Friday, March 7, 2014

Conifer Grafting

A week ago I discussed our winter 2013-2014 grafting, and declared that our main focus was the conifer propagation. Then I didn't discuss any conifers, but I will remedy that today.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Miss Grace'
Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Kools Gold'

The Metasequoia grafts are already showing new growth on the scionwood.* We don't grow any one cultivar in huge numbers, when in the past we did. It's frustrating, however, to sell out of our specimens early in the season, when we easily could have produced more. 'Miss Grace', our introduction, remains the most popular, with 'Kools Gold' (Aka 'Golden Guusje') also showing strong sales. The catch is that what is hot today was produced three-to-ten years ago, so while we use today's sales as a guideline for propagation, there's certainly no guarantee that the trend will hold. Another factor is that you can't magically predict your propagation success. Or whether a knucklehead (ex) supervisor sprays the wrong chemical on the crop and you wind up with zero percent. And, thank God, I was happy that none of our propagating greenhouses were crushed in last month's record snow storm.

*The word scion entered into the English language via old French ciun, a word meaning "shoot" or "twig." I'm sure there are some blog readers who don't have a clue what I mean when I mention scion or rootstock, or even what is a graft or why I feel compelled to produce plants that way. Basically a scion is wood from the tree you want to reproduce, to make more of. The rootstock is the "borrowed" root system which will remain the support and feeder of the top. If you don't get my drift beyond my explanation, you'll have to look elsewhere for clarification. Grafting is a process that also occurs in the wild, as when two branches lying next to each other can grow together. Purposeful grafting has been practiced by man for thousands of years, such as grafting well-bearing olive cultivars onto wild olive trees. Pull out your bible and see Romans, chapter II, as it demonstrates that Paul knew that his audience was understanding of the practice.

Abies grandis 'Van Dedem's Dwarf'

The "true firs" are fun to propagate because they smell wonderful when carving into the wood, and each species has its own distinctive odor when the needles are handled. If I crush the needles of a "Grand Fir," Abies grandis, then hand it to someone and ask "what does it smell like?," he will likely reply, "dish-washing detergent." Then I'll suggest "tangerine," and he will reply "Ah yes, absolutely tangerine!"

Abies balsamea

Abies balsamea is native to the northern area of the USA and southern Canada to Alberta. It extends south into West Virginia where the var. phanerolepis occurs. Oil from the balsam fir's leaves and branches is extracted and used for a variety of ailments, such as anxiety, asthma, infections, rheumatism, nervous tension, stress conditions, sore and tired muscles, back pain, lumbago, and much, much more. I experience the majority of the above maladies*, but I've never tried the oil. Some claim further benefits, such as the grounding of the body and the empowering of the mind. No wonder my grafting crew seems so happy and peaceful when grafting balsamea cultivars!

*Malady is from Old French maladie, and that based on Latin male for "ill." Even today, of course, many woman grow ill from dealing with males. And we too, with them...but apparently we can't do without each other.

Abies balsamea 'Eugene's Yellow'

Abies balsamea 'Eugene's Yellow' is a lovely dwarf with tiny lemon-yellow needles, but it's quite a wimp for the first three or four years, sprawling about and never certain which branch will become its leader. Perhaps if scionwood was derived from stronger, more mature stock plants, the resulting grafts would grow more tree-like. The best specimen I have ever seen is growing in Oregon's Porterhowse Arboretum, as photographed above, and it clearly has found its way skyward. Nestled into a landscape with blue conifers – say Picea pungens cultivars – would allow 'Eugene's Yellow' to glow must luminously. We only had enough scionwood to graft seventy this winter, and they weren't all the greatest scions either. I wonder if I'll ever grow one to the size as at Porterhowse.

Abies balsamea 'Tyler Blue'

Abies balsamea 'Tyler Blue' is far more vigorous than 'Eugene's Yellow', and perhaps these two should be paired in the landscape instead of with the blue spruces. For us 'Tyler Blue' grows into a narrow upright tree with an "alpine" look. We sold six-foot specimens for a decent price, but probably not for enough since they were twelve years old. I learned long ago that Abies in general are not highly profitable, but I can't imagine to not grow them. We grafted fifty eight cultivars this winter, about 25% of our total collection, but I suspect that there are nurseries who are propagating even a greater number.

Abies firma 'Halgren'

Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel'

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Powder Blue'

I'll mention a final Abies: firma 'Halgren', which originated at the Peacedale Nursery in Washington state, and was selected by owner Gordy Halgren for its excellent color and vigor. I'm the one who stuck the 'Halgren' name on it, just as a way to keep track of it, and I'm not aware if Mr. Halgren calls it something different, or if he even produces it anymore. He has been very generous to me over the years, giving me starts of his other discoveries, such as Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel' and Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Powder Blue'. The redwood is far more impressive than the old east-coast selection 'Hazel Smith' which was discovered at the late Watnong Nursery. Back to Halgren's fir, our propagations are not really for sale, but rather we use the new grafts to grow on, so that we can then harvest shoots for rooting what will eventually become rootstock. The firma species is the preferred rootstock for hot humid areas, such as in USA's southeast. Known as "Momi Fir," firma is native to the southern Japanese islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku where a warm humid climate is the norm. The oldest known firma is a stump on Yakushima Island which developed 624 growth rings. Indeed it lived to a venerable age, but sadly the species is often used for the manufacture of coffins. In the future, we will designate any Abies cultivars for sale if they have been grafted on Abies firma, so that the buyer can be aware.

Cedrus atlantica 'Sahara Ice'

Cedrus atlantica 'Sapphire Nymph'

Our Cedrus production this winter included atlantica 'Sahara Ice' and 'Sapphire Nymph', both cultivars from a species originating from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, Africa. I mention the locale because a notable nurseryman once commented to me that he envied my trips to the Himalaya, that he too would like to visit Morocco and see the Himalayas one day. I don't laugh at his geography misconception because a high-school education in West Virginia in the 1960's was probably focused on other priorities, such as the production of moonshine or the design of aesthetically-pleasing outhouses. Oh well, one can't master all of the disciplines. I was strong in geography but he excelled in shop (where I was a failure). In any case, any dumbass can become a nurseryman if he is willing to work hard.

Cedrus deodara 'Electra Blue'

We didn't graft any Cedrus deodara cultivars because they can be reproduced via rooted cuttings in winter. The other three species of the genus – atlantica, brevifolia and libani – are closely related, and for some reason do not strike root so readily, at least in my experience. So we graft them onto deodara 'Eisregen' or 'Electra Blue' or any one of the blue cultivars which easily root...and thus provide a more winter-hardy product than those replicated on a typical blue-green deodara seedling. Yes, we go to extra lengths for you at Buchholz Nursery, and though it costs us more, at least you keep coming back to us for plants.

Cedrus brevifolia 'Kenwith'

Cedrus libani 'Green Prince'

Cedrus libani 'Green Prince'

The exact botany of the Cedrus genus is beyond me, and since many conifer experts frequently disagree, I'll just present a few cultivars as we acquired them, whether or not they are properly categorized. Cedrus brevifolia is the "Cyprus Cedar," located on Mount Paphos in Cyprus. Cyprus, or officially the Republic of Cypress, is an island country in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the third most populous island in the Mediterranean. We grow the dwarf 'Kenwith', a little cutie with tiny gray-green needles and a skeletal appearance, a cultivar that is especially suited for our pumice stones and pumice gardens. Equally presentable is the dwarf libani 'Green Prince', a choice dwarf that we have produced by the thousands, and, a cultivar that possibly exists no larger anywhere than at Buchholz Nursery (see photo above). I toss out this speculation without really knowing for sure that I am correct. But I am probably right. My "champion specimen (?)" is approximately fourteen feet tall by ten feet wide, and beautifully dominates the entrance to our pond house. Now, it is forty years old, and some knowledgeable conifer visitors shudder when I present my 'Green Prince' specimen, unsure how I could possibly have attained a "miniature" cultivar of such size. Well, I'm not sure just how I became "old-man Buchholz," either, but I guess it was just a matter of time.

I attended the Garden and Patio Show in Portland this past week, but came away 45 minutes later – that was enough – largely unimpressed. I guess my biggest problem was the underwhelming palette of plants that the garden creators employed. But of course it was the wrong time of year for the best. One thing that galled me was the plentitude of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana cultivars, and all of them were on their own roots. I have wailed and gnashed my teeth on this subject in the past – probably too many times, I know. Some own-root lawsonianas can live for ages, I am aware of that. But too often they succumb to root rot (caused by Phytophthora lateralis). Instead they should be grafted onto a disease-resistant rootstock, like we do at Buchholz Nursery, thanks to the development of such a strain by Oregon State University.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro'

We grafted eleven different lawson cultivars, but the preponderance belonged to 'Wissel's Saguaro' and 'Imbricata Pendula'. 'Wissel's' is a dark blue-green upright, narrow to the trunk, but with protruding cactus-like arms which stick out, then grow upwards. Give it room though, for it is no dwarf, and I think we can grow one to ten feet tall in only seven years. The architectural tree can stand alone, or be displayed as a family of three or more.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'

The lawson cultivar we produced in the largest number was 'Imbricata Pendula', an old European selection. Pendula means "to weep" in Latin, but the imbricata description is more difficult for me to fathom. The best I can guess is reference to "overlapping scales" along the branchlets, which are perhaps most noticeable with this clone? Or is it a general reference to the overall appearance of the tree, where leaflets overlap the previous ones?

Dacrydium cupressinum

The imbricata term is found in botanical names for snakes, turtles and at least one plant, Cylindropuntia imbricata, the "Cane Cholla" cactus native to the American southwest and Mexico. Anyway, it's an awkward name for a cultivar, and clear evidence that the person involved in the naming of it had no interest or experience to sell 'Imbricata Pendula'. Modern gardeners love its whipcord branching and graceful appearance, but beware: the photo above is from a tree at Flora Farm, and it is nearly twenty feet tall at eleven years of age. 'Imbricata Pendula' resembles a southern hemisphere conifer, Dacrydium cuppresinum, and I used to grow the latter in a heated greenhouse until it reached the top, and was then sold a wealthy Californian. If you search for the Chamaecyparis on the internet, you'll often see images from around the world, including mine sometimes. In fact there is a photo taken from an old Flora Wonder blog, The Skinny, where a youthful Buchholz is posing next to a...what?, wait a minute!: I'm standing next to a Dacrydium, not a Chamaecyparis. Note the New Zealand sign nearby, for the photo was taken in the New Zealand section at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco twenty-some years ago.

Dacrydium cupressinum at Strybing Arboretum

Juniperus horizontalis 'Golden Wiltonii'

Juniperus horizontalis 'Pancake'

Juniperus squamata 'Floreant'

Juniperus squamata 'Floreant'

My last genus to discuss is the Juniperus, and I continually harp that you should not dismiss them. Yes, the easy-to-root selections are cheap and ubiquitous, and generally long on the market, but there are notable exceptions. On short standards we grafted two cultivars that will weep. Juniperus horizontalis 'Golden Wiltonii' and horizontalis 'Pancake' will descend fountain-like and with grace. 'Golden Wiltonii' requires sun or it will be dull yellow-green, while 'Pancake' – normally a one-inch-tall gray-blue groundcover – is best in full sun. Juniperus squamata 'Floreant' was selected in Holland, I believe, or at least that's where I first encountered it. We also grafted it on short standards. 'Floreant' is the old squamata 'Blue Star' with cream-yellow variegation, and it can look nice – in full sun – especially when given the added vigor of its Juniperus scopulorum 'Skyrocket' rootstock.

Ok, then, that's just a dab of the conifers we grafted this past winter. I chose to produce 337 cultivars and species, which is around 15 or 20 percent of those conifers in our collection. So, let's hope for the best, that many of these copulatory efforts will result in successful unions, and that Buchholz Nursery may continue to prosper.


This past propagating year (July 2013-February 2014) we grafted 57,000 plants, and most of them will be grown on for future sales. For most of my career, however, the vast majority would go to other wholesale nurseries to grow on. I estimate that Buchholz Nursery has executed over three million grafts in our 34 years in business, but of course not with 100% success. Who knows what average price was eventually garnered at the retail end, whether the plant was provided directly by me or my liner customers? I think a modest average price would be $75, and if you do the math, that would be around a quarter of a billion dollars. Yes, with a b. So indeed, this little podunk Gaston Nursery helps the world to spin. My only regret is the millions of dollars I've had to shell out in payroll taxes, as most of that dough was ultimately squandered by the government.

1 comment:

  1. That Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro' looks like an impressive cultivar. I have not seen one in person but I believe Adrian Bloom's book has an equally impressive photo of seven or so specimen trees planted in a grouping. They remind me of cacti. Thanks for the photos and sharing your work. I never miss it. A Huge Fan.