Small commercial potting workflow and equipment

One of the things that attracts me to monetizing my orchard in retirement is that I get to flex my systems engineer skills. The discrete elements in an orchard is all about workflows, the effective and efficient utilization of resources supported by infrastructure that is right sized as to avoid both; bottle necks and overpaying for overcapacity that doesn’t return value in the immediate future.

Having said that it is very hard to find information on how the industry does things. Take for instance the question I just posted: This year, in order to test assumptions (because everything looks rosy on paper) I’m grafting 50 apple trees. As I get to see first hand everything I could be doing better, I’m sketching out what the work environment should be in order to promote efficiency and a minimal use of Motrin. I was hoping to find on the internet videos and examples of the workflow and equipment of small potting operations, but so far I’m coming empty handed.

Has anybody seen anything like this in the net? There are quite a few YouTube channels about backyard nurseries and the like but I’m trying to focus on the design of my potting area, both for equipment and workflow.

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I recommend the book “So you want to start a nursery”

Also for grafting, practice and setup is important for efficiency.

Just get as good as these guys and you’ll be fine :wink:


The ISHS has conferences on the subject. University and community college horticultural departments offer classes. Workflows vary regionally due to climate, material availability, and the cost of labor.

As a sole proprietor, my approach has been assembly line. First I label all the pots and plant tags. Next I make a soil batch in an 8-cu.ft. wheelbarrow. Then I pot as many plants the batch will allow, and repeat if necessary. Finally I move the newly potted plants to their stock location and attach the irrigation to them.


disc4tw, that video was awesome. After I’m done with my grafts today I’m going to get a bunch of willow to practice on.

Richard, yeah, the little inefficiencies add a lot over even a small production run. How far the dirt originally is, how far the plants move to their resting place, and how things move where you are working. I’m dialing my porch to be able to manage grafting and holding 50 or so trees. I need a better work station and ideally something to hold half a yard of medium at a time. I’ll take a picture later when I’m done with my current grafting session.


One thing that profitable production nursery owners comment about is that they are selling “decorated dirt”. This is a refection on their balance sheets.

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On the soil topic. Some production tree nurseries target “inexpensive” resellers who aren’t particular about media. These producers use 100% plant-based media. However, if your potted trees are going to be on your site for a couple years you’re going to want sand in your soil mix. I’ve found that 1/3 sand + 2/3 plant-based by bulk volume works well, although some producers here in California use half-and-half. When I was potting many trees per year, I sourced the sand from a rock quarry (not limestone) that had crushers to make gravel, etc. These folks refer to material sizes by the granularity of industrial screen it passes through. Very often they are giving away the “3/32 minus” which contains fine sands and rock dust. I’ve also bought premix from local soil suppliers who were agast that I wanted 1/3 fine sand + 1/3 ground peat (or equiv.) + 1/3 composted green waste. Nowadays I simply buy 50 lb bags of all-purpose sand from home depot.

My current mix is 50/50 high quality top soil (highly fluffy planting soil from a local outfit that makes their own) and well composted horse manure. Water drains very well through that stuff. Letting it dry can cause issues with it shrinking and water running through the sides it as it becomes a bit hydrophobic but I’m pretty disciplined in my watering routine. I get both by the cubic yard.

I have used sand in the past. We get ga lot of wind so the pots benefit from as much weight as they can.

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I got that book, I love it. I keep it at the office so I can peruse it when I have some down time.

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theres a guy from ohio that has his own website and posts videos on how to graft and root cuttings for profit. i dont remember his name. he has 2 pet donkeys in his videos. hes a older guy. he puts out alot of info how to set up for efficiency. makes his own potting mix from bark fines etc…

His name is Mike McGroarty @ mikes backyard nursery.

@don1357 speaking of efficiencies why have you chosen to pot vs. Field grown/bare root?


My “field” is not exactly conductive to it. The soil is glacial moraine, basically rocks and gravel. Then there is the limited space; what it is available is being used for the orchard proper. Also the mega short season (can be less than six months) would make in ground too slow; a green house or even just containers can buy precious time by warming a lot faster than soil.


thank you! hes the one that inspired me to try rooting cuttings and grafting.