Growing trees for profit is an ideal part-time or full-time business for anyone who enjoys being outdoors and working with plants. Trees are a valuable and renewable resource that can be grown in a tiny backyard or on a 100 acre tree farm.
The most profitable trees for most small growers are those in demand by buyers, are reasonably easy to grow, and bring above-average prices when sold. Unlike traditional trees sold for saw logs and pulp, high-value trees are sold at retail prices to homeowners and landscapers, hobbyists who use the wood or tree shoots to make everything from baskets to guitar backs, or trees planted for their valuable fruits and nuts. Here are ten trees worth growing:
1. Instant shade trees. Landscapers and homeowners often want larger, more mature trees to provide “instant shade” in a year or two, and are willing to pay much higher prices for those trees. Most instant shade trees are sold in ten to fifteen gallon pots, with a well-developed root system to allow rapid growth once planted. Two popular tree species for instant shade are the Red maple and the American elm.
2. Flowering dogwood. The dogwood is on every landscaper’s list of top 10 trees, proving both lovely spring blooms and colorful fall foliage. The Kousa dogwood is one of the most popular varieties, as it also produces a crop of sweet red berries, is disease resistant, and best of all, deer leave it alone.
3. Thornless locust. Common locust is widely used in restoration and erosion control projects. Newer varieties, such as the Shademaster and Sunburst locust, are thornless and fast growing, making them popular for landscaping projects. They are also a popular instant shade tree, growing to a mature height of about 25 to 30 feet in just six years. The small leaves break down quickly after they have fallen, and require no raking.
4. Heritage fruit trees. Today there is a renewed interest in the heritage fruits, especially apple varieties popular in the 17th and 18th century. Esopus Spitzenberg, for example, was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple, and Calville Blanc d’Hiver was a dessert apple grown for King Louis XIII in the 17th century.
Other popular varieties include Baldwin, Blue Permain, Winesap and Winter Banana. Once you’ve tried these tasty antique apples, you’ll be hooked, as they offer a range of flavors not found in today’s bland commercial apple varieties, bred for their shipping qualities, not taste and flavor. New growers with an acre or more are growing them for fruit, as well as selling these proven varieties as dwarf trees, popular with homeowners who have only a patio or small yard.
5. Hybrid chestnut. Researchers have developed several blight-resistant chestnut varieties that combine the best qualities of American and Chinese chestnut trees that can be grown in most areas of the U.S. Chestnut trees can be grown on land too hilly or poor for other crops, and produce 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of nuts per acre. Another plus is the high timber value of chestnuts at maturity – almost as high as black walnut.
6. Black walnut. Walnut trees, like chestnuts, produce a double income, as the nuts can be harvested as the trees are growing to harvestable size for timber. Growers often call black walnut a “legacy tree” because it takes about 30 years to reach it’s prime harvesting size of about 16 inches or so for a veneer log. Along the way, the walnut stand can be thinned to provide income, but the real payoff comes at harvest, as veneer logs bring between $4,000 and $5,000 each. An average stand of black walnut is 250 trees per acre, or $125,000 at harvest time, quite a legacy for the kids or grandkids!
7. Bonsai trees. The bonsai business is booming, as more and more people become collectors of these wonderful tiny trees. Bonsai trees allow city dwellers, who have limited yard space, or even no yard at all, to enjoy the beauty of trees in their homes. A bonsai business is perfect for small growers with limited space, as bonsai trees take up very little area, and can generate substantial profits. Some growers specialize in starter plants that are ready to train, while others prefer to sell trained plants, as the profits are higher. For bonsai growers with patience, mature “specimen” trees can bring hundreds of dollars from serious bonsai collectors. The internet has created even more interest in bonsai, and also provides a new marketplace for growers to sell their bonsai plants to a much wider audience.
8. Willow. The market for craft fibers, or wood that can be woven, has tripled in just a few years as more folks take up basket weaving and fiber arts. It is now possible to grow willow shoots, also called rods, in a rainbow of colors, which are in demand from florists and crafters. Willow is easy to grow and very prolific – one tree can produce hundreds of salable shoots each year. In addition, willow is used for restoration and conservation projects.
9. Japanese maple. These lovely trees are always in demand by homeowners and landscapers. It just might be the perfect tree for a small specialty tree nursery, as there is demand for both smaller trees for those on a budget as well as larger “specimen” trees for those with deep pockets. Also, there are hundreds of named varieties, in both red and green, and in the two types, broad leaf and cut leaf. The smaller size of most Japanese maples makes them an ideal tree for container growing, so hundreds can be grown for sale in even a small backyard nursery.
10. Christmas trees. For a while, it looked like “real” Christmas trees were an endangered species, losing ground to artificial trees. Now that has reversed, with artificial tree sales declining since 2007, and the number of real trees increasing every year, with over 21,000 small family growers across North America. For those with an acre or more of usable land, Christmas trees can be a very profitable choice, as prices for fresh-cut trees average about $42, and an acre can hold about 1,800 trees. Many who take up Christmas tree farming have found they make more money selling greens and wreaths every year than from cut trees!
Because small-scale tree growing takes just a few hours a week, most small growers are part-timers. Tree farming is a great way to earn extra income for those who enjoy seeing plants grow. If you’ve ever thought about starting a small tree nursery, or tree farming, read Growing Trees For Profit, which covers the essentials of growing and marketing high-value specialty trees. You’ll find more information here.