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maackia

Fir Lovers Unite!

maackia
last month

You know who you are. We are in a record setting hot stretch of weather, and it is taking a toll on some plants, but these beauties seem unaffected.

Abies koreana

Abies concolor

Abies fraseri (with crowded concolor)

Abies lasiocarpa


Comments (21)

  • DeanW45
    last month

    I'm with you! I have an unhealthy obsession with firs. I am determined to make (some of) these work down here. I had a dream once that I installed a gigantic greenhouse over my garden with air conditioning. It was awesome.


    Abies koreana is definitely one of the more heat-tolerant firs, and I've had limited success with lasiocarpa, too. All on firma rootstock. Fraseri and concolor, not so much. I've got A. vejari, A. durangensis var. coahuilensis, A. pinsapo, and A. kawakami, all of which also appear able to handle the heat in pots and in partial sun, so far. Trialing some other species, as well.

    maackia thanked DeanW45
  • maackia
    Original Author
    last month
    last modified: last month

    "I had a dream once that I installed a gigantic greenhouse over my garden with air conditioning. It was awesome.'

    This is when you know you're hopelessly addicted to gardening! :)

    I find it interesting how often A. firma comes up on this forum when discussing firs. Heat tolerant rootstock is not an issue up here, but if this heat continues it might become one. ;)

    How far along do you go with firs in pots? I could see some getting big pretty fast. My attempts at growing woody plants in pots has not been favorable. I like to think of myself as a competent gardener, but not so much with containers. It has to be exciting to plant one out that you've watched develop in a container for some length of time.

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  • davidrt28 (zone 7)
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Dean it's very surprising to hear that A. concolor failed for you, even on firma rootstock*. I had a concolor (not grafted, I'm sure) in my yard that probably lasted 60 years before succumbing to the summers of 2010, 2011, and 2012. It didn't look great but it was in relative good health when I bought the house in 2006. But this is a very muggy microclimate; from what I can tell blue spruces can never last long around here. Simply no big ones like you see up in York and Lancaster Counties PA. Mind you they still look like crap up there, but they are managing to get 40'+ of height in some cases. So it would seem A. concolor had a least a bit of tolerance of prolonged very high humidity and periodically wet soil, "extreme" east coast weather that blue spruce does not. (OTOH, when I drive down to Virginia Beach in summer to see relatives, I'm struck by it feeling even hotter down there, if not more humid per se.) So I wonder: is there some other factor that spells the demise of the top when grafted on firma? Susceptibility to an insect, canker or blight of some kind? I've seen an odd little bug in my firs but there's not evidence it's causing a problem, for now. I have a picture of it on my phone and will try to find and post it later.

    {nb as I think other long timers know I'm at the tip of Ches. Bay, but adding for anyone new reading this thread]


    * and it's possible I'm misreading the way you phrased that, and the A. concolor you tried was in fact not on firma rootstock.

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)
    last month

    Oh I had that folder open already! Here is the bug I've seen in both A. firma and A. recurvata, but never seen signs of it eating needles or in any other way damaging the trees.



  • bengz6westmd
    last month
    last modified: last month

    davidrt -- ladybug larvae. Eats aphids/mites for a living.

  • DeanW45
    last month

    The key with the pots is the total control over soil conditions, with good drainage being the main factor. If a plant can survive the heat in the pot, it is a candidate for planting in the ground. The nice thing about doing this in the miserable summertime climate that we enjoy down here is that no fir grows particularly quickly. And, of the course, the pots also limit growth. I'm still early in this whole process, and I have no idea what I'm going to do when the plants outgrow the biggest pot I can reasonably take care of. Buy more land? :-)

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Haha beng, I had no idea ladybugs start out looking like that.

    "If a plant can survive the heat in the pot, it is a candidate for planting in the ground."

    That's an interesting take on things to me though. In my view there are multiple levels of root rot susceptibility. For example some Rhododendron rexes I bought at RSF could do ok for a year or two in a pot, because...as you say the drainage was probably good, and the various cosmopolitan/endemic root rot organisms not present in a high titer. Plant them out in the garden though...? It's only a matter of time.

    OTOH the Abies lasiocarpa and A. grandis seedlings I ordered from upstate New York ( Treehaven IIRC) were all too happy to die in mid-summer, in pots, when dewpoints got locked above 70F and we had torrential downpours. Versus the Abies delavayi, 4 planted out in the garden, taking up to 4 or maybe 5 years for the root rots to get to the last of them. [insert sad face emoji]

    So yes surviving in a pot make something a candidate, but it doesn't nearly mean one is out of the woods yet! FWIW as I just mentioned in another thread the most spectacular drama queens I've dealt with over the past 3 decades of growing rare plants from seed are the high elevation South African Proteaceae. It's like they come with built-in programming to die if the soil gets too hot or too wet, even for an instant. The first couple hot days around here, and they are kaput, even growing in pure sand. IIRC there's a old post somewhere here on GW where even in the PNW, Ian of Desert NW was thinking he would have to graft those Drakensberg proteas onto the Cape proteas, to survive in the PNW. The issue there being the winter wetness of the soil, but still. Not easy plants to grow, that's for sure. (as also evidence by the fact they are not abundant at all in gardens of coastal UK, where some would undoubtedly be winter hardy. If the English can't conquer a highland plant from some part of the world: watch out!)

  • DeanW45
    last month

    Hi, David. Yeah, I didn't mean to imply the pot-first strategy was always the right way to go - it has just paid the most dividends for my fir situation. If I really had the resources, I'd perform side-by-side comparisons - in-a-pot next to in-ground for each species. And even on suitable rootstock, as you note, they may die. Firma is really helpful, but it's not a panacea. Sometimes, there's no hope.

  • maackia
    Original Author
    last month

    Is Turkish fir (Abies bornmuelleriana) a non-starter in Georgia or the mid-Atlantic? if anyone has it and would like it trialed in the upper Midwest, I would like to volunteer my services. It supposedly handles heat better than Nordman Fir.

    The handul of A. species I’ve tried here have done surprisingly well, with Korean Fir being a complete gem. A. k. ’Silberlocke’ and similar types are all the rage, but the species is exquisite.

  • DeanW45
    last month

    Yes, Korean firs are spectacular.


    The best evidence we have of rootstock suitability in this part of the country is from the Christmas tree growers. They report A. firma has the best resistance to root rot, followed by A. bornmuelleriana. Forgive me for forgetting the exact percentages, but over 90% of Fraser firs grafted on firma survive, while the percentage for Turkish is in the high 80s. So, pretty good survival for Turkish. However, other people report that Turkish on its own roots doesn't survive long-term here in Georgia (whereas A. firma will). I have several firs on Turkish that are in their second year here, and all (one each of koreana, lasiocarpa, and pinsapo) are doing fine (two in the ground and one in a pot, all with varying degrees of partial sun). It's a good sign, as my experience with firs and root rot is that death is usually swift, especially in smaller plants. However, I'm certainly not declaring victory yet.


    In the end, while Turkish may not be a good fir for areas with high heat and humidity, the reason for its poor survival may not have to do (entirely) with its roots. I'm still giving it a go, though, and I've got a handful of Turkish seedlings that I'm watching (I'm in year one of that project).


    I think A. pindrow may also have some resistance to Phytophthora root rot, and there are probably other fir species with some potential. Still, if you are serious about giving your grafts the highest chance of survival down here, A. firma remains the standard.

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)
    last month

    Here is what I very, very informally keyed out as a Nordmann or maybe Turkish fir in the suburbs of DC. Based on some fallen branchlets on the sidewalk. That was over 10 years, glad it is still there.

    https://goo.gl/maps/wCpubQscGQ6SYQuu8

  • DeanW45
    last month

    "Dean it's very surprising to hear that A. concolor failed for you, even on firma rootstock."


    Sorry, David, I missed this post yesterday. I've tried concolor on both firma (three times) and bornmuelleriana (once) and lost all four quickly. All four were cultivars, however, and not species trees, and cultivars can sometimes be finicky. But I'm disinclined to try the species given my experiences.


    I do wonder about rootstock - scion compatibility. All firs are generally considered compatible with all other firs, but it's unlikely that every possible combination has been tried. Nor have these combinations been field tested in every possible environment. Jason Hupp at Western Evergreen used to graft a few cultivars onto firma, but he switched to Turkish because of (he said) compatibility issues. I haven't experienced that, however, and an A. koreana 'Aurea' grafted onto firma that I purchased from him many years ago is one of my best fir performers...

  • maackia
    Original Author
    last month
    last modified: last month

    “All firs are generally considered compatible with all other firs...”

    I didn’t know that. Would an extremely cold hardy fir like balsamea grafted on firma rootstock survive a z3 winter? Or maybe a better way to phrase it: To get a z3 hardy fir, would both top graft and rootstock have to be z3?

    Beng, I take it the needles are not user frirndly? This is an unfortunate trait considering how soft most fir needles are. It’s kind of like Umbrella Magnolia flowers compared to most other magnolias.

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)
    last month
    last modified: last month

    My larger Abies pindrow.



    The split leader was corrected after taking this picture, it was too dark to get a good after pic, for now. I only needed one pole for this one. The Jameson pole trimmer was a gift to myself last year and one of those things that felt immediately like a good investment after buying it. I've already used it all over the yard. A lot of kits on the internet are based on the 6' poles but I think the 8' ones are more flexible, albeit a bit clumsy to handle when doubled. There are 10' and 12' FG poles too, but you'd have to have more upper body strength than I do to use those doubled up! Maybe most people pair those with a shorter extension pole, though.

    Anyhow this seems to be the problem with this tree, even in a climate where late spring freezes are less of a problem that many places in the CONUS, it breaks bud the earliest and has developed more split leaders by far than my other firs. It was burnt in the late freeze this year, but as you can see, easily grew past the damage. Oh well! It's right along one of my 'vehicular access routes' so i will always be able to have a boom truck pull up next to it, to fix its leader!



  • bengz6westmd
    last month
    last modified: last month

    maackia, the new needles are soft, but harden to the point of puncturing your skin and drawing blood. I'm not kidding...

    PS. And don't diss my umbrella magnolia. :) :)


    davidrt, yes, a pole saw is VERY useful on my lot.

  • DeanW45
    last month

    "Or maybe a better way to phrase it: To get a z3 hardy fir, would both top graft and rootstock have to be z3?"


    Yeah, so by compatible I mean immune-wise. Firs are able to form graft unions with other firs without rejection. But you are correct that hardiness issues could still cause graft loss. Firma, for example, is said to not be a cold-hardy rootstock. The roots could still be MORE hardy than the foliage above ground, but I'm not aware of in-depth studies looking at the issue. Commercially, firma is already a more expensive rootstock, so it makes very little sense for growers to experiment with it in colder regions. And folks using it down here are mostly selling to local markets with little intention of shipping plants too far north.


    @davidrt28: Beautiful pindrow! I love the long needles.

  • tsugajunkie z5 SE WI ♱
    last month

    I have had grafters tell me firma rootstock would be iffy here in zone 5.

    tj

  • davidrt28 (zone 7)
    last month

    "cultivars can sometimes be finicky"

    Yeah I've had so much trouble with fir cultivars on firma I'm about to give up on them actually. One issue might be all the ones I've tried are variegated and those plants tend to grow more weakly anyhow, right, so maybe if there's a slight graft incompatibility in magnifies the issue?


  • tsugajunkie z5 SE WI ♱
    last month
    last modified: last month

    I should get more pix of mine. In the mean time, here is my 22 yo, 18 foot lasiocarpa ’Glauca’ bought as a two year graft one foot tall.



    tj

  • maackia
    Original Author
    last month

    TJ, that is fantastic! There’s no substitute for time.