By Michael J. McGroarty, Perry, Ohio Copyright 2011
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Japanese Red Maple seedlings are a really hot item in the nursery business, but allow me to explain exactly what a Japanese Maple seedling is, because people do get confused. Japanese Maple trees can easily be grown from seed and we do have instructions on how to do that on this site. When a Japanese Maple is grown from seed it is obviously a seedling.
What many people don’t realize is that many of the Japanese Maples they see in yards and businesses in their daily travels are not seedlings. Some of the most beautiful Japanese Maples are actually grafted plants. In other words a cutting is taken from a known and named Japanese Maple and grafted onto a seedling. When grafting, the cutting that you take from the desired plant is called a scion. Before you can do any grafting you have to first have a seedling to graft onto. So the seedling plays a much more important role than most people realize. When it’s used for the purpose of grafting, the seedling is called the root stock, or under stock. Root stock is probably the most common term and often appears as one word. Rootstock. Which is correct, root stock or rootstock? I don’t know, you know me, I just love Japanese Maples and don’t get caught up in grammatical details!
When Japanese Maples are grown from seed you cannot predict exactly what the tree is going to look like. If you collect seeds from an upright Japanese Maple with green leaves, then more than likely you will get a tree that very much resembles the parent plant. Upright tree, green leaves. If you collect the seeds from a tree with deep red leaves there’s a really strong chance that you will get some seedlings that have deep red leaves in the spring and some of them will hold that color throughout the summer, depending how well the parent plant actually held its deep red color during the summer months. But you will also get some seedlings that have green leaves and some will have red leaves in the spring but loose much of that deep red color as the growing season progresses. In other words, the leaf color of seedlings can vary quite a bit.
As far as ornamental value is concerned there is not much demand for a regular Japanese Maple tree with green leaves. Some people like them and would be happy to have such a tree in their yard, but most people want a Japanese Maple with deep red leaves. However, green seedlings are still in high demand on the wholesale nursery market because nursery owners buy them to use as rootstock for grafting.
The most common species of Japanese Maple is Acer palmatum. Another is Acer japonicum but palmatum is by far the most popular. All maple trees are in the Acer family. The terms palatum or japonicum distinuish trees that are commonly called Japanese Maples. For a detailed explanation of plant nomenclature see this page.
Seedlings from a palmatum variety make a suitable rootstock for grafting any of the other palmatum varieties onto. So even though Japanese Maple seedlings are really among the most generic of the Japanese Maple family, the seedlings are always in high demand for a number of reasons. One, they have great value to nursery owners or others who want graft. Secondly, the seedlings with red leaves sell really well. Not only as small seedlings, but if grown onto to more mature trees they sell well because they are often sold at a lower price than the named, more in demand varieties.
What most people don’t realize is that most nursery owners don’t grow their own Japanese Maples from seed. There are nurseries that specialize in growing seedlings, and many nursery owners would much rather buy the seedlings they need for grafting or to line out in the field. For the most part seedlings are fairly inexpensive. I am writing this article in the fall of 2011 and right now the current price of acer palmatum (green leaves) is about 55 cents per tree, for a tree that is 1/8″ in diameter. Seedlings with red leaves sell for more, but are still slightly over a dollar each. I’ve got some ordered for this fall and I’m paying $1.35 each for them and they are about 24″ tall.
The reason the green ones are sold at 1/8″ in size is because many grafters consider 3/16″ to be the ideal size for grafting. After those 1/8″ seedlings are grown for one season prior to being grafted they would be the ideal size, 3/16″ to 1/4″ in diameter.
I take seedlings with good red color like the one shown above and plant them out in the field. After four or five years at the in the field I have really nice 42″ trees that quickly and easily sell for $45.00 each or more. I’m a Japanese Maple lover, I’d much rather put money into small Japanese Maples than I would the stock market. But, that’s just me.
Chris Wilson says
I just bought some japaneese maple seeds off amazon.com and i live in seaside oregon. I was told i bought 16 blue maples and 16 red maples so i put half in the peat and half in the vermiculite put them in my fridge and 20 days later they all had very long sprouts so yesterday i planted them in a seed starting tray that i got at the garden store with the square sphagnum peat flats and filled them with fox farms seedling starter mix am i on the right track? What kinda light schedule should i keep them on if any and how much should i water them i bought a greenouse this spring im a brand new gardener i love growing plants i have spent most my life behind bars and was overall a violent person and in just months of having the green house up i have became a different man and for the better it soothes the sole i love my life its amazing hopefully i can get as much info as possible and stay on this path
Wishing you continued, long term success with your new life! They’ll need light, but not direct sunlight. They’d be happy in a shady area. Not really sure what you have, it’s not really like Japanese maple seeds to sprout in 20 days, but it will be fun to see exactly what you do have. They need water but should not be soaking wet all the time. Allow the soil to dry before watering again. Enjoy!
Hey Chris, I think you may have been scammed on the Japanese Maple seeds. There is no such thing as a blue Japanese Maple. Look up the YouTube Video from mrmaple.com about that. In order to grow Japanese Maples from seed they have to be Stratified. This requires about 90 – 120 days in the fridge or in cold but damp winter conditions in order for the seed to germinate in spring. After that you can warm them up and they should, if they were fresh seeds, start to sprout. They then need to be put into a well draining soil or soilless substrate and lightly covered to continue growing. Hope this helps!
Angel Matias says
Hi there how czn i be come a member
Angel, see this http://backyardgrowers.com/join
DAN ROY says
OK. I BOUGHT YOUR BOOK BUT NEED TO BUY JAPANESE MAPLE SEEDLINGS. I HOW DO I DO THAT.
That depends on how many you want, yesterday there were still some available in the members area, http://backyardgrowers.com/join, but were really getting out of season for them since most are shipped bare root. I do have wholesale sources but they require at least a $500.00 minimum order which is why the members area is so much better. If membership is closed you can Email Duston. [email protected] or [email protected]
Debb Kiger says
Just found all your info today and looking forward to getting started with my little tree farm! I’ve purchased some bloodgoods which are now about 4″ tall and as they are doing real well now, I’m concerned about them this winter. They are sheltered in pots now…I usually put them in my garden and cover the pots with soil and straw. Can I do that with these little babies?
Thank you in advance.
Straw can attract mice who will eat the stems of Japanese maples and kill the tree. 4″ bloodgoods? Those sound like seedlings and bloodgood cannot be grown from seed. It has to be grafted and in that case they would be taller than 4″. More than likely what you have are just red Japanese maples but not bloodgood.
Gil Koren says
I was wonderign if you could share your wholesale source. I am interested in buying seedlings like the one you have in the picture on this page.
I only share wholesale sources in our members area; http://backyardgrowers.com/join
Ta! I have a client I do maintenance for with hundreds of Japanese maples sprouting below an old tree…do they transplant well at this age? They are about 2” high with maybe four leaves. My client treats them as weeds and is more than happy if I can do something with them
Since they are leafed out they don’t transplant well unless you can get them out without damaging roots at all. Put them in a bed or in pots and keep them shaded and watered. You can put many in one pot.