Nursery Trees

Revised March 2024.


The nursery and landscape industry is made up of thousands of small family businesses that grow, retail, install and care for plants and landscapes. 

According to the USDA Census of Horticulture Specialties report the top 5 states for all horticulture sales in 2019 were California, Florida, Oregon, Michigan and Texas. The top 5 states with the most horticulture operations were Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Oregon and Michigan.


The 2019 Census of Agriculture states that about $4.5 billion of nursery stock was sold in the United States, up 7% from the 2014 census. There has been a slight downward trend in the number of nursery stock operators in the last decade. According to the 2019 Census of Horticultural Specialties report, there are 6,458 nursery stock operations resulting in a nation-wide reduction of nearly 2,000 operations since 2009. In 2019, 1,142 operations sold bareroot, 2,718 operations sold balled and burlapped, and 5,160 sold in containers.

nursery treesThe nursery and landscape business is a great second business for commodity agricultural producers.  Many leading nursery operations grew out of ancillary operations on dairy or grain farms or as a hobby business. Additionally, the business is "Internet-friendly," and many companies direct market to consumers via mail order and Internet Web sites that contain illustrated product catalogs, location maps and similar contact information and product care support “help lines.”

The different nursery operations tend to fall into one or more of the following categories. The most direct with respect to production would be a field-production operation. These producers grow woody trees and shrubs in the ground that are then harvested for resale. The merchandise may be “ball and burlap,” “pot-in-pot” or “bagged root.” All of these phrases simply describe the method of harvest and preparation of the product for distribution or sale.

A field or container operation usually includes a propagation nursery. In this operation, stock is propagated from other plants by taking seedlings, rooting cuttings or grafting one stock onto another. Propagators tend to be dedicated professionals and many are schooled horticulturalists. An understanding of the seasonal market demand for the plants, as well as an understanding of any regional or production-related disease issues, is essential to this type of operation. Some operations include the production of their own pots or flats from manure, paper fiber, agricultural waste or similar materials, sometimes for sale to other growers or retail garden centers.

Pot-in-pot includes in-ground production with the marketing flexibility of container production. It involves an intermediate level of management input, and initial start-up costs for the socket-pot, irrigation and drainage systems can be quite high. However, over-wintering costs are negligible compared to container production, and overall return has been reported to be at or greater than for conventional field ball and burlap or container production systems. Container-plant producers grow plants in containers, normally above ground. When the plants reach a specified size, they are immediately ready for sale. However, the level of management is significantly higher than for field production, and the over-wintering costs associated with container production can be quite high.

Innovative marketing programs can tap into the growing interest in attracting birds, butterflies and other fauna back into people's gardens. Retailers and producers are encouraged to tap into the landscaping and pet care markets by understanding the motivation of gardeners and pet owners, then consider “point-of-purchase” promotions and merchandise that can add to overall sales volume and value.

Specialty nurseries cater to connoisseurs and collectors, people who are looking for trees or other plants not readily available to the average gardener. Most of these nurseries sell their products retail through garden center markets and by mail order. Some operations start out as wholesale or mail order nurseries, then integrate a retail outlet, perhaps with a display garden, to provide their customers with a place to view and select their own plants and view other merchandise.



American Hort - The association produces a number of publications, including The Complete Guide to Garden Center Management; cost management and contracting; report planning sheets and guides for selling at trade shows; and provides a number of services to members.

Nursery Stock Sold, Census of Agriculture (2019), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA 

Census of Horticultural Specialties (2019), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA - The census provides the only comprehensive, detailed data on U.S. floriculture, nursery and specialty crop production at the national and state levels. It provides such information as the number and types of establishments, value of sales, varieties of products and cut Christmas trees sold.

Garden Market Research, National Gardening Association.

National Gardening Association - This association is a well-known and widely recognized authority on the U.S. consumer lawn and garden market. It has provided market research services to companies in the lawn and garden business for more than 25 years.

National Arboretum USDA Plant Hardiness Map