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Conifers of the Year – A Trial in Georgia (32 Replies)

Posted February 10, 2015 at 8:43 pm

Looks like I need to get out more. I drive around and see nothing but Leyland cypresses, Yoshino cryptomeria, arborvitae, and a few deodar cedars. Every once in a while an adventurous soul will throw in a Chamaecyparis obtusa or pisifera. I had no idea we had those big spruces in the area, and I must say I’m especially surprised to hear about the large pungens. Then again, maybe I just don’t know what a really big picea looks like (if you had asked me a year ago to distinguish between a spruce and a fir, I would have stared blankly at you). Road trip to Marietta!

I ordered my Silberlocke (through a local nursery) from Iseli Nursery in Oregon. It’s about three-four feet tall, but I do have a second (much smaller) Silberlocke on confirmed firma rootstock. I decided to hedge my bets once I discovered the Atlanta Botanical Garden specimen was probably grafted onto firma.

I’ve been meaning to make it up to Tom’s place ever since I read his book. In fact, I really wanted to attend the national meeting this year, but by the time I discovered it was being held in my own backyard, my summer plans were in place.


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Posted February 10, 2015 at 8:56 pm

Large Cunninghamia lanceolata on Heards Ferry Rd in Sandy Springs. A lot of Picea abies in East Cobb (and hemlocks galore). A couple of very nice Picea omorika in my neighbourhood (from a local Xmas tree farm, apparently — talked to the owner about it). Picea pungens on Paper Mill Rd just off Johnson Ferry (along with some nice Cedrus atlanticas, and a Boulevard or two). Just down from it on the other side of the road is a 6-8 year old Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’ that’s truly stunning. Lots of things to see if you look around.
Alas, having seen the Silberlocke (and some Abies pinsapo) from Iseli at a local garden center (Gramma B’s), I called their rep to find out its rootstock. It’s on Abies balsamea, which will die here in the ground (might keep it alive longer in a pot, but it’s hard to say) from root rot. Iseli is experimenting with Abies firma rootstock, but they don’t have anything ready for sale yet. Maybe another season or two.
Tom loves to give tours to conifer lovers. Shoot him an email at the arboretum (, and ask when he might be available. Also, Jody Karlin’s garden/nursery is a sight to behold. A must see. And if you’ve not seen Mike Francis’ selection of conifers at Maple Ridge Nursery, you have to go. He has a wonderful garden, and a nice selection of pines, spruces, Chamaecyparis, and soon, hopefully, firs on firma rootstock. One of my favourite places to visit (a longer drive) is Flo Chaffin’s place up in Watkinsville — Specialty Ornamentals. But they’re selling the property this year, and retiring from retail. That said, expect there to be some great sales, and she’s had some fabulous stuff in the past. I’ve picked up some amazing specimens from them (Abies veitchii on firma, Abies concolor on firma, Picea smithiana, etc, etc).

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Posted February 10, 2015 at 9:54 pm

Dean I’ll mention this to the CQ editor and ask him to contact you. This would also be a really useful article on the SE portion of the website as a resource for other gardeners in your area.

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Posted February 11, 2015 at 7:54 am

Dean, thank you for this interesting story. I grow many conifers in decorative containers, which would suffer if just planted in my clay soil, in my Zone 5, especially the Bosnians and Thunder Heads. I would like it very much if you would write up your experiences for an article in CONIFER QUARTERLY. Your story thus far is well on its way to a complete article. Growing Abies in NC is appearing in the Winter CQ. Yours would be a great article of further research in growing certain conifers in the Southeast.

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Posted February 11, 2015 at 9:34 am

Sara and Ron,

Consider me signed up! Again, though, give me a year or two to track how things go.


I’ve done business with both Mike and Flo. I didn’t know that Specialty was shutting down, and I’ll sorry to hear that. I’ll keep an eye out for any sales.

One of the things I really hope we start to see more of (and I think we will) is better information about rootstock on conifer cultivars. Too many times you visit a website or nursery and are told the plant is “grafted” but no information is given about what it’s grafted to. In some cases, the rootstock is equally if not more important than the plant itself. It shows you where assuming will get you, but I had assumed that Iseli would at least graft the Silberlocke onto koreana rootstock. Oh well.


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Posted February 11, 2015 at 10:04 am

Well… put it in a big pot with good drainage. It could last a good while that way. Biggest issue here for balsamea is that, when it gets hot, the roots can’t breathe because the soil is so heavy, and the foliage can’t breathe because it’s so hot and humid. It weakens the plant, and it succumbs to phytophthora. So… some shade to keep it cool in a pot, and good drainage on the roots and you might get it to last a bit longer. I’ve also been reading studies in which phosphonate fertiliser has been used to great effect in staving off phytophthora by massively boosting the plant’s immune response. Hard as heck to find a good source of it here in the US, though, that isn’t meant strictly for golf courses (and sold in the $500 crate). But it might be worth looking into to help your Silberlocke along.

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Posted February 12, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Hi Neil (and everyone else),

I exchanged a few emails with Flo Chaffin over at Specialty Ornamentals, and she says she is NOT retiring. They are moving out of the “bigger plant/retail/wholesale business,” but they plan to continue to propagating and selling plants via mail order. Good news!


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Posted February 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm

Great news! Thanks for the clarification, Dean!

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Posted October 24, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Hi folks,

An update for everyone:

ACS Collectors Conifer of the Year (2006 – 2015)
Pinus cembra ‘Herman’ – Alive in the ground. Planted in May 2015.
Pinus parviflora ‘Tanima-yo-yuki’ – Alive in the ground. Planted in the fall of 2014.
Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Schirrmanns Nordlicht’ – Alive in the ground. Planted in May 2015. This one arrived in rather poor shape, but it hung in there during our recent hot and dry summer. We’ll see how it leafs out in the spring.
Pinus x schwerinii ‘Wiethorst‘ – Alive in a pot. Planted fall 2014. It will probably last one more year in its pot, and then I’m going to have to find space in the ground for it.
Abies koreana ‘Icebreaker‘ – One, on unknown rootstock, died in the ground during its first summer in 2014. Two others (one on firma rootstock and the other on koreana rootstock), both planted in the fall of 2014, have now survived one year.
Picea abies ‘Gold Drift’ – Alive in the ground. Planted fall of 2014.
Pinus mugo ‘Carsten’s’ – Alive in a pot. Planted fall of 2014.
Cunninghamia lanceolata var. konishii ‘Little Leo’ – First one died this summer after being transplanted from a pot to the ground. Replaced it with another one planted in the ground in the early fall 2015.
Sciadopitys verticillata ‘Picola’ – Alive in a pot. Planted fall of 2014.
Cedrus libani var. brevifolia ‘Kenwith’ – Alive in the ground. Planted spring of 2014.
Picea abies ‘Wichtel’ – Died in a pot during the summer of 2015. Planted in fall of 2014. I would consider replacing it, but with Bob Fincham closing up shop, I have no idea where to obtain one.
Pinus parviflora ‘Bergman’ – Alive in the ground. Planted in the fall of 2014.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Chirimen’ – Alive in the ground. Planted in the spring of 2014. I really love this plant.
Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ – Alive in the ground. Planted fall of 2014.
Larix decidua ‘Puli’ – Alive in the ground. Planted fall of 2014. I really babied this plant through the summer, and it’s gratifying that it has made it so far. Still, my hopes aren’t real high that it’s going to be a long-term survivor.
Taxodium distichum ‘Pevé Minaret’ – Alive in the ground. Planted fall of 2014. It struggled this summer, but it survives.
Pinus heldreichii ‘Smidtii’ – Alive in the ground. Originally planted in a pot in 2014, I moved it to the ground in the spring of 2015.
Pinus strobus ‘Niagara Falls’ – Alive in the ground. Planted in fall of 2014. Incidentally, it is showing very significant yellowing and loss of its internal needles, but the branch tips seem just fine.
Picea pungens ‘The Blues’ – Died in the ground. Planted fall of 2014. This cultivar is actually one of the easier COTY cultivars to find in the retail nursery trade (at least around here), but I don’t think I’m going to replace it.
Picea abies ‘Pusch’ – Alive in the ground. Planted fall of 2014.
Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’ – Alive in the ground. Planted fall of 2014. Incidentally, I’ve had terrible luck with other P. omorikas, but this one has done okay so far.
Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb Gold’ – Alive in the ground. Planted in spring of 2012. It lost two major branches in the past several months, transforming a tight bun into something far more asymmetrical. I’m not really sure what the problem is. Fingers remain crossed – it’s a neat little plant.
Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Ogon’ – Alive in the ground. Planted this in the fall of 2012. It continues to do great, and probably remains the fastest growing plant (either gymnosperm or angiosperm, as far as height-obtained is concerned) in my garden.
Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ – Alive in a pot. Planted fall of 2014.

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Posted October 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Well you still have an impressive record! I think that P. pungens would not like your humidity. Our summers are bone dry (humidity below 20% during the day) and they are some of my most reliable performers. They have problems in the PNW where it is much wetter in summer. Some of my Ginkgo do what yours did last fall, and some sort of go crispy and then lose their leaves. My species Ginkgo does what they are supposed to do – the leaves turn yellow and fall off more or less all at once. It’s been in the ground for more than 15 years so it may just be that older ones perform differently, as my cultivars are all less than five years in the ground. All of my Pinus strobus do a really dramatic yellowing of the interior needles and look like hell until the first rainstorm or until one of us attacks them with our hands or a leaf blower. That includes x ‘Wiethorst’. Keep the reports coming!

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