Since the lowest safe temperature and median temperature will vary greatly depending on what you’re growing, it’s best to start your commercial greenhouse plans with a general idea of what you’ll cultivate. A greenhouse that will eventually hold evergreens throughout the year can likely stay just above freezing during the winter, while orchids and tropical houseplants must stay in the 50s to 60s at a minimum. Pick a general category of plants, or complementing categories sharing similar requirements, to guide your design and selection of greenhouse features.
Any plant that’s hardy enough to return year after year in a specific climate zone is considered perennial. These plants continue to be in high demand because they reduce the work for homeowners or landscapers over annuals that need replacement at least once a year. However, you also somewhat limit future sales since customers don’t need to return for a new set of the same ornamental plants each year. Some common types of perennials include:
- Evergreens, popular as shade and screen plants for privacy
- Woody and flowering shrubs which typically retain stems each year even if they lose all their foliage
- Flowering plants that die back entirely to the roots and regrow each spring
- Native plants sold to improve wildlife and insect habitats and to stabilize eroding banks.
Over a third of the greenhouse growers represented in the 2019 State of the Industry survey planned to increase their perennial production during the year. Growing demand helps balance out the reduction in annual replacement purchases.
Bedding Plants and Annuals
On the opposite end of the ornamental plant spectrum, annuals remain consistently popular among greenhouse growers. These flowers and foliage plants tend to grow quickly from seeds or cuttings. They appeal to buyers by holding their blooms in display centers and allow you to keep buyers coming back year after year for new sets of plants. Bedding plants are a similar, popular category that usually qualify as annuals rather than perennials. Cold winter temperatures will kill off these plants each winter, requiring a fresh planting in the spring, summer, or fall. Some perennials are grown as annuals in cooler climates, include popular varieties of chrysanthemums and poinsettias for indoor decoration.
Cut Flowers and Foliage
Supplying the floral arrangement industry with colorful cut flowers and decorative foliage is a great way to enjoy year-round sales. Yet this growing specialty is based on trends even more than many other options. If you don’t want to change your growing plans seasonally and stay on top of changing demands from your customers, consider an alternative. The profit margins on common cut flowers can vary greatly as other buyers change what they grow. Consider diversifying a cut flower operation to maintain your profit margins during years where there’s low demand or high competition.
Herbs, Vegetables, and Starts
Some of the greatest acreage of global heated greenhouses in countries like Norway, Denmark, and Turkey are committed to food production of heat-loving crops. These include tomatoes, melons, and delicate herbs. Aside from growing crops to harvest and sell directly as food, greenhouse growers can also produce vegetable and herb starts for transplanting into the ground or hydroponic systems. This can involve an integrated farm around the greenhouse or other farmers in the area who use the greenhouse as their supplier each spring. Explore existing demand for plant starts and transplants, especially for organic certified products that are hard to source in many areas, to see if this is a viable option for your business.
Aside from the major categories of greenhouse growth, you can also specialize in either houseplant production or large-scale growth of tree saplings and turf plugs. Trees vary in profitability depending on demand and rarity, while turf plugs can generate a steadier income as long as you maintain stable greenhouse conditions. Houseplants are generally tropical plants that require a relatively narrow temperature range for rapid growth. As long as you can track trends and sell houseplants that are in demand, they can produce a healthy profit margin with year-round sales opportunities through retail outlets.
Once you choose one or more of these categories for your growing plans, you can determine the parameters of your greenhouse projects. Unless you’re growing very hardy perennials or evergreens, you’ll need a double layer of cover on your greenhouses to maintain stable temperatures. Make sure it’s a durable product, like BTL Liners ArmorClear cover, to minimize maintenance and free up more of your operating budget for essential heating and lighting upgrades.