Study this course and start your own small scale nursery business. Start at home, and grow as big (or small) as you wish.

Course Code: VHT101
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
Get started!

Start a Home Based Nursery Business: Start small and grow or remain small

If you love growing plants and would like to turn that passion into a small business this course will help you on the way.

  • Learn to set up a small backyard nursery
  • Start a small business at home
  • Learn to propagate and grow plants for sale

This course was developed with an Adelaide based nursery in the 1980's. Since then, hundreds of people have completed it, setting up small part time businesses, selling plants through markets, to landscapers, or retailers. Some have been content to stay small, others have used this as the first step to developing something much bigger.


The course is divided into six lessons as follows:

1. Plant Identification and Culture. How plants are named, scientific and common names, watering, weed control, when and how to use a glasshouse/shadehouse.

2. Plant Propagation. Overview of propagation techniques, propagating mixes, pots, hormones, propagating structures and aids.

3. Soils and Nutrition. Soil structure, soil additives, major nutrients, minor nutrients, nutrient deficiencies, salt toxicity, soil mixes, fertilisers.

4. Seed Propagation and Nursery Business. Handling seed, pre-germination treatments, handling seedlings, propagating selected species.

5. Cutting Propagation. Stem cuttings, leaf cuttings, leaf bud cuttings, propagating selected species by cuttings.

6. Pest and Disease. Identifying a problem, insects, fungal diseases, nursery hygiene.


  • Understand plant identification and culture.
  • Describe a range of growing structures including a greenhouse, glasshouse and shadehouse.
  • Understand the differences between sexual and asexual plant propagation.
  • Have and understanding of basic nursery management principles.
  • Understand the uses of a range of different materials used in plant propagation.
  • Explain the main components of common potting mixes and how they contribute to the final product.
  • Describe seed sources and how to store a range of different seeds for maximum viability.
  • Explain how to overcome dormancy in seeds.
  • Understand a range of cutting techniques including hardwood cuttings, softwood cuttings, semi hardwood cuttings, tip cuttings, heel cuttings, nodal cuttings, can cuttings and basal cuttings.



  • Develop a budget for a hypothetical nursery operation
  • Name a soil based on criteria given in the course
  • Create a potting mix using a given recipe
  • Assess a number of plants for growing profitability
  • Prepare a pot of cuttings and estimate the cost of production for each cutting produced
  • Prepare a range of different types of cuttings
  • Find two plants with insect damage and determine the problem and possible remedies.
  • Collect information on various chemicals used in the nursery industry.
  • Assess plant ill health caused by agents other than insects.

Why Do People Work in Nurseries?

Nurseries are wonderful places which we all love to visit, and we often think "wouldn't it be idylic to work in one". Those of us who have worked in nurseries, have experienced these pleasures, but also seen the problems which can make running a nursery not as enjoyable or profitable as it could be.
As with anything though in this modern and rapidly changing world, the chances of a nursery being both pleasant to work in and successful, are increased significantly when they are managed well.

This course will educate you in the most important things you need to know, and show you how you can take the first step toward establishing your own nursery, while minimizing the risks involved in what for most people, would be a brave move to take.

Start with the Seed
Growing plants from seed can be one of the easiest ways of starting to build up a large number of plants; but even seed is not as simple as what some people might think.
Growing plants from seed is often either a plague or famine: either you get more plants than you want, or you simply have difficulty getting anything to germinate. Some plants require specialist treatments to germinate, and there are many ways to improve seed germination.
Many different environmental factors can trigger seed germination, depending on the species of plant:
  • Moisture (Water)
  • Temperature changes
  • Damage to the seed coat
  • Fire or smoke
  • Changes in day length
  • Soil disturbances
  • Seed is not mature
  • Seed is planted at the wrong time of year
  • Inappropriate environmental conditions to trigger germination
  • Insects or disease have attacked the seed
  • Seed has been allowed to dry out after germinating
  • Seed is dormant
  • Seed is too old
  • Seed has been planted too deep or too shallow
Seed dormancy is when the seed is “hibernating”, waiting for the right trigger to begin growing. There are four types of seed dormancy:
  1. Physical dormancy: the hard seed coat has to be softened by environmental effects such as freezing and thawing, mechanical abrasion, fire and smoke, attack by micro organisms, etc.
  2. Mechanical dormancy: the seed covering is too hard to allow germination (eg. in a peach stone).
  3. Chemical dormancy: this is common with fleshy fruits and berries. Seeds of this type need to be removed from the fruit and washed before sowing.
  4. Morphological dormancy: the seed is not fully developed at the time the fruit ripens and needs time to mature before it can be sown.
If your seed won’t germinate, ask yourself the following:
  • Are birds or ants eating the seed?
  • Have you planed it to the correct depth?
  • Is the seed blowing or washing away? If so, you may need to sprinkle a thin layer of sand or loam over it.
  • Is the seed drying out? If the seed is sitting on the soil surface, it can die from lack of moisture. Cover the seed, rake it in or be really vigilant with the water.
Most popular vegetable and flower seeds can be purchased, and sown straight away. Others, including many Australian natives, woody plants and some herbaceous perennials need to be treated to break the seed dormancy.
Stratification (Moist chilling)
Mix moist seed with slightly moistened peat moss and place in a polythene bag in the bottom of a refrigerator until sowing time. Species treated this way include: Cotoneaster, (5 weeks), Apple, Pear, Stone Fruit, Ash, Maple, Birch, Pine (3 months), and many conifers.
Soaking in Boiling Water 
Pour recently boiled water over the seed and leave to soak for 24 hours. Discard any floating seeds and sow the remaining seed. Species to be treated this way: Acacia, Hardenbergia, Cassia, Kennedia.
Some seeds are much more difficult to germinate than others. Don’t despair though – some seeds simply require a special treatment to get them going.
  • Acacias – some require soaking in boiling water or treating with smoke
  • Banksias – place the seed capsule in the oven and bake to mimic the effects of a bushfire
  • Rosaceae family – many members of this family require moist chilling in order to germinate
  • Physical dormancy - This condition is characteristic of many plant families, including Fabaceae, Malvaceae, Geraniaceae, Solanaceae, etc.
  • Morphological dormancy - Common in the following families: Araliaceae, Ranunculaceae, Ericaceae, Primulaceae, Apiaceae, etc.
Firm the propagating media
If the propagating mix has not been firmed down, you may have too many air pockets surrounding seed, and that can cause them to dry out.
How Deep to Sow Seed
Most seeds should be sown at a depth twice the diameter of the seed, but there are exceptions. Sow too shallow and the seed may dry out, or may be more prone to attack by insects before it gets growing. The soil temperature can be more stable deeper down, but seed may not get sufficiently warm in deep soil. Frequent watering can cause both shallow and deeply sown seeds to rot.
Temperature is Important
Different plants will be stimulated to germinate and grow into a healthy seedling at different temperatures. For most plants mild to warm temperatures are needed, but some (eg. poppy, nemesia) will not germinate as well unless the soil is a little cool.
Seed Viability
Even if all conditions are ideal and conditions are perfect, seeds sometimes still do not germinate well. It may be that the seed is old and the embryo is dead. It might be that this is simply a variety that germinates poorly from seed –some types of plants do not germinate strongly from seed.
Don’t Burn Your Seedlings
Seedlings are very tender and will burn easily. Avoid putting fertilizer on them until they have grown a little. New plants have their own supply of feed within the seed at first; and fertilizing doesn’t make a lot of difference until that supply is depleted
Get the Watering Right
Too much or too little watering will stress any seed, and reduce it’s ability to develop. Until germination has occurred and the seedling is rapidly developing both roots and leaves, the seed should remain moist at all times but never be really wet. Once it is establishing, it will be gradually able to tolerate slight variations in moisture levels.


Anyone wanting to start a small backyard business - sell from home at farmers markets etc.

Anyone keen to work in the nursery trade but just wants a few fundamentals first.



Course Contributors

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

Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

Rosemary trained in Horticulture at Melbourne Universities Burnley campus; studying all aspects of horticulture -vegetable and fruit production, landscaping, amenity, turf, aboriculture and the horticultural sciences.
Initially she worked with the Depart

Adriana Fraser (Horticulturist)

Adriana has worked in horticulture since the 1980's. She has lived what she preaches - developing large gardens and growing her own fruit, vegetables and herbs and making her own preserves.
In 1992 she formalised her training by graduating with a certif

Bob James (Horticulturist)

Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

Need Help?

Take advantage of our personalised, expert course counselling service to ensure you're making the best course choices for your situation.

I agree for ACS Distance Education to contact me and store my information until I revoke my approval. For more info, view our privacy policy.