For hundreds of years, Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) have been grown and admired by gardeners, who view them as a “collector’s tree” because of their unique beauty. These lovely trees make a unique addition to any garden, with foliage ranging from delicate lacy leaves to variegated leaves in a rainbow of colors from red and green to pinks and white highlights. Landscape designers love Japanese maples because they can be used in so many ways in the landscape.
Most retail garden centers and nurseries simply don’t have the space to display more than a few of the hundreds of varieties, so it can be hard for a retail customer to find exactly the right Japanese maple for needs. That is why a small specialty tree nursery business with a good selection of varieties can do so well, both in profitability and in attracting customers who are looking for that “perfect” tree, such as a landscape designer or homeowner.
Because Japanese maples are smaller trees, they can also be easily grown in containers to allow more plants in the same space – ideal for those growers with limited space. A backyard nursery can hold hundreds of these sought-after trees, and at the high prices for most varieties, even a small growing area can produce thousands of dollars of profit each year.
There are hundreds of cultivars of this beautiful tree, with endless variations of color, form, leaf type and size. It can be downright confusing for a beginner, so just remember that most Japanese maples fall into two broad types, broad leaf and cut leaf, and two primary colors, red and green. The cut leaf – also called lace leaf – varieties are referred to as “dissectum,” for example, Acer palmatum “dissectum.” Common examples of each variety are:
Japanese Red Maple. This is a spectacular tree for fall color, with red leaves in summer that turn even brighter red in fall. Also popular are the attractive dissectum varieties, with deeply cut feathery leaves and a weeping shape.
Crimson Queen Japanese Maple. This dwarf variety only reaches ten feet in height at maturity. With it’s frilly leaves and weeping branches, it makes an outstanding specimen tree.
Cutleaf Green Japanese Maple. This is the “standard” cultivar for the green dissectums. A dwarf variety, it reaches only six feet at maturity, with green dissected leaves in summer, turning golden in the fall.
Growing Japanese maples can be a very profitable “niche” tree nursery business if you can supply the essential ingredients for success:
- Most varieties are hardy in zones 5 to 9, so be sure your regional climate falls into this range.
- Many varieties require partial shade for protection from the hot summer sun. A simple and inexpensive shade cloth canopy over a growing area can provide this.
- New growers must be patient, as it can take several years to grow out the larger specimen trees that bring high prices. For more immediate income, grow the common varieties from seed or seedling in one-gallon pots, which can be sold in a year or so.
Although it takes time to build an inventory of high quality Japanese maples, it can be worth the wait. Current prices of common varieties like Bloodgood at retail nurseries are $80 to $120 for six foot tall potted trees, and $125 to $200 for 2″ caliper (trunk diameter) trees. Rare varieties can bring twice as much.
If you’re looking for a profitable niche in the world of landscaping trees, Japanese maples could be just right for you. The rewards go beyond just profits, as the satisfaction of creating these beautiful trees goes beyond money. A side benefit is having a small collection of these specimens in your yard for grafting to produce even more unique trees.
My new book, Growing Trees For Profit, includes a section on how to start a tree nursery specializing in Japanese maples, and covers the ten top selling varieties, growing tips and techniques, and a resource section that will tell you where to find the best books and videos on these lovely trees, ass well as wholesale sources for seeds, seedlings and other essential supplies. Click here to learn more.