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Show #42/5803: Conifer Kingdom

Summary of Show

What Is A Conifer
Eric would like to talk about conifers from a broader sense. WHAT IS A CONIFER? Compared to maples, oaks, angiosperms things like that, conifers are all gymnosperms, but not all gymnosperms are conifers. There are a few conifers that have berry like fruits, but they are still considered conifers. So that's a little bit confusing. Yews have arils and they've got a fleshy coating on the outside. But the general conception that people have is that a cone is a Woody structure with seeds in it.

Click here for more info

Much Has Happened In The World Of Conifers
So much has HAPPENED IN THE WORLD OF CONIFERS in the last 30 or 40 years. If we scroll back into the 70s and eighties most of what we saw in the landscape were the standards and they are still amazing trees. Many are still in the trade and the bulwark of what we all know in the world of conifers. Let's talk about what that landscape looked like starting in the 1980s. In the 80's the weeping white pine was big. It has long soft needles that were really attractive to people. It has arching branches, a very graceful appearance and a smooth silver trunk. There are lots of things that make it desirable, but eventually it would outgrow places in the landscape and people would have to cut it out in favor of slower growing things. Similar is the Hinoki cypress.

Click here for more info

New Conifers
Eric would like for Sam to walk us through some of the broader categories of conifers and talk about some of the BRAND NEW ones he's really excited about. Let's start with the colorful conifers, the ones that are really, really vibrant, the showstoppers in the garden. One that first comes to mind is a Ruby teardrops, Colorado spruce. Glauca globosa has kind of been the standard, the go-to dwarf blue spruce for awhile. Ruby teardrops has that same compact shape but with bright red cones on all the branch tips in the spring. Another interesting one is the Dragon's eye, a Japanese white pine. It has bands of bright gold variegation that when viewed from the tip of the branch looks like the eye of a dragon.

Click here for more info

Uniquely Shaped Conifers
Another category of conifers that Sam thinks is particularly interesting because they almost become like art forms in the garden or say statues or focal points would be a category that we could call the UNIQUELY SHAPED CONIFERS. Some have almost tortured looking limbs. They're kind of living sculptures. Several that have really been popular are miniature Hinoki Cypress, it's totally different from the other Hinoki cypresses that are commonly available. It's called chirimen. It has a branch structure that looks like a candelabra. Really dense, congested, dark green foliage, makes the limbs look like pipe cleaners.

Click here for more info

Slow Growing Conifers
As mentioned earlier the American garden is smaller today than it was in our grandparents' time. Thus we're looking more and more in the direction of smaller plants but also SLOW GROWING CONIFERS. Let's talk about some of those that are particularly interesting. What's been popular, even the last 15 or 20 years, has been dwarf conifers, but what's now becoming increasingly popular is miniature conifers. They'll grow even slower, usually about one inch or less per year. Several really unique ones are the Tom Thumb gold Oriental spruce. It is a miniature form of the Oriental spruce skylands.

Click here for more info

Conifers With Color In Winter
People like to have plants with COLOR IN THE WINTER because their flowers aren't blooming in the winter so there's been a push for pines that turn bright gold in the winter. One that's very popular, very hardy is mugo pine. And it's very different than the Mugo Pines that probably come to people's mind.

Click here for more info

Rare Conifers
Eric would like to talk about the world of super RARE CONIFERS. Which conifers is Sam particularly excited about right now? Okay, back to the gold pines, there's one that's really unusual. It was a lodgepole pine actually found in Oregon in the Wallowa mountains. A guy was hunting in the winter and saw one tree that was bright gold in the midst the forest of green trees. He actually harvested the tree with his hunting ax, and brought it back to a nursery friend and propagated it. They named it for the a Nez Perce Indian chief named Joseph. The tree turns bright gold in winter and is regular green in the summer. It's a dwarf plant, an Oregon grown plant and just the story with it makes it really popular and highly sought after.

Click here for more info

How New Cultivars Emerge
In the world of conifers Eric finds it really fascinating HOW NEW CULTIVARS EMERGE. With many plants, say like day lilies, we know how that whole process works. You're basically taking the pollen from one, putting it on another one, they're basically trying to combine the traits. It's really more hand breeding. Intentional hybridization. With conifers, one doesn’t really see that. That's not where the new cultivars come from. Eric would like to talk about the different ways that we get new cultivars. For Sam when out in the forest he looks for witches brooms. A lot of people think that sounds strange, but a witches broom is really just a genetic mutation on a tree. It is more compact growing than the rest of the tree and when propagated independent of the parent plant, you have a dwarf variety that's just as slow growing as that original mutation.

Click here for more info

Companion Plants
There are so many wonderful COMPANION PLANTS that go great with conifers. Eric would like to talk about some of the parameters. What does one need to be looking for when getting a conifer garden started and wanting to add some diversity to it. One plant that Sam likes to grow with conifers, because they're so similar in their care and needs, is Japanese Maples.

Click here for more info

Selecting The Right Companion Plant
So the first thing we need to think about in SELECTING THE RIGHT COMPANION PLANTS for conifers has got to be a plant that is going to want to grow in the same soil and environment that conifers grow in. Then we want to provide some contrast. Thus a big leaf plant or even things with really, really fine foliage are great. Think ornamental grasses. Ornamental grasses provide a wonderful, different splash of texture that really sets the conifers off well. Ginkos are another plant that is a natural fit, it's a plant that works well with conifers.

Click here for more info

Care And Maintenance Of Conifers
Eric would like to talk about the CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF CONIFERS. What do we need to be thinking about to make sure that our conifers are going to be happy and healthy? A lot of conifers like a well draining, slightly acidic soil. And that's important for the maples too. A lot of what they use here in their container mix is a pine bark, medium bark.

Click here for more info

LINKS:

Conifer Kingdom
Conifer Kingdom | Shipping Available | Buy Trees Mail Order

Brent Markus
About InstantHedge Oregon & Founder Brent Markus | History, Team

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

Plant List

 

Show #42/5803: Conifer Kingdom

Transcript of Show

In this episode GardenSMART visits a grower that is redefining the way we think about conifers - from dwarf to full size. In 2012 Brent Markus opened his first tree nursery, Conifer Kingdom in Oregon and specializes in growing and distributing unique ornamental conifers and maples to garden centers and landscapers throughout the United States.

Sam Pratt is the resident plant expert, His interest in plants began at a young age, and has a remarkable amount of knowledge regarding the 1000+ varieties at Conifer Kingdom. Most of Sam’s knowledge is self-taught but he additionally studied horticulture shortly after beginning work at Conifer Kingdom. Sam assists customers with plant inquiries, oversees propagation and helps visitors on-site find the ideal plants for their gardens. Sam take us on our journey through Conifer Kingdom where we learn all about dwarf, miniature and full size conifers as well as their perfect companion plants.

Eric meets Sam Pratt and thanks him for joining GardenSMART. Welcome to the show. Eric notes that Conifer Kingdom hosts an amazing selection of conifers and is excited to look through all of this impressive plant material. Sam in turn welcomes Eric and GardenSMART. For Sam this is not just a job, it's also a passion of his. He really likes the different kinds of conifers. And because there are so many different kinds, he thinks it's important to dispel some misconceptions people have about conifers. A lot of people think conifers are evergreens, but that's not the case. Not every evergreen is a pine tree. They have furs and spruce and pines and cedars, all different kinds of things. Even within that, there are various species. And then they have cultivars, different dwarf or weeping ones, over 1200 different varieties amongst all the different species represented here.

Eric would like to talk about conifers from a broader sense. WHAT IS A CONIFER? Compared to maples, oaks, angiosperms things like that, conifers are all gymnosperms, but not all gymnosperms are conifers. There are a few conifers that have berry like fruits, but they are still considered conifers. So that's a little bit confusing. Yews have arils and they've got a fleshy coating on the outside. But the general conception that people have is that a cone is a Woody structure with seeds in it. And that's kind of the case. It doesn't have so much of the fleshy coating on the outside of the fruit, like a peach or a plum. It's a very diverse category. And a must have in every garden.
Top

So much has HAPPENED IN THE WORLD OF CONIFERS in the last 30 or 40 years. If we scroll back into the 70s and eighties most of what we saw in the landscape were the standards and they are still amazing trees. Many are still in the trade and the bulwark of what we all know in the world of conifers. Let's talk about what that landscape looked like starting in the 1980s. In the 80's the weeping white pine was big. It has long soft needles that were really attractive to people. It has arching branches, a very graceful appearance and a smooth silver trunk. There are lots of things that make it desirable, but eventually it would outgrow places in the landscape and people would have to cut it out in favor of slower growing things. Similar is the Hinoki cypress. Chrysalis was a really popular Hinoki Cypress that grows very large, it has grown out of favor now that we have Nana Gracilis, which is a more dwarf form, but still has the same structure and the same Japanese aesthetic that a lot of people like.

In the 1990s we started to see some new varieties creeping in and they started to change the landscape quite a bit. Several were catching on in the early nineties. The Silberlocke Korean Fir is still very popular today. The curved needles really allow the bright silvery white undersides to show. And it also has a heavy cone set, so you get a lot of ornamental cones in the spring and summer. Just a lot of things to recommend that tree and it's a naturally slower growing so it fits in a lot of different landscapes. The Weeping Spruce was another popular tree in the 90s, as was Gold Drift which is still largely unknown today. It was found as a golden branch mutation of the typical weeping Norway spruce, which is very, very over planted. It can very quickly outgrow spots too. So gold drift is a little more dwarf and a little bit more sculptural too. So it's just a a more superior variety.

Walking the grounds of Conifer Kingdom provides a wonderful picture of where things are now. There are thousands and thousands of cultivars. It's more than really anyone can keep up with and can get pretty overwhelming but there are a lot of people who are just fanatical about it. They find new varieties and even if they don't have any particular attribute to recommend they are collecting names. It's kind of like the more the merrier sort of thing. But Sam thinks it's important to be a little bit discerning about what is produced on a large scale. You want to only produce things that are really different from other, similar things. And, they need to be garden worthy. Eric remembers the first time he planted peve minaret in his garden and it was amazing but now there is a dwarf version of this amazing, noble tree. Sam thinks that a lot of what previously were the standards were really impractical for the modern garden because they would get so big. So now what's happening is we're getting these wonderful either variegated or gold foliage plants especially with the dwarf plants. And that's what has really opened the door as far as conifers entering the modern American garden, which is getting smaller as time goes on. The larger trees worked if one had a giant estates. But not so much with smaller yards. Now there are options.

And things like peve minaret don't mind it wet. There are a lot of conifers now that are catching on because a lot of people have poor draining soil and that's another a nice thing that the bounty of different cultivars has produced. There are more versatile options for hardy climates and tough sites. Especially as far as taxodium and metasequoia go some of those don't mind having wet feet.

What are some of the new cutting edge conifers that are particularly important or particularly nice for the garden? That's kind of hard, almost like asking a parent to pick their favorite kid. And, there are a lot of different interesting conifers. It really depends on the application. But one important thing to keep in mind is - What works in your region? One needs to consider the tolerance of soil for example. There are a lot of interesting firs for people in hot and humid climates like along the mid Atlantic or in the Southeast. The Horseman Silberlocke may have struggled in those areas in the past, but now it's being grafted onto Abies Firma, a root stock that's more tolerant of those climates. And they're able to thrive now like they never did before. So even beyond just the different varieties that are being introduced, there are new propagation techniques that also make them more accessible. And that is where your local garden center can come in handy. They can advise what works in your area. As far as what we want in our garden get a sense of what works in your area because that's the most important thing for gardeners outside of the color and texture. We need to know does it actually want to grow in our location? And that's really the root of what a green thumb is - putting a plant in the right place.
Top

Eric would like for Sam to walk us through some of the broader categories of conifers and talk about some of the BRAND NEW ones he's really excited about. Let's start with the colorful conifers, the ones that are really, really vibrant, the showstoppers in the garden. One that first comes to mind is a Ruby teardrops, Colorado spruce. Glauca globosa has kind of been the standard, the go-to dwarf blue spruce for awhile. Ruby teardrops has that same compact shape but with bright red cones on all the branch tips in the spring. Another interesting one is the Dragon's eye, a Japanese white pine. It has bands of bright gold variegation that when viewed from the tip of the branch looks like the eye of a dragon. It is really popular for Japanese gardens and holds its' color all year. We talked about peve minaret earlier. It's a favorite of the deciduous conifers. And there are a lot of new deciduous conifers that have come on the market. It’s a wonderful category of plants as well. They don't mind it wet, generally speaking, they like the wetter soil, which also makes them very useful. But a couple others that are very interesting would be a dwarf weeping form of the Dawn Redwood. People love the Dawn redwoods for its soft feathery foliage. And the variety miss grace, has kind of a gray blue foliage, it's just a nice cascading form with a bright copper color in the fall, which is really stunning. Another dwarf variety, is a variegated Dawn Redwood called Shirrmann's Nordlicht which basically translates to North light. It’s got little white tips in the spring and kind of purple twigs. So you've got a lot of different colors going on all throughout the growing season and it stays a compact shrub, about four feet tall, even after 10 years.
Top

Another category of conifers that Sam thinks is particularly interesting because they almost become like art forms in the garden or say statues or focal points would be a category that we could call the UNIQUELY SHAPED CONIFERS. Some have almost tortured looking limbs. They're kind of living sculptures. Several that have really been popular are miniature Hinoki Cypress, it's totally different from the other Hinoki cypresses that are commonly available. It's called chirimen. It has a branch structure that looks like a candelabra. Really dense, congested, dark green foliage, makes the limbs look like pipe cleaners. Another one that Sam really likes is the green prince Cedar of Lebanon. There are not many cultivars of the Cedar of Lebanon, but it has a kind of a natural bonsai look. It's got layered branching, a real interesting aesthetic to it that kind of makes it look, even though it's from Lebanon, like a Japanese plant. It fits into a Japanese garden very well. A number of ground covering pines have recently become available. Typically when thinking ground cover, people think of junipers. But these Pines are just as drought tolerant. They don't have the problems with disease that a lot of the junipers do and have a little bit more of a unique texture. Because in the pine family, they have a lot of different needle lengths and colors available.
Top

As mentioned earlier the American garden is smaller today than it was in our grandparents' time. Thus we're looking more and more in the direction of smaller plants but also SLOW GROWING CONIFERS. Let's talk about some of those that are particularly interesting. What's been popular, even the last 15 or 20 years, has been dwarf conifers, but what's now becoming increasingly popular is miniature conifers. They'll grow even slower, usually about one inch or less per year. Several really unique ones are the Tom Thumb gold Oriental spruce. It is a miniature form of the Oriental spruce skylands. It was found as a witch's broom on one of these Skyland trees. It's a miniature bun shaped Oriental spruce. It's bright gold, doesn't mind the shade and it just stays about one foot tall even after 10 years, which is really nice for a small urban landscape. Hedgehog is another really slow growing tree. It doesn't get more than about 18 inches tall and forms a wide kind of carpet about four feet wide. But that's after 10 or 15 years. So another really slow growing tree that's a really good choice for smaller gardens.
Top

People like to have plants with COLOR IN THE WINTER because their flowers aren't blooming in the winter so there's been a push for pines that turn bright gold in the winter. One that's very popular, very hardy is mugo pine. And it's very different than the Mugo Pines that probably come to people's mind. It's very low, a dense mound and it turns bright amber gold in the winter, then is dark green the rest of the year. So it's a nice evergreen shrub, but then has a burst of color in the winter. The average conifer collector, often can't get enough of the new weird, rare conifers. Some are garden worthy, some are simply dirt worthy.
Top

Eric would like to talk about the world of super RARE CONIFERS. Which conifers is Sam particularly excited about right now? Okay, back to the gold pines, there's one that's really unusual. It was a lodgepole pine actually found in Oregon in the Wallowa mountains. A guy was hunting in the winter and saw one tree that was bright gold in the midst the forest of green trees. He actually harvested the tree with his hunting ax, and brought it back to a nursery friend and propagated it. They named it for the a Nez Perce Indian chief named Joseph. The tree turns bright gold in winter and is regular green in the summer. It's a dwarf plant, an Oregon grown plant and just the story with it makes it really popular and highly sought after. For years folks actually thought that the wollemi pine was extinct, but they rediscovered it in a remote area of Australia in 1994. It’s rare, certainly unique. Recently there have been new species of conifers being discovered or rediscovered. Some were previously only known via fossil records. Another pine that is a little bit more versatile is the Japanese black pine called Ogi, Ogi Matsu. It has a crystate branch structure, kind of forms a fan shape of new growth. Another term for it is a coxcomb because it looks like the coxcomb on a rooster. But just that weird mutated branch creates these interesting sculptural forms at the end of all the branches and that makes it a really desirable garden plant for Japanese gardens. And it is really slow growing.
Top

In the world of conifers Eric finds it really fascinating HOW NEW CULTIVARS EMERGE. With many plants, say like day lilies, we know how that whole process works. You're basically taking the pollen from one, putting it on another one, they're basically trying to combine the traits. It's really more hand breeding. Intentional hybridization. With conifers, one doesn’t really see that. That's not where the new cultivars come from. Eric would like to talk about the different ways that we get new cultivars. For Sam when out in the forest he looks for witches brooms. A lot of people think that sounds strange, but a witches broom is really just a genetic mutation on a tree. It is more compact growing than the rest of the tree and when propagated independent of the parent plant, you have a dwarf variety that's just as slow growing as that original mutation. So a lot of our dwarf conifers are derived in that way. It's super cool, it's not known specifically what causes the witch's broom, but there is some kind of cellular damage or insect virus, it could be any number of things, or just a branch that mutates. So you've got the parent plant that's a little more open, longer petals or longer needles then the witch's broom, the result is always something that's denser, more compact, it's going to be super dwarf compared to the parent. A lot of these really cool new cultivars are coming from that source. And the slower growing ones are desirable for smaller landscapes. Another way that we find some interesting cultivars is from branch mutation, a lot of the colorful conifers were found as a branch mutation on otherwise ordinary conifers. For instance a green Norway spruce with a gold branch. That can yield a beautiful variety like gold drift which has a bright yellow color, but with the same weeping characteristics of its parent. There is a third way which is less common but that is a seedling variation. A lot of those are found in the wild. It's almost never an intentional hybridization as in the case of day lilies discussed earlier. An example would be a Colorado spruce would typically have really horizontal branching. But this spruce has ascending branching. It's name is blue totem, because it looks like a totem pole and it's bright blue. Things like this people either found in seedling production at a nursery or just out in the wild on a hike or even driving along the freeway. There's a lot of different variation among plants naturally occurring in that way. These are important selections. It's a whole new application of that plant. There might be places where you need something that's going to be really tall and slender and you don't want a tree that's going to be 20 or 30 feet wide. Well now this opens up the new possibilities for that plant and it allows it to go in places that it couldn't otherwise.

Let's say that we have a site in our garden, we know basically from a form and color standpoint what we want and want to put a toe in the water with some of these rare, unusual conifers. Where should we start, where would we find these unusual plants? One thing to keep in mind is that some of the more unusual ones can be a bit more challenging to grow. But, plants like this would typically be found at online rare plant nurseries. Mail order is ideal for the newest of the new stuff. Or consult with Conifer Kingdom about what would be ideal for your garden. They really aim to offer the best of the new stuff. Every year some new varieties are being released, many exclusive things actually originate here in Oregon where there's a bounty of different places that are working with unique plants. It's just a great growing climate in the Willamette Valley. And being able to ship all over the U S makes these plants accessible to anyone anywhere in the lower 48.
Top

There are so many wonderful COMPANION PLANTS that go great with conifers. Eric would like to talk about some of the parameters. What does one need to be looking for when getting a conifer garden started and wanting to add some diversity to it. One plant that Sam likes to grow with conifers, because they're so similar in their care and needs, is Japanese Maples. The red ones especially add a lot of color that the conifers just don't have. They both like a slightly acidic, well draining soil. That makes them really tolerant of the same conditions. And the fall colors too are just a really nice contrast with a lot of the more rigid textures and darker colors of the conifers.

Even with so much diversity in the world of conifers, we are still dealing mostly with a lot of different green to greenish blue, even chartreuse foliage. We don't see a lot of big bold purples. So the weeping red bud with the purple leaf form is a wonderful companion. You get that almost blackish foliage throughout the year. Also in the winter or early spring those beautiful bright pink flowers create a great contrast against the backdrop of conifers. And the texture of the leaves as well as the shape of them is really different than the more coarse needle texture of most of the conifers.
Top

So the first thing we need to think about in SELECTING THE RIGHT COMPANION PLANTS for conifers has got to be a plant that is going to want to grow in the same soil and environment that conifers grow in. Then we want to provide some contrast. Thus a big leaf plant or even things with really, really fine foliage are great. Think ornamental grasses. Ornamental grasses provide a wonderful, different splash of texture that really sets the conifers off well. Ginkos are another plant that is a natural fit, it's a plant that works well with conifers. With ginkgos people have previously been concerned with the fact that they're male or female because females dropped the smelly fruits and are messy. But they're growing so many varieties that are sterile because they're dwarf, so they don't actually ever reach a flowering or fruiting maturity. There are over a hundred varieties of them but we're really narrowing it down to just a core 15 or 20 that are unique and have a great leaf shape. There are some weeping ones that are really stunning. They also like the same type of soil and they're great for areas in the Southeast where some of the conifers might ordinarily struggle.
Top

Eric would like to talk about the CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF CONIFERS. What do we need to be thinking about to make sure that our conifers are going to be happy and healthy? A lot of conifers like a well draining, slightly acidic soil. And that's important for the maples too. A lot of what they use here in their container mix is a pine bark, medium bark. It’s small enough that it allows some of the water to soak in, but it's not fine enough that it's going to be like a saturated mud. There needs to be a balance. Sam thinks that if people add some compost to their gardens their conifers should do great.

It's always exciting to see what's new and innovative in the world of gardening. Today we visited a farm that is pushing the boundaries on the way we think about rare and unusual conifers. Eric thanks Sam for his time, we’ve had a wonderful day. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. Sam in turn thanks Eric and GardenSMART for visiting Conifer Kingdom.
Top

LINKS:

Conifer Kingdom
Conifer Kingdom | Shipping Available | Buy Trees Mail Order

Brent Markus
About InstantHedge Oregon & Founder Brent Markus | History, Team

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

Plant List


   
 
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