Stark's misleading tree sizes & their rootstocks

hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)April 29, 2013

I inquired a few days ago to Stark Bros about their rootstock choices. I bought from them YEARS ago, back in the early/mid 90s. Their stock was always good but it seemed that "dwarf" trees weren't always so dwarf, and sometimes they embellished their variety descriptions. Still, they seemed to have decent customer service & the stock itself was good.

I see they're one of the few suppliers left out there of "Superior" plum, so I figured I'd see what they're growing on.

The list of rootstocks was rather interesting to say the least - this was in the .pdf the emailed me:


This is a list of the âÂÂmost likelyâ rootstock for the trees we sell.

Peach and Nectarine

Dwarf - Peach Redleaf (seedling)
Standard -- Lovell

Dwarf - M26 or M9
Semi Dwarf - M7 or B118
Standard - B118 or Domestic Apple

Dwarf - Old Home Farmingdale 333 or 513
Standard - Old Home Farmingdale 97, Bartlett Seedling or Bradford x Redspire

Asian Pear
Dwarf - Too many possibilities to list
Standard - Pyrus Beutifola or OHF 97

Dwarf - M x M14
Semi Dwarf - Ponteleb Mahaleb
Standard - Prunus mazzard or Prunus Mahaleb

Dwarf - Marianna or Peach Redleaf (seedling)
Standard - Myrobalan, Marianna or Lovell

Wow. This is why they're so elusive...

The "Peach Redleaf" is an OK rootstock from what I have found (similar to the one ACN uses called "Tenn Nat" or something) but I'm not convinced it's really "dwarfing" per se. Lovell - fine of course.

For apples...using B118 for both Semi and Standard...well that's misleading.

Euro Pears - IIRC that's not bad...but I'm not convinced that OHF 333/513 are all that dwarfing.

Asian Pears "too many to list?" Nice copout.

Cherries...what the heck is M X M14? I'm surprised they're not using Gisela rootstocks yet. They also use Mahaleb for both Semi and Standard.

Marianna & Myro for Standard plums is fine. Lovell is OK too...also using Marianna for dwarf?

Bottom line - I'd probably order anything labeled "standard" except apples & maybe Pears from Stark's unless you want total surprises as to size.

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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Wait...they said nothing about apricots!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 4:50PM
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alan haigh

I think the Gisela root stocks are more expensive and more difficult to propagate. For years I had to order cherries on them from west coast nurseries.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 6:54PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

You need a license from Germany to propagate the Gisela rootstock. Raintree does it though. I can imagine the paperwork is a nightmare.
I have found that most southern nurseries use local rootstocks. Misleading though is a good term. Mxm14 is a semi dwarfing rootstock.
In defense rootstocks should be chosen for your conditions. Some dwarf and semi dwarf actually produce bigger trees in better soil. So your conditions, sand or loam, wet or dry, clay, hardiness are factors to consider.
Except for cherry, I don't care if rootstock is dwarfing or not. Pruning is a much larger factor in tree size for stone fruits. I have peach trees on citation and Lovell, they will both be kept at 8 feet. Both of those rootstocks are decent for my soil, clay/loam that is wet. Both are hardy too. If I had sandy soil that dries quickly and is often dry, both would be terrible choices.
Citation makes trees go dormant in dry conditions. Lovell is susceptible to nematodes that are found in sandy soil.
I have suggested to Stark's to list rootstocks. I will not buy a tree without knowing rootstock. No exceptions.

Gurney's and Henry Fields (actually both owned by same company-Garden's Alive) has Superior too, rootstock not listed but you could ask, and maybe you will get an answer that is just as interesting as this was!

This post was edited by Drew51 on Mon, Apr 29, 13 at 23:29

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 8:34PM
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One of my pet peeves is looking through an attractive fruit catalog that lists their rootstocks only as "dwarf", "semi-dwarf" or "standard". Even if I thought their customer service people knew what rootstock that they're using (I suspect they usually don't), it rubs me the wrong way and I typically refuse to buy from them. I saw a thread here about Henry Fields having a 75% off sale on fruit trees and I went to their site. There were several trees that I'd be interested in but I simply won't purchase them because I don't want to have to fight to keep the dwarf trees dwarf, not to mention all the other quirks that you might want to avoid with one particular rootstock.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 5:38AM
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I have a theory on the Stark rootstock.
I too e-mailed Stark to ask what Dwarf apple rootstock they used. They e-mailed back that they use M9 or M26.

Ok, I order apple trees and get them labeled simply "Dwarf"
They have light brown tags.

Later I go to an apple orchard that has extra trees from their commercial order. They have White tags labeled "Dwarf - BUD9".

So If you have a commercial order you get what you ask for and the leftovers are sold to the public.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 9:18AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

I have read that Stark's gives their commercial customers first pick, including rootstock choice. Then the leftovers are all thrown together & sold to us little people. ;)

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 9:44AM
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I can not comment specifically on Stark's. However, I have noticed a certain grower in the San Joquin Valley of Calif. that has dubbed many varietals "low chill". Several of these trees are not low chill at all. They seldom ever set fruit, leaf out erratically, and are a total bust. I finally have axed several of them. Buyer beware...

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 10:27AM
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Unfortunately, most home growers don't want to know and don't care... I think most could tell a Peach from an Apple... when the fruit are falling off the tree... but could hardly differentiate between varieties... much less the in's and out's of rootstock selection...

Think of how many posts we have here each year with some fellow posting pix of a dead Pine tree - asking what sort of Peach it is....

If it's really important to you - then buy from an outfit who knows what they have and sell it to you as such... Many pro-orchard places will sell to homeowners - though they may gripe about it some...


    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 10:43AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Well to mention a few Raintree lists rootstock. So does Bay Laurel, and they sell standard and semi-dwarf, yet always list rootstock. Grandpa's not always, but most of the time. I bought a peach on Lovell, and a Cherry on Gisela 5 from them. The trees are very nice. The Bay Laurel trees all had severely trimmed roots, and planted in March, they were coming out of dormancy and were forced back in. All 4 are now coming out of dormancy again, so no complaints. All were beautiful looking trees. So these three nurseries I look at first. Too bad they don't carry heirloom peach trees. All I'm looking for now.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 10:55AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

I was at Lowe's last weekend & saw what was labeled as a "Bing cherry" that was CLEARLY an apple of some sort.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 2:12PM
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Hi all
I'm very grateful to see the rootstock list used by Starks. I just got 5 dwarf trees from them and it really helps to have a better idea what to expect from them.

Since you guys are discussing the rootstocks used for diff trees I wanted to share that I have located the list used by Guerneys. I tend to poke around websites just to read odd corners most folks don't look at and found this list located on their website.

Standard - MM111/Seedling
Dwarf - M9
Li'l Big - M27
Standard - Seedling (either Halford or Lovell)
Semi-dwarf - Redleaf Peach
Sweet - Mazzard
Tart (or Pie Cherry) - Mahaleb
Standard - Seedling
Dwarf - OH 513

To locate the list go to any of these main pages- help, customer service, frequently asked questions. On that page look for the heading PLANTING and CARE. About a third of the way down that list choose the link that says FRUIT TREES. On that page go down to the third line where it says FRUIT TREE POLLINATOR CHART. On that page go way down to the bottom where they list the info I printed above.

I have a several trees from Guerneys that I got at a good price. On a couple I have actually ordered rootstock and grafted a shoot onto the rootstock that I wanted. I did that for my poor Granny Smith apple tree that was being eaten alive by wooly apple aphids. I put it on Geneva 222 as it has lots of disease resistance including those pesky apple aphids.


Pam in cinti

Here is a link that might be useful: Guerney pg with rootstock info at bottom,

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 2:53PM
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Just checked my Starks catalog. On page 15 there is a text box on the top right. It says they are switching their cherries onto Krymsk 5 and 7. Right now it's just the Starkrimson and Whitegold, but eventually they will switch all cherries. They dont' even make a guess as to how long it will take.

Pam in cinti

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 3:20PM
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We have ordered the dwarf trees from VanWell & Sandy Bar nurseries. Got trees with fantastic root systems & the receipt lists the rootstock but haven't had the trees long enough to see if they truly are dwarf! Anyone else bought from these places & if so, how would you rate them? Yes, I have bought from some of the other mail order nurseries & by the time the fruit trees produce, they are anything BUT what I ordered... but of course by this time the guarantee (if any) is no longer valid! Got 3-in-1 variety apple that never had the places where it had been grafted marked in any way on the tree!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 6:38PM
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When I ordered gold and white gold I was told they would be on K7. After reading your post I called and was told they would be K5 or K7 or colt. These were semi-dwarf. I guess maybe it could be any of these 3 or Mahaleb or Mazzard after reading your post. I think I have ordered my last from them.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 9:25PM
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brotherjake(5A UT)

The percentage of height decrease is what determines whether a tree is dwarf, semi-dwarf, or standard. I believe that any rootstock that dwarfs a tree 50% or more (I could be a little off on this) compared to the height that it would grow on its own roots is considered dwarfing. There is not a set height that a tree must be under to be considered a dwarf. Apricots that grow to over 30 feet will be considered dwarf on a rootstock that reduces overall height to ~15 feet. A rootstock that reduces the height of a peach (normally around 20 feet) to 10 feet would be considered dwarfing. Its all relative to the natural height of an ungrafted tree. If you want a rootstock that will hold the tree to under 10 feet, several apple rootstocks (M7, EMLA 7, Bud 9, etc) and Zaiger's New Root 1 for cherries are the only rootstocks that I am aware of. Prunus americana will hold plums to 10-15 feet, but that is still out of the 10 foot range. Long story short, you will have to prune for size control most of the time if you want trees under 10 feet. And if you're pruning anyway, you might as well get the best rootstock for your soil. I second Drew's statement that rootstocks are very important. Cherries on Mahaleb here in Utah are dead within 10 years. Peach rootstocks suffer a similar fate.

If you're thinking about a Superior plum and want it on a dwarfing rootstock that is highly adaptable across the nation, St Lawrence Nurseries in NY has it on prunus americana rootstock. You'll have to prune, but this will reduce the amount of pruning you'll have to do. They also have Alderman and other pollinizers for Superior. I'm trying out their Percy's plum this year. They say it has a rich, complex flavor and I like complex.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 12:24PM
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I purchased 3 Stark dwarf and semi-dwarf pear trees this past summer. When I asked about root stock they sent this in email...
"I'm sorry, but we don't sell our fruit trees by rootstock. Unfortunately, we don't have a way to know which specific rootstock is used on any specific variety or group of trees."

Drew51, et el, has anyone ever had a problem ordering trees from the west coast being planted in the midwest? I'm in Chicago and an apple I got from a Cali grower did not do well at all and eventually died out. Last year I bought from Stark since they are more "local" but I hesitate to buy any more since they can't know the root stock.

Anyway, trying to find a great lakes grower (or one with a similar climate) that pays attention to root stock and has good trees.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 6:34PM
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K.Day.I woiukd just go with Raintree or someone else whom cares enough to specify the rootstock. Raintree will ship all over the US.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 8:22PM
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santo379(9, SE TX)

I have been using Bay Laurel Nursery for the past 3 years. The thing what I love about Bay Laurel is that you can pre-order your tree in the summer or fall, and choose which rootstock you want. Not only that, they specify the amount of chill hours required plus they have a description for each rootstock they offer.
Bay Laurel seems to send you 2-3 year old trees with nice size trunks and roots. I haven't had any problems with their trees. A lot of them also seem to be from the Dave Wilson Nursery.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 2:34PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

The problem with Bay Laurel is they have to send trees by the 1st week in March. If you can plant trees then, cool, but probably not in zone 5. Raintree, Grandpa's and Adams is where you want to look. All list rootstock, and if in doubt should tell you if it is unclear. Grandpa's used to say standard peach rootstock, and they meant Lovell. I asked.
Most now are identified. I do have west coast trees here, but only ones rated for my zone. Most will not make it in zone 5. Grandpa's has many hardy fruit trees. So does Adams and you have to see at Raintree, they have all kinds of trees, not all best for colder zones.
I myself buy or would buy trees from Adams, Grandpa's Bay Laurel (I can handle March delivery). Raintree, One Green World, Fruit Tree Farm,Arboreum, and Willis. Not much experience with Willis. I bought one tree. It's nice! A Weeping Santa Rosa plum. Other decent nurseries are out there too. An Amish place in NY is decent from what people say here. I don't have the name? Other apple orchards are around too. I don't at the present grow apples. i will try them in the future., I wouldn't mind hearing of some decent nurseries that carry apples.

For apples I would avoid West coast, unless a rare type. I'm ordering a rare peach from a west coast nursery Tierra Madre Farm. The peach will grow here, on Lovell which works very well here.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 4:25PM
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This Wisconsin nursery might have what you want. I know several people who've been satisfied with the trees they got from them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Maple Valley Orchards

    Bookmark   February 17, 2014 at 9:41PM
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Well for what its worth - my two cents about ordering from them: I've ordered numerous times and have gotten great stock and customer service when I had one "dwarf tree" that didnt make it. I will say that rootstock is NOT described but when I called about a number of dwarf trees I had just received, customer service told me they would let me know and a day later I was told what rootstocks were used. (I did not get the list but maybe thats because I called instead of emailed?)

Regardless, I just have to say one thing - I planted a Reliance peach (thought it was on Citation per my phone call) but it fruited the first year (I had not apparently picked off every bloom and got 3 peaches that year - these were literally the best peaches [More like a tart nectarine] than any I have had since I was young 35 years ago!) This tree is outstanding and to be honest the only tree I have had any reservations about was a Plumcot that I already knew was a stretch for my microclimate near Lake Michigan.

I would order from the company that gives you exactly what you want if you really understand rootstocks and want that information then go to Raintree or Bay - otherwise Starks will guarantee the trees they send with the rootstock they end up shipping. I have had nothing but stellar results (and I'm a NEWBIE except for my childhood attempts!) with their products - especially my peaches and nectarines which I assumed would be much more challenging as they had been when I was a young boy trying to grow them on my parents farm.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 3:55PM
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I would love info on the Amish place in NY if you can remember it. That couldn't be too far from me. We used to have Miller Nurseries, but I don't think that was Amish and they retired and sold the biz to Stark last year.

Regarding the list of rootstocks... I'm wondering whether a place like Stark is trying to get relatively uniform sizing for "semi-dwarf" and depending on the vigor of the scion variety, they might call one apple on B118 "standard" and another "semi-dwarf".

If you want to see what Stark is offering their commercial customers, you might find that here
I was checking out their garden help forums last year and someone had mentioned that they had recently lost a tree that had been purchased there years ago and wanted to buy another of the same variety and was sad that it was no longer carried. I think she was asking what would be the most comparable, but the answer she got was that they still have it, but don't list everything on the website or home catalog. Commercial orders have a 50 tree minimum, but the customer service person definitely made it sound like they would work with a home gardener looking for something from that catalog.

Here is a link that might be useful: Stark commercial page

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 9:23AM
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andrew_swmo(6 SW MO)

I e-mailed Stark's earlier this year asking if I could buy the Autumnstar peach tree. The response I got was that the tree was not available for sale for the home gardener.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 12:22AM
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santo379(9, SE TX)

Can anybody who lives in southeast Tx or Gulf areas recommend a good variety from Stark's? They have interesting plum, nectarine and peach trees, but most of them don't state any chill hours, the only thing I see if it's good for zone 8.

I'm looking for any fruit tree (even apricots) that will bear good fruit and will survive the humidity and heat in our area. Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 2:40PM
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I'm in Montgomery County Texas just north of Houston. Watch chill hours on Stark Bros trees. Their website has recommended 1000 chill hour trees for zone 8B where we get ~400. I like to go to Dave Wilson or another nursery site to get the info. It's sad I have to do that extra step but Stark is stingy with data. I ordered 3 'supreme dwarf' plums, Methley, Shiro, & Santa Rosa but only the Santa Rosa (6/8" caliper) was correct. The other two (3/8") were a waste of the extra money. The Methley and Shiro are doing good but the Santa Rosa has easily doubled the growth of the other two. When I asked about rootstock they told be dwarfs are most likely on Marianna or peach redleaf (seedling).ÃÂ

Here is a link to a the Harris County extension office recommendation for the Houston area in zone 9: ÃÂ

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 11:01PM
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alan haigh

This thread confuses me a bit. Has the information about nurseries that sell true to label fruit trees in small quantities become so obscure?

I get the vast majority of my trees wholesale and find it surprising that Stark's, while charging 3 times as much per tree, can't be bothered to maintain an organized system of selling individual trees on the rootstock a customer wants.

What about Adams County Nursery, Van Well, C+0 and other commercial suppliers that also cater to small growers? Aren't there also dozens of other nurseries, such as Trees of Antiquity, Burnt Ridge, Raintree, etc, that sell trees to specific rootstocks?

Let's support the nurseries that support us with valid information about their products. Does anyone have an up to date list of nurseries that fill this bill?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 5:45AM
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I was also disappointed. I received and inquiry from Stark as to the tree I ordered. When I responded as to the fact that the rootstock was not listed on the plant I was told that it was either M9 or M26. This is almost useless information when determining space allotment for trees.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 7:15AM
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This is a bit off topic but Grandpa's has been mentioned several times. In early May I received three apples from them; a Gala, a Pink Lady, & a Fuji all on M7. Very nice feathering on the Pink and Fuji. All have nice calipers. The Pink and Fuji were "XL" and the Gala "large". All three almost immediately settled in and leafed out. I would recommend them.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 9:04AM
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I was trying to help a friend figure out how big a tree from Stark was going to get, and was surprised that not only did they not list that per tree, they didn't have it tucked in the corner of the page. Finally found it at the back of the catalog. It looks like their definitions of "dwarf" and "semi-dwarf" have nothing to do with the expected full size of the tree. Semi-dwarf apple, pear, apricot, etc are all said to be 12-15 feet. So, a more vigorous variety would get a more dwarfing rootstock to try to get "semi-dwarf" trees to be comparable sizes, regardless of how big their standard counterpart would be.
For the typical home gardener, this is nice - but when you call to ask about it, they should be able to access the rootstock info for you!
Gurney's took a couple of days to get the answer for me, but when I gave them my order number, I got what seemed a pretty confident response.
(my clearance pear tree that I bought to try espallier, then I went and had a baby instead, appears to be on calleryana rootstock. It has obligingly grown in a fairly two-dimensional tiered form, so I'm thinking about trying to train it now, but the lower tier is coming from the graft. Anyone know whether I can graft asian pears onto the callery branches?)

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 9:18AM
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santo379(9, SE TX)

Thanks for the info. Their trees sound appealing, but without rootstock information, chill hours, etc. I'm not willing to take the gamble.

Another local nursery I found here in TX is Legg Creek Farm. They delivered some good pear trees, but only draw back is that they don't have rootstock information, but they guarantee their trees are suitable for TX. They also list chill hours.

I'll just stick to Raintree, Bay Laurel, GrowOrganic and them if I ever need another fruit tree.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 10:11AM
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We have ordered the root type we wanted from both Van Wells & Sandy Bar (Sandy Bar no longer sells the trees) & were told which was used on the ones we ordered. Both sent super strong trees & packaged/shipped fantastic! Very pleasant & happy to answer our many questions). This year a dwarf tree from Stark's was ordered & a call to them gave us the rootstock used (correctly... I hope!). Only ? on a multi-grafted fruit tree x Burgess was no indication on the tree where the grafts were made (a call to them said they were 'internal grafts'!) or what the individual grafts were! I know !! ... we were crazy to 'bite' on this 'Fruit Cocktail' dwarf tree & we knew better but... !! We may be surprised ...happily, hopefully!!!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:08AM
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Tony(Zone 5. Omaha, Nebraska)


About 14 years ago, I was new to fruit trees and saw their fruit coctail tree and got excited. I bought one of them and also questioned them about the graft unions and I did not get a clear answer from them either. The tree turn out to be one variety with a very sour plum and I top work it to 8 variety of plums myself. I now stay clear from them.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:26AM
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My 4/1 from Raintree came with graft unions very clear to distinguish, and a label right on the tree saying which was which.

There's no reason to settle for anything less.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:49AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

I would agree w/ Hman's comment. Not that I'm trying to bash Stark's, but there are plenty of quality nurseries which give rootstock info.

That said, I'm really getting disappointed with Adams.

Out of about 150 peach trees I ordered from them in 2012, I've identified 4 trees as being mislabeled. These are trees I've positively identified as mislabeled through bloom or fruit set. In some cases I ordered multiple trees of the same variety and (for example) all the trees had a showy bloom but one (clearly mislabeled). I expect I'll discover more mislabeled trees in the future.

In one instance I ordered a flat peach (Galaxy) but the fruit is of a regular peach (pretty easy to tell the difference). I understand mistakes happen, but this is too often to be unintentional unless they have very sloppy procedures. I've talked to one other grower who has seen the same thing (i.e peaches supposed to ripen in a certain window, but ripen much earlier or later - clearly not what he ordered).

Will I still order from Adams? Probably, because they always seem to have some unique offerings. But I'll be watching closely to see if what I ordered is actually what I receive.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 5:50PM
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I would purchase e rootstock and graft my own varieties . Seems more likely to be accurate when that's all they sell. Costs less, more fun, really only adds a season or two.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 6:41PM
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alan haigh

I expect mislabeled trees from Adams would be the result of worker error. Very often varieties I want from them are sold out, so clearly they aren't filling out orders with whatever is available. Anyway their peaches are paint coded. When minimum wage in real value is a third of what it was in 1960, you can't rely on every low paid worker to maintain a work ethic.

I believe they may also be getting the Dave Wilson varieties from another West Coast grower, which may complicate the sorting issues.

Big commercial growers are going to cost a nursery a lot of money if the trees they order are not accurately labeled, I expect. They will know and they will complain and get refunds on every tree and then order elsewhere in the future.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 7:36PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Perhaps you're right. I've also had problems getting some of their stock because they've been sold out. It just seems like a lot of mistakes. A lot more than any other nursery I've done business with.

I can't imagine how they "paint code" their trees. I just did a quick look and they have 77 peach varieties listed. Wouldn't that take 77 different colors of paint to code all the peach cultivars?

I've seen the paint on their trees, but I thought it was a general scheme to identify the tree when it was successfully budded.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 9:40AM
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