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Seven Ways to Make Money with Succulents

Dec., 2017

Whenever I’m asked how to find certain succulents or services that are in short supply, I wonder why so few offer them. After all, there’s clearly money to be made! If you or others who might make these happen are merely unaware, hang on, I’m about to remedy that.  Btw, I’m happy to help get the word out about anyone who offers the services I’ve listed here.

Note: Most involve in-ground succulent gardening and therefore are limited to southern and coastal CA from the Bay Area south. Those that are mail-order will probably require a greenhouse. 

#1: Succulent garden maintenance. Unlike mow-and-blow yards, succulent gardens need maintaining seasonally (three or four times a year). How to make $$$: It’s the same as a gardening service, but with many more clients, much less often. Because it’s an in-demand specialization needed infrequently, charge at least 2x the hourly rate of lawn-mowing, hedge-trimming services. All you need: A thorough, hand’s-on understanding of all sorts of in-ground succulents and their care and cultivation, plus a truck, physical strength and tools. Note: You might combine this with #2 and #3.

UPDATE Sept., 2018: I’m working on a list of professionals skilled in succulent garden maintenance that I can share with homeowners throughout CA. In order to be included, candidates must have a business license or work for an established garden-related business. They need knowledge of general gardening and succulents in particular, and can provide at least three referrals from clients whose gardens they’ve tended for a year or more. If this interests you, email me photos of “your” gardens, the region or city you specialize in, how much you charge, and anything else that prospective clients might need or want to know. 

#2: Free succulents, trimming and installation. People with large succulent gardens have loads of trimmings and pups. Because it seems a shame to haul them to the dump, they’re happy to give them away. How to make $$$: Arrange to pick up cuttings from overflowing gardens and deliver them to sparse ones. Charge for hauling, trimming and digging, and/or preparing the soil and planting. All you need: a small truck, physical strength, and garden tools.

#3: Succulent firebreak specialist. Because the plants don’t catch fire but rather cook and collapse, wide swaths of succulents have been shown to halt the progression of wildfire. (Not to mention being beautiful and supremely sensible.) How to make $$$: Charge the going rate for garden design and installation. If you’re already a landscape designer, or are already doing #1 and #2, offer this to your clients. All you need: Common succulents obtained as cuttings (jade, aloes, agaves, elephant’s food, firesticks) or customers willing to pay for quantities of nursery plants; a truck and tools.

#4: Spineless opuntia supplier.  I can’t say enough good things about this smooth-leaved succulent, which at present is in short supply. It makes a good backdrop, offers pleasing repetitions of form (those oval pads), gets by on rainfall alone (if there is any, sigh), thrives in poor soils, is a good firebreak (pads are as thick as oven mitts), can serve as a hedge or security fence (although not at all treacherous, trespassers assume it is), is edible (nopales), and is high in nutrients (including cancer-fighting antioxidants). How to make $$$: Cultivate the plants and combine them with suggestion #3. All you need: A source of the pads (Google Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’), growing grounds, and time for the plants to mature (three years).

Note: It seems easy enough to plant spineless opuntia as a firebreak, and after its spring growth spurt, slice off and sell the fresh new pads. But how to become a vendor? In order to have customers come to your home, you need to be zoned for it. You might arrange to deliver the pads to clients, or set up a booth at garden events and farmer’s markets. Or, if you own acreage zoned for commercial crops (traditionally, citrus or avocado orchards), contract with a company that’ll handle harvesting and sales. (Granted, I’m not aware of any, but it’s early days yet. Maybe start one?)

Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’

#5: Cactus boutique owner. As succulent aficionados gain sophistication, they appreciate simpler, geometric shapes as well as spines that glow beautifully when backlit. Small cacti are highly collectible. How to make $$$: Cultivate and sell specimens (especially spherical ones) online and at farmer’s markets and garden shows; come up with cool new design concepts; host workshops. All you need: A good eye, creativity, a wholesale source within driving distance, a lathe house or greenhouse and shipping materials. Note: Read more about this trend in my post, “Is Cactus the New Black?” 

#6: Echeveria grower-specialist. This is the yin to the yang of cacti. These rosette succulents are popular because they resemble fleshy flowers, and interest will boom as even more jaw-dropping varieties become available. How to make $$$: Grow your own fancy ruffled varieties (by beheading; it’s easy) and sell them online, to florists and nurseries, and at farmer’s markets and garden shows. Speak at clubs and offer workshops in echeveria care, cultivation, propagation and design. Aim to become known as “the echeveria expert.” All you need: An initial investment in starter plants, a lathe house or greenhouse, time for offsets to reach maturity, soil, pots, tools, and shipping materials.

#7: Skilled rockscaping. Boulders, decomposed granite and crushed rock need no irrigation or maintenance, look great forever (especially when artfully arranged), don’t catch fire, and create a practical, beautiful environment for plants. How to make $$$: While working on your degree in ornamental horticulture, get a job with a major rock supplier (in the San Diego area: KRC, RCP or SW Boulder). Apprentice yourself to a landscape contractor. After several years, launch your own business. All you need: Time, energy, physical strength, design ability, and the ability to prepare a site and transport and position rocks of all sizes.

P.S. If the above info helps someone find their calling, I’d love to know! ~ Debra

Related Info ~

April 13, 2018 — Cactus as a design element is trending, popping up on pajamas, place mats, wallpaper and more. As awareness of the plants grows, cliche images of “cactus” as saguaros and prickly-pear will give way to… [Continue reading]
Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) showed few cacti—mainly golden barrels. A decade later, the completely revised second edition devotes 15 pages to numerous varieties of spiny succulents in gardens large and small. [Continue reading]

7 replies
  1. Pat Welsh
    Pat Welsh says:

    Debra: This is one of the most timely and useful articles on succulents I’ve ever read. With so many people wanting work, why doesn’t someone do this? One would need a car or SUV plus skills and know-how. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit.

    Reply
    • Debra
      Debra says:

      Thank you, Pat. Coming from THE expert on gardening here in Southern CA, very high praise indeed! I hope you’re right. Debra

      Reply
  2. julie orr
    julie orr says:

    Thanks for the wonderful ideas Debra. I would like to start offering fire break design to my list of offerings here in SF Bay Area. Even though we’ve never had a big wild fire here like Sonoma- it could happen very easily.

    Reply
    • Debra
      Debra says:

      Hi Julie — This is so good to know! I’ll keep you in mind. Btw, I just heard from someone who’s looking for a rockscaper in SF.

      Reply
  3. Jacki
    Jacki says:

    I love your ideas, Debra – I’ve had some success with helping people train for their very own Succulent Plant Business, but you’ve prompted even more ways. I particularly like the fire wise landscaper idea. We’ve had such a lot of problems with wildfires here in B.C. it would be great to get a trend started of less risky landscaping choices.

    Reply

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