Who Says Money Can’t Grow on Trees?

Written by: David Scott

There are very, very few physical items that the world currently needs more of. 

Thanks to a rapidly growing interest in human rights and environmentalism, we’re gaining knowledge of miles-wide garbage dumps in developing nations filled with other countries trash. We’ve seen headlines about the damage that the fast-fashion industry causes our planet with the “clothing graveyard” in the Chilean Atacama Desert growing by 35,000 tons annually, and we’ve just recently begun to understand and publicize the incredible size of eco-disasters like the Pacific Garbage Patch.

In short, we have (way) too many things. But, we’d like to argue that we should make room for something more. 

That something? Trees. 

Yes, trees are an absolute powerhouse in the fight against climate change and the damage we’ve already done; and we will certainly highlight their importance on that front, but our main focus today will be the more lucrative side of trees.

Today we’ll discuss not only why trees should be made front and center in the climate change discussion, but so too, we’ll highlight how you can play your part in that, while making money to boot!

Welcome into the beautiful, powerful, surprisingly lucrative world of trees. 

A (True) Force of Nature

Approximate Tree Numbers Around the Globe

Per the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as of 2020, forests covered 31% of global land area, with total forest area equaling 4.06 billion hectares (!) – for those unfamiliar, one hectare is equal to 2.5 acres. 

Unsurprisingly, these trees are not carefully and equally distributed around the globe, instead, “more than half of the world’s forests are found in only five countries (the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China) and two-thirds (66 percent) of forests are found in ten countries.”

So, what we understand so far is that there are (seemingly) a lot of trees in the world. You’re correct to an extent. 

According to a study from the journal ‘Nature’, as of 2021, there were approximately 3.04 trillion trees in the world; again, seems like a lot, right? Well if you divide that total amongst the total number of humans on earth, you get 442 – not even 500 – trees per person. We think we can do better, but unfortunately, sometimes we trend in the wrong direction.  

Deforestation – Rates & Causes

In going back to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations study referenced above, we find that since 1990, it is estimated that 420 million hectares of forest have been lost; although in that timeframe, the deforestation rates have declined. 

From 2015 – 2020, the deforestation rate was approximately 10 million hectares per year; surprisingly, and thankfully down an astonishing 16 million hectares per year throughout the 1990’s. 

To put this into perspective, since 1990, the world has lost 3.5 United Kingdom-sized areas of trees (or technically, 80 million hectares). Climate-fighting retail brand “One Tree Planted” shares that the top five driving forces behind deforestation, are: 

  1. Agriculture – Approximately 85% of deforestation can be attributed to clearing land for beef, soy and palm oil production. 
  2. Timber Logging
  3. Mining
  4. Building & Infrastructure
  5. Climate Change

On a directly-related note to factor #5, research from the World Resources Institute found that, “the world’s forest emitted an average of 8.1 billion metric tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere each year due to deforestation and other disturbances, and absorbed 16 billion metric tonnes of C02 per year”. If you weren’t already convinced, that statistic should make it loud and clear as to just how critical – and powerful – trees are in the fight against climate change. 

How Many Trees do we Need?

Think big. 

Now think bigger. 

According to 1t.org (a program of the World Economic Forum, in support of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021 – 2030), the answer is 1 trillion trees before 2030. In technical terms, that’s enough trees to (over their lifetime) sequester in upwards of 200 gigatons of carbon – or the annual emissions of more than 43 billion vehicles, according to TIME Magazine, a partner of the 1t initiative. 

Now certainly, this milestone doesn’t all fall on individual’s shoulders. The goal relies heavily on countries stepping up, making pledges and following through. That said, with such a lofty – and important goal – why wait to help? Especially if there’s money to be made. 

Sowing the Seeds of Your Tree-Planting Business

Where to Begin?

First, you need to find a space. 

  • Are you in a position in which you have a yard or property where you can easily plant a handful of seeds? And does this space allow for these seeds to grow into saplings, ready to be re-homed to buyers? 
  • If not, do you have a friend or family member willing to allow you to utilize their property for your venture?
  • Still no, but still interested? Do you have a garage or even un/underutilized room in your home that you could convert into something like a greenhouse? 
    • Be aware, costs would come with this option, so go in eyes wide open if this is your chosen route. (Grow lights, heaters, watering system/expenses, etc.)

Secondly, you need to figure out what kind of trees are native to your area, or surrounding area. 

  • Nwf.org/nativeplantfinder/ is an excellent place to start. Simply visit the page, enter your zip code and get to searching.
  • We recommend finding just one – or maybe two – of your favorite varieties to start (unless you are a seasoned arborist, then have at it!). 
  • Ideally, you can start with a tree that has $0 seed costs – like an Oak where all you need is an acorn. If that’s not the case, which it will not be for the majority of readers, we recommend settling in an option that is popular in your area, low maintenance, inexpensive to purchase from seed and comes with an option to not purchase seeds in (large) bulk quantitiess. 
    • Often times when buying seeds, you have to purchase by the hundreds or thousands. Be wary here, and don’t be afraid to search around / ask vendors if they can accommodate a smaller order. 

What Kinds of Trees are Best for me?

For all our answers and advice within this article, keep in mind that we are not arborists; instead we are the finance guys, so please understand that is the angle we come from when making our suggestions.

  • If you have your own property: Should your finances allow, why not consider jumping in on the more exotic or ornamental side of trees? When grown on your property, you’re able to keep a close eye on them, and can control conditions better like frost protection, water scheduling or shade administration, which are all important when you consider how much you can spend to start these types of trees (more on that later). These types of trees will have a higher return on investment, but are typically trickier to grow than standard varieties, challenging you to learn as a grower right out the gate. 
  • If you’ll be renting or leasing property: Should you need to, or opt to, grow your trees on land separate from where you reside, we suggest that you consider growing “staple” trees in your region, whatever that/those might be. Reason being is because you will not have as much control over this land as you would on your own property, and you aren’t always available to check in on them, meaning that if something does go wrong that you aren’t able to catch immediately, you aren’t out nearly as much as you might be if you had opted to grow a more expensive variety. 
  • If you’ll be doing your growing indoors: Some of the best outdoor trees to start indoors are fruit trees, and we love this for entrepreneurs looking to make some cash, and impact the environment in a big way. Growing your own fruit (or helping others do so) eliminates the transportation cost of produce typically coming from far distances, and fruit trees are flowering, which means they help the pollinator population. 

How Can I GROW my Business? (Yes, Pun Intended)

  • Utilize Free or Low-Cost Marketing & Selling Platforms: Social media is an excellent, free tool to help you market yourself, or your tree business! Consider starting a brand new page for your tree endeavor only once you have a good following or clientele built up – before that point, just post to your own personal profiles so you’re reaching the (likely) hundreds of people who already know and follow you regularly. 

Consider as well joining local plant and tree-lover clubs or social media groups as they are likely filled with people with passion for and knowledge about your new project, and they also might become future buyers!

  • Partner with local outdoor businesses: In a mutually-beneficial move, consider partnering with local outdoor businesses in your area. As you’re starting out, keep in mind that you’ll want to partner with only the smaller companies as you are not yet at a production capacity where you can meet demands of larger companies extensive customer bases. 

See if these businesses would be willing to do some sort of referral or discount program where your material is passed out at their jobs and vice versa. This practice is an excellent networking tool, and helps two outdoor-focused businesses thrive together. 

  • Partner with local communities: Reach out to your local (small) government and see if there are any spaces within your township, county or village that have ever been considered as tree-planting locations. If yes, throw your hat in the ring as the person to get the job(s) done. 

Having a tree-planting project completed for a state or governmental organization will look incredibly strong on your new venture’s resume and is one of the best ways to establish a really, really large scale buyer as you begin to grow. 

Bonus, you’d be doing the growing on their land – keeping your yard or other potential growing space(s) open and available for other trees for other buyers. 

  • Make yourself a destination: It doesn’t matter if you have 10 trees starting out, or a whole nursery once you’ve established your venture and have begun to thrive – wherever you’re at, make yourself a destination! 

10 trees? Great! You’re the “Smallest Tree Farm in (your state)”. Growing varieties that aren’t grown elsewhere in your city or state? Capitalize on that! Become an expert and enthusiast in your specific trees, publicize them appropriately, treat your trees with care and enjoy the fruits of your once unexpected side-gig. 

What if Growing Trees isn’t Feasible for Me?

There are a lot of opportunities for you

We know that growing trees is not a feasible venture for everyone, but what we want you to focus on is the fact that it’s easier (and less expensive) than you might have originally thought to get started, and, if you can’t grow trees, you can always grow a plant! 

  • Growing Houseplants for Sale: Houseplants present a fantastic money-making opportunity for those looking to get into growing, who don’t quite have the space to grow something as sizeable as a tree. A couple additional benefits include:
    • Your climate doesn’t matter! Compared to outdoor (tree) growing which is extremely region & climate specific, houseplants can take up residence anywhere; meaning you can sell whatever you choose to grow to buyers around the world! 
    • Houseplant selling can also be extremely lucrative, as the more popular house plants become, the more frequently people are looking for exotic varieties (that can go for upwards of a couple hundred dollars for a single cutting).
  • Growing Vegetables: The pandemic brought out a green thumb – or a green thumb-wanna-be in a lot of people. People began growing everything from houseplants and flower beds to vegetables. A lot of people…weren’t that great at it (and that’s OK). That’s where you come in. 
    • A lot of people don’t live near a nursery where buying starter vegetable plants is a possibility, and those same people might not have the confidence to grow from seed. Starting vegetables – custom to order(!) for these buyers is a truly valuable service that is currently underserved. Jump on it!
    • In addition, a lot of people who live in cities have been getting the itch to grow vegetables on the small balcony spaces they have available, so why not capitalize on your ability to offer custom orders and grow and sell them only the specific number of plants, and variety of veggies they’re looking for. This way, hundreds of seeds or dozens of pre-grown nursery plants don’t go to waste in the buyer’s limited space. 

Profit Margin Examples by Various Plant Type

We hope that we’ve sold you on the fact that tree planting is a fun, creative, often-overlooked side-hustle option for you! 

If you’re still on the fence, take a look at the below numbers to see just how low-cost it is to get started, and how much (approximately) you can expect your trees and plants to go for should you choose to pursue this small business idea. 

You’ll see that I’ve highlighted the plants differently, and the colors designate the following; Shade 1 = low-cost, popular trees. Shade 2 = More exotic tree option. Shade 3 = Houseplants (1 common and inexpensive, 1 rare and expensive). Shade 4 = Common vegetable option.

Profit margin by plants


In summary, we hope that your eyes have opened today, both in your respect for trees, and in your entrepreneurial spirit; realizing that trees present a fantastic opportunity not only to better (maybe even save) our planet, but to also serve as a low-investment, engaging side-hustle with a purpose.

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