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Show #43/5804: Propagating Trees

Summary of Show

Difference Between A Cultivar And Species
From Nancy’s point of view the difference is PREDICTABLE PERFORMANCE. Seedlings are great, but say you wanted a tree with specific characteristics. You're in love with Tupelo and it's beautiful red fall color, you go buy one at the garden center and for the next 20 years you're disappointed that the fall color was yellow or just so and so.

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Advantages Of Cultivars
Nancy mentioned columnar selections. Landscape architects now are able to specify trees that can fit into a very small space because they know that whatever the chosen tree is it is never going to get more than about six feet wide. If you were working with a seedling, there's almost no chance that that's going to work out. And with the trend in housing, houses are getting bigger, lots getting smaller, there's just not room for great big shade trees. So if you use a CULTIVAR, you'll know what you're getting, not only the color and the shape but the ability for it to perform in urban settings. One of J. Frank Schmidt's first criteria is that their trees need to be vigorous. They need to have really good vigor because vigor in the nursery indicates vigor out in the landscape. Thus they're looking for the athletes really. It's performance first and beauty second.

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Selection Process
Eric would next like to talk about how the SELECTION PROCESS happens. When looking for cultivar, are there a number of ways that they can be selected or developed? How does that typically happen? That occurs several ways. Over the years, Schmidt has introduced or co-introduced more than a hundred specific cultivars. One of those avenues is their customers or plant breeders will discover a tree and bring it to them and say - "Hey, this is something special. We think this has potential as a cultivar.” They will have them send wood and cuttings, they'll propagate some and basically plan it out and look at it for five years, maybe 10 years, and decide whether it really is unique. Another route is their own breeding program. There are several avenues, hybridize is one.

Click here for more info

Branch Sports
As well sometimes BRANCH SPORTS can occur. Probably most of the gold foliage or variegation that we see in cultivar selections typically originated from a standard green form, there will be a mutation and that's called a branch sport. It may have that one golden branch on an otherwise green plant and that's how they get the golden version of that plant.

Click here for more info

Take The Plants Into The Field
Nancy says - That's a big ... How many hours do we have? They're trying to build good roots. That's what they do here is MAKE GOOD ROOTS AND STRAIGHT TOPS. It takes anywhere from three to five to seven years, generally five to seven years for the trees they produce before they send them on to other growers. For example, Nancy shows us an oak that they developed that is about a four year tree, about four years in the making, and they’ll be selling it this year. They start out with the under stalks, then grow it for a year just trying to develop some roots. Then the next year, they develop the top, which will be the whip year, the one year tree. They will sell quite a few of the trees at that stage.

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Plants Nancy Is Excited About
Eric would like to talk about some of the trees Nancy is really excited about, SOME OF THE WINNERS. They're standing beside Streetspire, which is an amazing tree. And of course, seeing the finished product of all this work, Eric can definitely see why this was one of Nancy's selections. Streetspire was probably 40 years in the making from the time that Keith Warren, their plant director, who has since retired, started crossing the White Oak with English Oak to get a hybrid. This is one of the trees. Skinny Genes is another one, but this one is special because it has really nice orange fall foliage and kind of an orange flesh when it leafs out.

Click here for more info

Zelkova - City Sprite
Nancy shows Eric another tree she really likes. It's a dwarf, a small stature Zelkova called CITY SPRITE. It was discovered in their seedlings. It was like, hey, that one is growing slower than the others. It's more compact, it has short inner nodes between the leaves. City Sprite has proven to be just a really nice compact little street tree. It's a really good shade tree for small lots. Eric could see so many great applications for this tree. There are a number of wonderful Zelkova cultivars, for example Green Vase, is an industry standard in many applications.

Click here for more info

Armstrong Gold
Another Eric would like for Nancy to touch on, because he thinks it's a very important new cultivar, is ARMSTRONG GOLD. Schmidt is growing quite a few of these, it's a tree that's really making an impact. And one could see the difference between Armstrong and Armstrong Gold in the field - tighter, shorter inner nodes, more compact growth and it stays narrow. It's just a real tidy tree and an improvement over the old standard, which is a great tree, but this one they think is a little bit better.

Click here for more info

LINKS:

J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. Wholesale Tree Growers

Nancy Buley
J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. - Nancy Buley Awards

Oregon Garden Resort
A Rustic Hotel Retreat in Silverton, Oregon - Oregon Garden Resort

Plant List

 

Show #43/5804: Propagating Trees

Transcript of Show

In this Episode GardenSMART visits one of America's premier in-ground tree farms to take a behind the scenes look at what is involved in taking a plant from cutting to market. How does a tree make it market, how long does that take? All questions we strive to answer in this show.

For 70 years, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Company has been growing new ideas. They're the originators of the well known Red Sunset maple and have introduced more than 50 other patented or trademarked cultivars. Their company is known as a premier source of up to date deciduous tree cultivars and new introductions. More than 500 varieties and cultivars of deciduous trees are carefully grown on their rich Willamette Valley soils in the heart of Oregon, the nursery state.

Eric meets with Nancy Buley, the Communications Director of J. Frank Schmidt. Nancy, a horticulturist with many years in the industry, takes us on a behind the scenes tour of what a day looks like in their life. Eric welcomes Nancy and thanks her for joining us. Nancy in turn thanks Eric and GardenSMART for visiting J. Frank Schmidt & Son.

Eric thinks it's been almost a decade since he was last here and every time he visits it's a wonderful experience. There has been so much investment and innovation into cultivars and improved plant selections over the many, many years that J. Schmidt has been in business, it's quite a process and a labor of love. It does take quite a finiacial commitment and decades to come up with good trees and to actually trial them correctly. Eric would like to walk our viewers through the process of what it takes. When we see a river birch out there or an October Glory red maple, those cultivar names actually signify something important and differentiates them from a seedling. So let's talk about that difference first. What is the difference between a named cultivar or just the genus and species?

From Nancy’s point of view the difference is PREDICTABLE PERFORMANCE. Seedlings are great, but say you wanted a tree with specific characteristics. You're in love with Tupelo and it's beautiful red fall color, you go buy one at the garden center and for the next 20 years you're disappointed that the fall color was yellow or just so and so. With a cultivar that's been selected for its fall color, like some of their red maples like October Glory or Red Point, you know that you're going to get that red fall color or you know that it's going to perform well, that it's going to be a certain size or height spread, that it'll fit. It's a columnar maple or a columnar oak, so it'll fit in your yard, and that's the beauty of asexual propagated trees that are cultivars. They have predictable performance.

With any seedling, there's going to be a degree of genetic variability. In some cases that variability could be enormous. You could have anything from a really nice well formed tree with good fall color to something that's rangy and not even attractive. And in some cases, that tree does not even work for your selected spot.
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Nancy mentioned columnar selections. Landscape architects now are able to specify trees that can fit into a very small space because they know that whatever the chosen tree is it is never going to get more than about six feet wide. If you were working with a seedling, there's almost no chance that that's going to work out. And with the trend in housing, houses are getting bigger, lots getting smaller, there's just not room for great big shade trees. So if you use a CULTIVAR, you'll know what you're getting, not only the color and the shape but the ability for it to perform in urban settings. One of J. Frank Schmidt's first criteria is that their trees need to be vigorous. They need to have really good vigor because vigor in the nursery indicates vigor out in the landscape. Thus they're looking for the athletes really. It's performance first and beauty second. Also, there are plants that have had issues with disease or insect pressure. Through cultivar selection those issues, in many instances, have been addressed. American elm is a great example. They nearly vanished from the landscape because of elm disease, but now we're seeing that tree is making a bit of a resurgence with selections like Princeton and Sanchez. They are more resistant to the disease. So we have this wonderful, dear, nostalgic American street tree that we nearly lost, but through cultivar selection they were able to steer certain plants away from things that were problematic. Thirty years ago, they grew no elms and now grow at least 15 or so, and have done that through working generally with universities and arboretums and others who helped them trial like the U.S. National Arboretum. That's one of the things they do is collaborate on a high level with universities and arboretums who help them determine whether the trees that they've selected are going to work in different regions.
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Eric would next like to talk about how the SELECTION PROCESS happens. When looking for cultivar, are there a number of ways that they can be selected or developed? How does that typically happen? That occurs several ways. Over the years, Schmidt has introduced or co-introduced more than a hundred specific cultivars. One of those avenues is their customers or plant breeders will discover a tree and bring it to them and say - "Hey, this is something special. We think this has potential as a cultivar.” They will have them send wood and cuttings, they'll propagate some and basically plan it out and look at it for five years, maybe 10 years, and decide whether it really is unique. Another route is their own breeding program. There are several avenues, hybridize is one. One tree began as seedlings of red maple, they were looking specifically for a columnar maple that would be better than Armstrong maple. So these trees are Armstrong Gold and it's looking great. Schmidt introduced it a few years ago. Red Point maple was an example of looking for an improved red maple. Red Sunset was one of their first introductions. And, one that really hit it big. That was 1966. So it's been a really great, successful introduction for many, many years. Red Sunset and October Glory are standards. Red Point is their improvement over Red Sunset and was 17 years in the making. Their plant breeder, Keith Warren observed it, trialed it, they then trialed it all over the country and decided this is it. So they introduced it as Red Point and that was after 17 years. They also find seedlings in their rows that are outstanding. An example is snow cone snowbell, which is a sweet little upright. If you picture a snow cone plopped upside down at your county fair, it has that inverted shape. It was one they found in the field.

Another avenue is universities. Pink Cascade Cherry, is an example and an improvement over the typical Weeping Pink cascading cherry. It has really good disease resistance. It was brought to Schmidt by Tom Ranney at North Carolina State who's a really outstanding plant breeder. So they trialed it. Then it needs to be a good production plant so that they can grow them and sell them profitably. But also, will it work and where? Will it work in this region? Thus they also trial trees at 40 different sites, mostly universities, some nurseries, to determine regional suitability.

And then sometimes with some trees someone will see a tree in the landscape that looks good. Hey, that's different. Zelkova was a local street tree that had a low spreading form rather than the typical upright Zelkova. So there are lots of different pathways that a tree might follow to come to their attention, then to market. But typically either from seedling blocks or things found in nature.
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As well sometimes BRANCH SPORTS can occur. Probably most of the gold foliage or variegation that we see in cultivar selections typically originated from a standard green form, there will be a mutation and that's called a branch sport. It may have that one golden branch on an otherwise green plant and that's how they get the golden version of that plant. And some of the variegated plants are that way too, they come from a branch sport. And those have to be trialed for a number of years to make sure they won't revert. Sometimes they do. So it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort.

Moving on — so we've made our selection, we've narrowed it down to that one tree, this is the one that they want to make it out into the trade. What do you do next? Before it goes out in the trade, they have to make sure that it will grow well as a field crop, then they start bulking it up. They start out with one tree, which like some of their crab apples started out as a block of 5,000 seedlings and those might have come from specific crosses where you collect the pollen off one tree, hand pollinated those flowers and then isolated them, harvested the seed, then planted them. From that block of 5,000 seedlings, maybe pick out 500 that look good. A couple years later, pick 50 that look good. Five years later, five that look really, really good. Then that's the one. They generally need to have about a thousand trees before they introduce, so they have to plan for that introduction, take the time and get the numbers, and then have numbers behind it. The market rules whether their customers will like those trees, whether they'll work in certain areas, it just takes time. It really takes about 10 years for a tree, a new tree, to be widely available.

One thing that's very important when they’ve made the selection, they want those traits they’ve selected that tree for to be what ends up being out in the field. Otherwise, it's definitionally not a cultivar. So what they're going to do and Nancy shows us some great examples, you can see they have little stem cuttings. It's maybe about a four inch piece of stem material that's then treated with a rooting hormone and stuck in a container. By cutting properly they can then make two copies, then a third copy and then a fourth copy. So that's how you build the numbers up and how that is accomplished. In this case through vegetative propagation. You could also bud or graft a plant if it doesn't like to be on its own roots. So let's say that it doesn't root well or the quality of that root system is not what they want, you can then use budding or grafting. The tree has to have good anchorage. A lot of trees do not do well if they're on their own root. At Schmidt they're always looking for plants with strong roots. But sometimes you just don't get the right combination or conditions to get that strong root. And that can be a challenge with certain cultivars. If working with a cutting, the root structure of a cutting is very different than the root structure of a seed. Of course the seed has this little packet of energy. It's going to form a taproot in most cases, and then the lateral roots, so it's structurally very different than a cutting. If they were to stick this little chunk of this tree in the soil it could have one root coming off one side. Of course, that's not going to work. Or it could have 15 roots, which is typically the case with a maple, then they've got something that can actually make it to the field. They'll take this out of the pot when it's well rooted. Their workers trim these, trim them pretty hard and then it'll be transplanted. This'll probably go into a transplant bed for a year and then it'll be transplanted again to the field. And from there it will start growing. So it's about three years before it actually gets into the field where it'll be grown into a tree.

So we’ve now seen the work that goes on in the greenhouse, Eric would like to now go into the field and take a look at some of these amazing cultivars. As discussed earlier, there's a lot that goes into designing and developing a cultivar. Now we've made our selection, we've rooted our cuttings, or we've done our budding and grafting, so now we have our little plants. What J. Frank Schmidt does is take those little plants and basically grows them into something that can either be sold in market or lined out for other tree growers to turn into really, really big trees. Kind of walk us through that whole process from the rooted cutting to the finished tree.
Top

Nancy says - That's a big ... How many hours do we have? They're trying to build good roots. That's what they do here is MAKE GOOD ROOTS AND STRAIGHT TOPS. It takes anywhere from three to five to seven years, generally five to seven years for the trees they produce before they send them on to other growers. For example, Nancy shows us an oak that they developed that is about a four year tree, about four years in the making, and they’ll be selling it this year. They start out with the under stalks, then grow it for a year just trying to develop some roots. Then the next year, they develop the top, which will be the whip year, the one year tree. They will sell quite a few of the trees at that stage. But they also take other trees onto two year, what they call a two year and a three year tree, which is about an inch and a half caliper. And all along the way they’re pruning and staking. This has a metal stake they'll tape it to so that it goes nice and straight up the stake. They're always trying to make sure it has a straight top, a good central leader, and good branching. And just because they've made a great selection doesn't necessarily mean they're going to be able to maximize the traits they selected it for. So if they don't put all the work into it, they still could have this amazing selection that lands in the market not looking like intended. So a lot of work goes into the pruning and the staking, making sure that the root system is quality. So many times during the life of that plant, the roots are going to be pruned in the same way that the tops going to be pruned, because when they prune those roots, they're going to branch the same way that the top would branch. One doesn't see that because it's underground, but it's very, very important and it can't be missed. And if they don't root prune the way they need to when they actually go to sell this tree, it might have survival issues because the root system could be really, really coarse. So all of those little details go into making this plant something amazing. And of course, that's what Schmidt focuses on every single year, what can they do to build the strongest root system, build the straightest trunk. Then on many trees, like say the maples, they are also building good structural branches. What they're thinking about is year three, four or five to make sure that when they finally see that tree 15-20 years from now, when it's basically an adult, it is showing off the glory of that selection that might've taken 20-30 years to actually develop.

Roots were mentioned. Oaks tend to be problematic in rooting. They're hard to transplant. So this particular field is in root bags, which control the roots and concentrate the roots within that bag. That’s just one of the many custom things they do for the roots on this hybrid Oak. And the roots grow better in this kind of a root bag. And that just comes from the experience of knowing the trees and taking all those little extra steps along the way to make sure that from the beginning to the end they're building the strongest and highest quality plant possibly. There are so many amazing plants that Schmidt has released over the years and as discussed earlier, probably five times that many ended up not making it all the way. The process of developing cultivars, takes a lot work.
Top

Eric would like to talk about some of the trees Nancy is really excited about, SOME OF THE WINNERS. They're standing beside Streetspire, which is an amazing tree. And of course, seeing the finished product of all this work, Eric can definitely see why this was one of Nancy's selections. Streetspire was probably 40 years in the making from the time that Keith Warren, their plant director, who has since retired, started crossing the White Oak with English Oak to get a hybrid. This is one of the trees. Skinny Genes is another one, but this one is special because it has really nice orange fall foliage and kind of an orange flesh when it leafs out. One of the important things about it is it drops its leaves cleanly in the fall which is ideal for people who want to have a nice clean leaf drop, they don’t want to be sweeping leaves or raking leaves later on. It’s also good for areas where snow loads are a consideration because it doesn't have leaves left on and the additional weight might break its branches. Another columnar oak is an example of their introductions, this is Beacon Oak and was brought to Schmidt by Dr. Michael Dirr. It is a Swamp White Oak, it has a columnar form and the Quercus bicolor is really unusual. One can see the goal of a new cultivar is to bring something new to that genus and species and in every case it should be an improvement of some kind. Whether it brings additional disease, insect and pest resistance or in this case really interesting columnar forms it’s opening up a whole new world as to where these trees can be used. One of the criteria for this tree was mildew resistance, which is a problem in English Oaks. So it's highly mildew resistance and also gets fall color from the White Oak.

What are some others that you really like? A couple of the trees that they’ve recently introduced, part of that breeding program that takes native trees and selects cultivars of native trees. One good example they've developed is a couple of tupelo black gum's - Firestarter and Afterburner. What they were selecting for was upright growth habit, a strong central leader and consistent fall color. So now they have a couple of really great cultivars of that species. Another bicolor, Quercus bicolor is American Dream Oak. It has a really exceptional tight form. It's a good one. June Snow Dogwood is one that they've had out for quite a few years. It's a nice performer and it's turned out to be much more adaptable than they initially thought it would be. It's successful in the southeast, Colorado, and over the years they've learned it's a lot more adaptable than they had originally thought it would be.

They have some new crab apples, Sparkling Sprite and Raspberry coming on that are great. Both are disease resistant and low maintenance. There are so, so many great trees it's opening up a whole new world to gardeners, landscapers and homeowners. It’s so exciting just seeing how everything's changing.
Top

Nancy shows Eric another tree she really likes. It's a dwarf, a small stature Zelkova called CITY SPRITE. It was discovered in their seedlings. It was like, hey, that one is growing slower than the others. It's more compact, it has short inner nodes between the leaves. City Sprite has proven to be just a really nice compact little street tree. It's a really good shade tree for small lots. Eric could see so many great applications for this tree. There are a number of wonderful Zelkova cultivars, for example Green Vase, is an industry standard in many applications. For example, put it into an urban planter, there are a number of wonderful reasons to plant Zelkova. It's fast growing, the limbs stay out of the way, but in many cases these old standards like Green Vase just get a little too big when what you really want is something that's smaller. So City Sprite is a wonderful innovation inside of that species. And when mature is probably about two thirds the size of Green Vase and other standard varieties. It also has a really nice fall color. It's really catching on, customers love it. Thus Schmidt is growing them as fast as they can.
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Another Eric would like for Nancy to touch on, because he thinks it's a very important new cultivar, is ARMSTRONG GOLD. Schmidt is growing quite a few of these, it's a tree that's really making an impact. And one could see the difference between Armstrong and Armstrong Gold in the field - tighter, shorter inner nodes, more compact growth and it stays narrow. It's just a real tidy tree and an improvement over the old standard, which is a great tree, but this one they think is a little bit better. It's just nudging it forward. Another that Eric noticed is a cultivar Paperbark maple and there are almost no cultivars inside of Acer griseum so it's really exciting to see some innovation happening there. Nancy thinks it fun to walk the fields with Eric because he notices something new and comments "Hey, there's something different about that." And indeed there is, this Acer griseum Fireburst came about as probably a 20 year project of picking the best and most interesting seedlings out of their field production. But they started saying, "Hey, this one's different. this one has better fall color, this has better form." They even have a columnar one that is not yet introduced, but you'll see it one of these days. But in the meantime with Fireburst one can count on having really good bark and color and real good leaf quality. If there were a top 10 it would be really hard to decide which would be included. But this a good choice. It's a really successful tree.

In this Episode we've taken a walk through the fields of one of America's premier nurseries and learned a lot about what it takes to produce one of the best trees in America. Eric knows that a lot of work goes into these trees and it’s obvious Nancy loves what she’s doing. Seeing all of these new and amazing trees coming into the market, seeing the improvement from decade to decade as these trees evolve and the new cultivars is an amazing experience. Thanks Nancy for spending time with us. It’s been amazing.
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LINKS:

J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. Wholesale Tree Growers

Nancy Buley
J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. - Nancy Buley Awards

Oregon Garden Resort
A Rustic Hotel Retreat in Silverton, Oregon - Oregon Garden Resort

Plant List


   
 
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