowering occurs in spring or fall.
  • Phalaenopsis orchids thrive in low-light conditions and temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees. Also known as moth orchids, these plants flower in winter or early spring.
  • Dendrobium orchids flower in sprays during fall and winter. They require a lot of light but do well in cooler temperatures of 52 to 67 degrees.

How to Scale Your Orchid Operation

More orchids means more space and more time, both of which equal a bigger investment. Before you begin purchasing more plants or even splitting and repotting your existing crop, you’ll need to have a plan in place to ensure you have the resources you need to successfully care for the additional inventory.

Space

Most people who grow orchids for fun typically do so inside their home, lining windows facing east and south with pots and blooms. If you’re growing to sell, you’ll probably need to make more space. For phalaenopsis plants, a warm basement with artificial bulbs can work. However, for species that require more light, you’ll likely need to venture outside of your home.

Since orchids grow in pots filled with soil-free growing media instead of in the ground, many small, commercial growers choose to install a greenhouse on their property to house their growing collection. Because orchids are so sensitive, there are more than a few special considerations when setting up your new “office.”

Location

Where you place your greenhouse will determine how much light your plants will receive. Generally speaking, you should install your structure length-wise on a north-south axis so it receives ample light as the sun moves from east to west. Remember, if your plants are receiving too much light, you can shade them. A situation without enough light is more difficult to correct.

Foundation

Every greenhouse should have a foundation made of cinder blocks, bricks, or poured concrete and covered with earth. That’s why it’s important to hire a greenhouse builder near you to help you design your structure. If you prefer, you can install mulch or gravel on top for a cleaner surface that’s easier to maintain.

Temperature and humidity

Your orchid greenhouse should be heated and well-ventilated. Back-up heaters can help prevent crop loss in case of a power failure or malfunction, and you can use steam, hot water, air ducts, or natural gas.

Just be sure your plants are not exposed to ethylene gas, which will kill them. Unless you live in a tropical climate or are trying to grow cool-weather orchids, a cooling system is probably not required. Just be sure you open the vents on warm days to facilitate air flow and reduce the humidity. Alternatively, in dry climates, you may need to install a humidifier.

Time

When you are first starting out, these questions may seem silly, especially if you are scaling up slowly.

  • Will you continue to do all the planting, tending, transporting, and selling yourself?
  • Will your partner, friends, or other family members volunteer their time?
  • Will you hire someone to help you?

Like with any business, it’s smart to have a plan in place before you need it. Otherwise, you risk becoming burnt out trying to do it all. Don’t let stress turn one of your favorite pastimes into a dreaded activity. So, do yourself and your business a favor by thinking a step ahead.

Licensing and Permits

Before you can sell your orchids, you will need to acquire the proper licenses and permits. Whether you’re selling directly to consumers at a farmers’ market or roadside stand, or building wholesale relationships with other retailers, check with your state’s department of commerce to determine what is required in your location. You’ll need at least a business license, a resale license, and a nursery permit.

Sales and Marketing

As the $288 million orchid industry continues to grow and orchids become more affordable, the biggest challenge commercial flower farmers are facing is differentiation. While there will always be something special about a locally-grown orchid bought at a roadside stand, a farmers’ market booth, or a mom-and-pop shop, you may not be able to compete with bigger retailers when it comes to price or selection.

There is, however, one area where you can always exceed expectations, and that’s customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers spread the word and keep coming back. The happiest customers, by far, will be the ones whose orchids give them the most joy.

One way to make sure your customers enjoy their purchase is by making it easier for them to care for it. Give them educational materials in the form of fliers, online videos, and tips on social media. And don’t worry — your content doesn’t have to be professionally designed or produced to be effective.

You can also keep your customers engaged and show them the value of buying from a small consumer by checking in with them to see how their plant is doing. Simply collect their contact information at checkout, and then give them a quick call, email, or mailer a week later thanking them for their purchase and letting them know you are there to help them with all their orchid-related questions or needs.

Starting a new business can be stressful, even when it’s something you truly enjoy and own the knowledge and skill to succeed. Just remember that there are steps you can take to increase your success right from the planning stage, from growing the right plants to picking the right partners.


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