Like almost all other horticultural industries, wholesale nurseries are not very lucrative for those who do all the hard work there. Those who own the nurseries may earn a good living, but more typically earn less than what other business people in other industries earn. Sadly, the less reputable factory growers are more lucrative and can offer better benefits.
Wholesale nurseries with slower turnover have more automated irrigation systems. (The plant material does not come and go quite as actively as it does in retail nurseries. It sits around long enough to be plugged into irrigation systems.) Consequently, there are fewer jobs for “hosers,” those quiet high school kids who keep everything watered through the heat of summer. However, there are probably as many comparably degrading jobs for newcomers to start out with at not much more than minimum wage. An abundance of cheap labor keeps wages about as low as they can be for a few years afterward.
After a few years of low-paying, unglamorous work, there is plenty of other nearly as low-paying and comparably unglamorous work that might pay enough to justify such a job. Annual income may be from $25,000 to $30,000 for a few years after getting this far. Yeah, it is not much, but the work is... well, there must be some reason why so many people want these jobs.
Good, loyal employees eventually get small raises until they might be earning $40,000 annually. Even the more indispensable employees do not earn much, and might max out at $50,000. (You might just hit a ceiling, not unlike the tallest trees in the nursery.) Because the work is so demanding and involves working long hours, there is not much opportunity to earn more income from other side jobs or part time work.
Those who own wholesale nurseries often earn about the same as the employees who work there. Their only advantage is that there is a bit of security in their capital investment. Exceptional businessmen can easily earn more than $50,000, and some make two or three times as much. Of course, if they were truly exceptional businessmen, they probably wouldn’t be working in a nursery in the first place. But ah well.
Factory-type wholesale nurseries are typically much more lucrative, but only for the corporation that owns them. Not much more than good benefits goes to those who work in such operations.
To make matters worse, nurseries both wholesale and retail take a serious blow when the economy goes bad. Since most grow and market plants that are merely luxury items, their business slows down when money needs to be spent on more important commodities. Like movie tickets and home entertainment systems.
Pseudo-environmentalism also makes things hard for wholesale nurseries by controlling the chemical that nurseries need, the water they use and even the places they can sell their commodities to. Reallocation of water from the San Joaquin Valley in California to protect the endangered arctic kangaroo that is proliferating and invading Mozambique is far more of a threat than a Dust Bowl style drought. Quarantines are bad when they prevent plants from being sold out of state, and are devastating when they confine plant material to the county or region in which it was grown.
Most wholesale nurserymen enjoy their work too much to complain about how little money they earn. It is a lifestyle and not just a career. It is less stressful than most other work, at least for those who have the less stressful jobs in the nursery. It does not finance many fancy vacations or expensive psychotherapy, but such things are luxuries to those who enjoy their work anyway. It is a fair compromise for most. Those who want more move on to more lucrative careers. Or start robbing banks.