Yes, even you can grow a plant business

GERRIE VAN TOLEDO
Victoria County Master Gardener Intern

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

You may think starting a business is not for you. But if you're an avid gardener (or would like to be), you may have all kinds of cuttings and seedlings sitting in pots all over your garden. Why not take things one step further and start selling all those plants?

Merchandise everywhere.  Often times, after trimming a shrub or small tree, you just have to propagate it. After thinning seedlings in the yard, you start potting up those poor little castaways. And when you have cleaned that bell pepper you are not about to throw away its little seeds!

Sound familiar? Did you go to the Master Gardeners' spring plant sale a few weeks ago? If not, you really missed out! There were about 1,600 plants for sale - each and every one of them grown by Master Gardeners either in Victoria Educational Gardens (located at the airport) or in their own gardens. There was everything from sago palm to day lilies, squash plants, rosemary bushes, golden rain trees, etc. You can grow them, too!

Getting started.  Many shrubs, such as the hibiscus and rosemary, can be started from stem cuttings. Just cut a 1/4-inch diameter stem in 8-12 inch lengths, dipping the bottom end in rooting hormone, and either place it in well-drained soil or in vermiculite. Did you know many citrus trees can be grown from the seeds of citrus fruit you eat? Just put the seeds directly in a pot with soil and wait. It is fun to see what grows from both stem cuttings and seeds.

Some other plants, such as the common geranium (pelargonium), willow tree (salix), coleus, impatiens and the spider plant (chlorophytum comosum) can be propagated by putting the plant material in a glass of water.

After a while, roots will appear, and then the plant is ready for planting in soil. Voila! More plants for your business. Don't be discouraged if not all your efforts are 100 percent successful. My rule of thumb is that, if 70 percent of my stem cuttings take root, then I have done very well.

Multiple ways to multiply.  Besides taking stem cuttings and planting seeds, which are my favorite ways to start new plants, propagating can also include division, layering, leaf cuttings, root cuttings and budding and grafting. More on these techniques can be found in many garden books, including my favorite, "The Southern Living Garden Book," or at the Extension Education office. There are plenty books in the Victoria Public Library explaining how to go about every different kind of propagation.

Local market.  During spring and fall, the Victoria Farmers' Market takes place every Wednesday and Saturday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. The Victoria market is located in the parking lot of the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center at the intersection of Airline and Navarro streets. For $20 a year you can become a member of the Victoria County Farmers' Market Association and you can rent a space for $15 per market day.

To help get you started, the association lets you have your first market day free. All you need to do is show up with your merchandise, and the details will be taken care of on the spot by the market manager.

This year's spring market opened May 3, and an official grand opening with different extra attractions is planned for Saturday, May 20. So your buyers are right there waiting for you. For more information on the Victoria County Farmers' Market Association call the market manager, Noah Thompson, at 361-277-2268 or the president, Kenneth Hanslik, at 361-576-0972.

Permits and licenses.  You probably need a permit from the Texas Department of Agriculture. One of the requirements will be that you sell plants that are free of pests. TDA officials may inspect them, and in case of a violation, the inspector may issue a stop-sale order. For more information on permits, visit the Web site of the Texas Department of Agriculture at www.agr.state.tx.us or call the TDA helpline at 1-800-835-5832.

Should you really get serious about this, then it is good to know that you may qualify for a land tax exemption if you run a small business in your back yard. If you are cultivating 2 acres or more for this business, then you may qualify for an agricultural tax exemption. For more information, visit the Victoria County Appraisal District at 2805 North Navarro St., Suite 300, and pick up a folder or call them at 361-576-3621. It is up to this agency to decide whether or not you qualify. But if you do, you could save quite a few bucks in taxes.

Don't forget to obtain a sales tax certificate from the Texas Comptrollers' Office and keep accurate records for the Internal Revenue Service. If you sell more than food products, you will have to collect and pay state sales tax and report expenses and income, possibly paying income tax. Check with your tax advisor.

Don't hesitate to propose any questions you may have on propagating plants to the Master Gardeners or your County Extension Agent. They love to talk plant business.