Grow These 10 Specialty Crops To Turn A Tidy Profit

Ready to turn your horticultural hobby into a business venture? These 10 specialty crops combine the joy of growing with income earning potential.

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by Michael Feldmann
PHOTO: Marisol Araujo/Wirestock/Adobe Stock

Growing specialty crops is an ideal way to turn your favorite hobby into a rewarding business. Specialty crops aren’t widely grown, are always in great demand and can increase your profits significantly. From lavender and bamboo to bonsai, Japanese maple, and gourmet garlic, there is a niche crop for every grower.

And in fact, gardeners may earn as much as $60,000 per acre with these profitable specialty crops.

All of the 10 specialty crops listed in this article can produce impressive profits from a small plot of land and can be grown by almost anyone who has or can learn basic gardening skills. You can successfully grow any of these profitable crops by spending just a few hours a week and several hundred dollars on seeds, seedlings and supplies. 

Heirloom Tomatoes

Growing heirloom tomatoes is a great way to make profits from your garden. Heirloom tomatoes are easily identified because they have a unique appearance, an unusual form or color, and are wrinkled and blemished.

Heirloom tomatoes can produce large earnings for market growers—up to $100 per plant—and constant business from customers eager to purchase these specialty crops for the flavor they just can’t get from store-bought tomatoes. 

speciality crops profit
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Growers report increased sales year after year as more people discover the taste and flavor of heirlooms. Because of the increased demand, growers may charge higher prices for most types. A greenhouse can increase production even further, as well as lengthen the growing season and reduce pest and disease concerns.

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Heirloom tomatoes may be one of the best crops to grow if you’re on a tight budget because they have low start-up costs and yield profits in around three months. For example, if you spend $50 on seeds, you may harvest up to $6,000 worth of tomatoes from a small garden in almost no time.

There are heirloom varieties for every climate, from Florida to Montana, so you can grow the best and most productive heirloom tomatoes for your area.

Lavender 

Lavender can produce a considerable profit for large and small growers alike. It can be sold in a wide variety of ways. Flowers can be sold fresh in bundles, made into lavender oil, or dried for flower arrangements and wreaths. Lavender can also be used to make many value-added goods such as aromatherapy and skin-care products: sachets, herbal pillows and others.

All of these are fairly easy to make, profitable and in great demand among lavender lovers.

Lavender is a perennial herb that can live for 12 to 15 years in the ground. New plants are readily grown from cuttings, so you can easily increase your growing space or produce new plants for sale at no cost. Lavender is also great at attracting beneficial insects, making it even more valuable for your garden. Furthermore, the smell of lavender repels mosquitoes, moths, ticks, fleas, flies and other pests.

As long as you can provide them with well-drained soil and a lot of sunlight, lavender is an easy plant to grow and is quite disease-
resistant. Most types are hardy in zones 5 to 9.

Mushrooms 

Mushrooms are an excellent specialty crop for growers with limited garden space as they can be grown indoors and produce impressive results per square foot. Oyster mushrooms, for example, can produce as much as 25 pounds of mushrooms per square foot of growing space every year. Therefore, a 10-by-10-foot space could produce $17,500 worth of mushrooms at the current price of $7 per pound.

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Since mushrooms don’t travel well, small local growers will always have a big advantage over distant producers.

The most profitable mushrooms are those destined for the supplement or health field rather than the culinary. Oyster, shiitake, lion’s mane, and maitake are the most profitable types of mushrooms. Two great options for a small-scale grower are shiitake and oyster mushrooms, as they don’t need much space or equipment.


Read more: Grow your own mushrooms for flavor and profit!


Landscaping Trees & Shrubs

Landscaping trees and shrubs can be a very profitable crop for small growers as a large number of pots can fit into a small space. The price of an individual plant in a 5-gallon pot can be as high as $100.

Growing what sells is the key to success. By visiting your local garden center and paying attention to the plants they have in stock and their prices, you can get a general idea of what is selling and what is not. It’s also advisable to obtain a recent issue of a nursery trade magazine to stay informed of the latest trends.

Another good strategy is to grow rare and unique varieties that simply can’t be found at the average nursery. Do your research and you’ll be on the right track to becoming a successful landscaping grower.

Growing native plants is a good example of a profitable niche. Landscapers and homeowners have been transitioning from more exotic plants and acres of lawn to wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs local to their region for several decades. As the appeal of native plants grows, the demand for native trees and shrubs in all areas will increase.

Growing native fruit and nut trees, such as shellbark hickory, chinquapin and chokeberry, is another profitable market.

In recent years, tabletop Christmas trees have become increasingly popular among apartment dwellers. Two particularly favored species are Italian stone pine and Elwood cedar.

With patience and a little investment, you may earn profits all year long by selling trees and shrubs, which are always in demand.

Bonsai

Bonsai is the popular Japanese art of growing small trees and shrubs to resemble their bigger counterparts. There are three types of bonsai on the market: starter plants, trained plants and specimen plants. 

Prices vary according to size, bonsai kind and general appearance. Although it’s common for collectors to spend hundreds of dollars for a prime specimen, younger plants costing less than $100 are more easily grown and readily bought by many.

Japanese Maples

Japanese maples have captured the admiration of gardeners for hundreds of years, and their unique attractiveness has earned them the title of “collector’s tree.” With foliage varying from delicate lacy leaves to variegated leaves in a rainbow of colors ranging from red and green to pink and white highlights, these wonderful trees make a lovely addition to any garden. Japanese maples are a favorite among landscapers and homeowners due to their versatility.

speciality crops profit
Michael Feldmann

Given their hardiness and adaptability, Japanese maples are also quite simple to grow, provided your area’s climate falls within zones 5 to 9. Provide them with some partial shade to protect them from the intense summer sun, and you can successfully grow these profitable trees.

Japanese maples are a great choice if you’re looking for a profitable niche in the landscaping industry. The delight of growing these small, beautiful trees is worth more than money, thus the rewards exceed beyond just profits. Japanese maples are great for growers with limited space as their relatively small size allows for a large number of pots in a small area.

With patience and limited maintenance, these lovely maples may bring you thousands of dollars in profit and an enjoyable experience.

Herbs

Growing herbs can be a great way to earn more money on a farm or start a new profitable farming business. Herbs can be sold fresh or dried for culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and ornamental uses. Many popular ways of selling herbs are as live plants and herbal bouquets, or freshly cut for culinary use.

Culinary herbs are increasing in popularity as more people learn the art of using fresh herbs to create delicious and healthy meals. Basil, oregano, chives, cilantro and parsley are among the most common culinary herbs.

Herbs have been used as medicine since the beginning of mankind, and their popularity continues to grow. The most popular and profitable medical herbs include calendula, lavender, marshmallow, catnip, lemon verbena, St. John’s wort and chamomile.

Herbs are highly profitable and in high demand. They are also relatively easy and pleasurable to grow.


Read more: Check out these tips for drying homegrown herbs.


Flowers & Ornamentals

Among the fastest-growing trends in agriculture, ornamental plants are always in high demand—especially unique or new varieties. Because they produce quickly, are easy to grow and bring profits throughout the summer, flowers and ornamental plants are ideal for small-scale gardeners.

speciality crops profit
Michael Feldmann

Best of all, startup costs are relatively low—just seeds and a bit of labor—so as little as $100 can put you in business.

Bamboo 

Given that homeowners and landscapers are willing to spend up to $150 for each potted plant, bamboo is a very profitable crop to grow. It’s highly regarded for its versatility in the landscape. It can be used for screens, hedge or as stand-alone specimen plants.

In addition to selling potted plants, bamboo can also be used to make a variety of value-added products such as fencing, vases, privacy screens and parrot stands. Making and selling bamboo products is an excellent way to increase your profits.

You can grow these profitable plants successfully provided your winter temperatures regularly stay above 0 degrees Fahrenheit and you have an area with a lot of sunlight.

Gourmet Garlic

Gourmet garlic is one of the simplest and most rewarding crops for small-scale growers because it is dependable and not labor-intensive. Due to its hardiness and ability to grow in a wide range of weather and soil conditions, even beginners may be confident in growing their crop. For this reason, garlic has been nicknamed “the mortgage lifter” by growers for decades.

Gourmet garlic can bring in up to $10 in profit per square foot, meaning that even a small patch can produce thousands of dollars. Due to its antibacterial and antifungal qualities, garlic has few pests and diseases, making it ideal for organic gardeners.

Porcelain, Purple Stripe and Rocambole are a few of the most well-known gourmet garlic types. Elephant garlic, so named due to its enormous bulbs, is another well-known gourmet garlic variety. Gourmet garlic types are more expensive (about $12 per pound) thanks to consumers who value the distinctive flavors. The result of this higher pricing is a highly profitable crop.

These are 10 of the most profitable specialty crops because they’re consistent sellers year after year and are quite easy to grow. One or more of them could serve as the foundation for your new gardening business and provide a steady source of income for years to come. 

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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