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Do grafted conifers generally have a shorter lifespan?

Heruga (6b/7a NJ)
November 28, 2018

Than non grafted ones such as ones grown grown from seed or cuttings? I know that rootstock is a big factor but is it how it was grafted or the rootstock compatibility to the scion? I also hear that dwarf selections are more shorter lived.

Comments (23)
  • PRO
    David Olszyk, President, American Conifer Society

    The method of propagation has little to nothing to do with longevity. Most of the dwarfs out there are weaker by nature. Plus care and maintenance have a lot to do with it.

    A dwarf conifer with tight branching tends to retain a lot of dead crap with the branching, resulting in fungal plagues, composting from within, and suffocation.

  • Sara Malone Zone 9b

    There is also sometimes the issue of bad grafts; I have had a couple of conifers (both of them Cedrus atlantica) break off at the graft union several years after planting.

  • Heruga (6b/7a NJ)

    Ok so the more dwarf it is the shorter they will live? Such as picea jezoensis 'howell's dwarf'. I cannot plant that expecting it to outlive me? Assuming I will take all the care it needs for it. Also speaking of tight branching, sciadopitys verticillata 'joe kozey' is a tight branched one so would that make it more susceptible to those problems you mentioned?

    Well one can never know who is a good grafter or not... at least not me just by looking at the graft union. So maybe the best choice is to avoid using grafted trees in general?

  • PRO
    David Olszyk, President, American Conifer Society

    The original Picea abies 'Clanbrassiliana' was found in 1780 and it's still alive in Ireland.

  • Heruga (6b/7a NJ)

    But if its original then its on own roots right?

  • Sara Malone Zone 9b

    Most commercial grafts are reasonably good. I think that C. atlantica is a particularly brittle plant.

  • PRO
    David Olszyk, President, American Conifer Society

    Nothing's particularly wrong with grafted conifers. In very many cases, that's the only way to reproduce a particular plant.

    In many cases, the vigor of the borrowed root system makes for a stronger plant. Rooted Pinaceae can really be wimps.

  • Heruga (6b/7a NJ)

    I just don't want a grafted one to die on me in 20 years because of rootstock problems. If thats the case I may just try and attempt growing pinaceae conifers from seed. Even if it might not be 100% true I was told it will usually end up looking like its parent plant. Btw on root compatability.. is larix kaempferi good on larix decidua? I am particularly worried about the larix decidua rootstock because my research tells me they cannot tolerate heat and humidity whatsoever and NJ is like that almost every day in summer. So even if the scion L. Kaempferi is ok with my NJ climate, if the rootstock is not will that cause problems?

    Also why is it that hemlocks are the only pinaceae that can be successfully be rooted? I have 2 from farreaches farm that is about 1.5 feet tall and was apparently rooted from cuttings.

  • sc77 (6b MA)

    One interesting thing I always wondered.... a grafted plant is said to have the maturity of the parent tree, meaning that a grafted tree has the ability to cone right away, or within a year after recovering from the trauma of grafting. I always took this to mean it inherited the age of the parent tree, but I guess that can't be right, otherwise really old cultivars would be literally hundreds of years old now, since they all originated from the same tree...


    So what's the story with that? Is it just juvenile vs. mature DNA, but not necessarily age inheritance?

  • Sara Malone Zone 9b

    heruga ANYTHING can die in 20 years. I often wish that I had fallen in love with stamps or coins and not plants. Things that don't just up and die for no reason...

  • ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

    I just don't want a grafted one to die on me in 20 years because of rootstock problems.


    ===>>> where you going with this comment ...


    if it has root problems ... its not going to struggle for 20 years .. then die ...


    and if its fine for 19 years ... i doubt its going to die for new root problems alone ...


    its like you want to go to vegas ..... [which is what 'collecting' any group of plants can be...lol ...] .. but you dont want to play.. unless all the odds are on your side ... if you like a plant.. go for it.. roll the dice ... its all part of the game ...


    if you want all the odds stacked on your side ... grow local native plants ... in their native habitat ... and be happy ...


    most likely ... one of the biggest variables in failure of plant collecting is .. and i am having a hard time with the words here ... so i will jump to an example.. hopefully someone else can tell me what i mean .. lol ...


    if you fall in love with a plant that thrives on some mountain at 5000 feet in the PNW ... only on the west side of a mountain .... you most likely.. sooner or later .. going to have problems growing it long term in NJ .... but to then blame it on the root stock.. might be a bit disingenuous .... there would be multitude of cultural variables that would be 'in play' .. rather than just the roots ... its the equivalent of saying.. well they are the same zone [min winter temp] .... so why did it die ... leaving out every other variable ... humidity, sun intensity, winds, elevation, soil [scree vs your clay] .... summer heat.. winter winds ... etc.. etc.. etc ...


    and then multiply it all.. with your interest in asian plants ... since they are local half way around the world .... and most likely.. we dont have access to 'local' peeps to compare all the cultural variables ....


    can anyone sum up my point.. in a memorable way ... lol...


    ken



  • plantkiller_il_5

    SUM IT UP,,,,,,,,,don't be such a nudge

  • plantkiller_il_5

    I don't even know what that means , but it sounds right

    ron

  • wbgarden

    Hi all, the oldest dwarf conifers in our garden are about 40 years old. Grafted trees are healthy and still growing.

    Of course, I would like to have a personal experience with hundred years old miniatures, but I am only 72 years old.

    So maybe next time.

    And what about dying, mostly young trees go out first.

    And problem as to me - roots.

    Sorry for my english.

    Jan

    wbgarden

  • whaas_5a

    One can simply visit their local arboretum or botanical garden to see very old grafted specimens.

    what you do see is that the industry doesn’t always follow good practices to ensure healthy rootstock so you tend to see grafted plants die at a young or juvenile age vs species plants grown on their roots.

    here are a couple examples of a bad graft and two exact cultivars with very different growth rates and color. One has root issues impacting nutrients and vigor...likely leading to a premature death. But I’ll put it out of its misery after observing for 3 years.

    I purchased 5 golden mugo pines all with scorched needles. Obviously there where root issues. 4 died over 3 years and 1 remains at 1/3 the typical growth rate. Bottom like if you see the plant has good vigor and color along with healthy roots planted in the right location the plant will likely prosper whether grafted or grown on own roots


    as a side note issues tend to manifest more quickly in less than ideal climates like mine where you get a mix of hot humid summers, drought and cold DRY winters.







  • Heruga (6b/7a NJ)

    Well I now get that grafted trees can live a very long time and even outlive me but you just never know if its grafted perfectly or not. Even the most experienced grafters can sometimes make mistakes and make a imperfect product right? I guess the conclusion I came to from all your answers on this thread is that I can never rely on grafted trees to live as long as I expect while for own root trees I can rely more on the possibility that it will live longer than grafts.

  • Sara Malone Zone 9b

    Heruga you can't grow most cultivars from seed, so you are talking at cross purposes. If you want a species tree, it is likely ONLY available as a seed grown plant. If you want a cultivar, it is likely only available as a grafted plant.

  • noki33

    Some grafted trees often tend to grow crooked and "weird", like Pines and Ginkgos. Don't know about longevity with those trees. In general, many initially slow growing cultivars such as grafted trees or slow growing conifers spend a lot of time growing in pots, which can lead to screwed up roots. Maybe there is more of a root problem with grafted trees because they spend more time in pots?


  • Heruga (6b/7a NJ)

    Sara, I don't think that is true. I know many people who grow thujopsis dolobrata from cuttings, cryptomeria from cuttings, and junipers as well. Both species and cultivars of it. I think you're referring to conifers in the pinaceae family?

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    I believe what Sara was trying to say is species conifers are seldom propagated by grafting. Why bother? There is seldom a pressing need and it's a lot of work. Seeds and cuttings, sure. But named conifer cultivars are never grown from seed (if you want a clone of the parent) and may or may not be grafted, depending on circumstance. And while not always easy, most can be grown from cuttings as well.

    Read this: Conifer Propagation 101

  • Heruga (6b/7a NJ)

    This guy I know who is an owner of a nursery that sells only grafted trees(mostly conifers) grafts his picea jezoensis species because grafting is his specialty and why grow from seed when he can just graft it easily. None of his products are propagated from seed.

    Also, I can't believe I forgot about Sc77s comment. I saw it and I was going to re ask the same question but turned out I forgot. I will re quote it

    "One interesting thing I always wondered.... a grafted plant is said to have the maturity of the parent tree, meaning that a grafted tree has the ability to cone right away, or within a year after recovering from the trauma of grafting. I always took this to mean it inherited the age of the parent tree, but I guess that can't be right, otherwise really old cultivars would be literally hundreds of years old now, since they all originated from the same tree...

    So what's the story with that? Is it just juvenile vs. mature DNA, but not necessarily age inheritance?"

    So yea, what is the deal with this? If a scion for grafting or cutting for root formation was taken from a 70 year old tree would that make the scionwood/cutting 70 years old once it has its roots?

  • Sara Malone Zone 9b

    Oh yes, GG is correct. I meant not grafted. Because yes, why bother?

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Heruga, you are implying a human concept of age and time on the trees :-) It's not that the cutting itself will be 70 years old but rather the cutting will possess the characterstics of the fully mature tree, like flowering, coning or sexual maturity.

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