getting started with conifers

KJMMJune 9, 2014

I am about to place my first conifers order after filling my yard with JM's

I am in zone 9 but ive been able to create protected micro climates and I hand water and amend soil and mulch per the suggested amount for each cultivar

Im looking at icebreaker, st Mary's broom, and pinsapo hortsmann as my first orders. Ive read that I should be looking for firma rootstock for max heat tolerance. However i have just been informed that thee icebreaker i was about to buy was grafted on abies Koreana. Should I take the risk or wait till Ifind one grafted on firma?

Is conifer kingdoms icebreaker grafted on firma?

This post was edited by KJMM on Mon, Jun 9, 14 at 0:54

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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

I'm going to believe you know your climate locale because you don't show where you are for the reason that Picea pungens is "generally" not possible in zone 9 but there are places such as N. California or Portland, OR i.e. where the climate(s) are suitable.

I would say to stay with firma for your firs. Since I don't purchase conifers very often (I graft my own) I don't know who does specialty grafting onto firma. What I am able to say is that you will have to search for your firs grafted onto firma. It may take a telephone call. I am aware that Jason Hupp at Western Evergreen does specialty grafting on firma and his website reflects that. Other than that, I don't know how other nurseries display their rootstock-choices.


Here is a link that might be useful: Western Evergreen

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 7:18AM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

Just fyi I'm in Sonoma County and haven't had issues with most of my firs (and I suspect most of the issues that I have had have been mine, not the plant's!) Picea pungens does particularly well here as it takes the heat just fine. We get cool at night, so I don't think that the heat thing for the firs is the issue that it is in places like the SE where the plants don't get relief. Abies pinsapo is a Mediterranean fir that is also particularly well-suited to this area as the climates are very similar. I can't speak specifically to 'Icebreaker' as I've had mine only about two years but it seems fine and has pushed new growth both springs.

Conifer Kingdom also grafts onto Abies firma, but I think that they do it with their SE customers in mind.

Good luck and have fun!


    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 11:16AM
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Thank you Dax and Sara!

I am located in Southern Orange County, CA, around the base of the Saddleback Mountain. I think our climate is similar to Sonoma County.

I did end up asking Conifer Kingdom about what they have grafted on Firma, and they said they only gave tiny plants grafted on Firma and that they just started grafting on Firma so their supply is limited, the rest is on Bornmuelleriana.

How will Bornmuelleriana work out as rootstock in my climate?

Sara, where did you get your Picea pungens and Abies Pinsapo that are doing well? Do you know what rootstock they are on?

I really love the look of Icebreaker and want to try it. Sara do you know what rootstock your Icebreaker is on?

Ideally I want to stick with Firs on Firma, but so far I hear that they are hard to find, I also specimens at least 4 years old or older. Ideally I like 5-10 years old for maples. So, I also really want this Icebreaker I have found grafted on Abies Koreana. Is it a terrible idea to get it anyway?

Sara do you keep yours in afternoon shade or do you have them in full sun or partial sun?

On that note, if I had two spots in my garden for a specimen that needs afternoon shade, but I only have one that gets shade all day long but gets an hour of sun from 12 to 1, and another that gets an hour of sun from 4 to 5, which is the spot that would cause less heat/sun stress? In other words, which sun exposure is more intense/hotter, 12pm to 1pm or 4pm to 5 pm.


    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 12:39PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

I had the idea that you were much hotter down there than I am, but if you've had success with Japanese maples, maybe not. We have huge coastal influence here, so I"m Sunset zone 15. There is a very active ACS member in Orange County who would be a great resource for you - have you thought of joining the ACS? If you did he's on the website and you'd have all of his contact info. There may be other members near you as well, he comes to meetings so he's the one that I know! He could give you some great insight into successes/failures, rootstocks, etc.

I do not know what rootstock my 'Icebreaker' is on; I believe it came from Stanley & Sons though.

The Picea and Abies all came from either Buchholz or Iseli, I believe.

On your two spots - one hour of sun is not going to be enough, no matter what time of day it is! That just sounds like too much shade.


Here is a link that might be useful: ACS membership application

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 2:00PM
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Hi Sara! I'm barely scratching the surface of conifers, so maybe after I actually own a few I will try joining? I have reached out to him, we have started an email correspondence and I will start researching his suggestions.

I'm not sure if I've had success with JM's yet. If they weren't working out would I know pretty quickly or would be possible for them to do well at first then decline over the years? I've only had the JM's for a couple months. Most are doing well, some I'm not so sure. I obsess about everything about them all day and I constantly worry that I did some newb gardner mistake with them. I have about 30 or so JM's now, 12 of them large specimens. Maybe it was a newb move for me to just go out and buy so many right away, but I love them and they are doing ok so far I think, except for two dissectums (Pink Lace and Ever Red) burning even in partial shade. I have a Jiro Shidare in full sun with yellowing dropping leaves that I don't know what's going on with, I posted it in the Maples forum hoping to get some answers. The ones that are doing well get protection from overhead sun and only get some morning sun or dappled afternoon sun from the sides. I've also learned that no two trees are truly alike, I have one Tsuma Gaki, specimen sized that was burning up in full sun and then started to perform when I added shade, and another specimen sized Tsuma Gaki, same from the same grower and same nursery, seems to LOVE full sun, never burns even in two nasty heat waves and, keeps growing and when it gets really hot instead of burning the leaves turn white with read outlines, so so so so cool to look at!

Well, I should clarify that both of those spots get filtered light all day except for a quick blast of full hot sun for 1 hour, one at 12 to 1 and the other at 4 to 5. Full hot sun is very damaging out here, especially when temps go over 100. So I was just wondering which was generally considered worse. Noon or late evening. I'm testing both spots with some new JM's in containers right now in those spots but I was wondering if you had any input before I come to one or both of them burned up, lol.

Well, I'm hoping I can get my hands on some nice conifers that will thrive out there. I might be limited to just pines and junipers and cedars though....gahhh why do we want what we can't have!

This post was edited by KJMM on Mon, Jun 9, 14 at 19:03

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 6:57PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

Yes I can tell you have been talking to Dan! He is a great guy and incredibly knowledgeable and local info trumps everything else. One thing that is hard in CA is that so many of the publications have an Eastern (or English, even worse for us) focus.

For me the big issue with Japanese maples - I have 60 or so - is wind. That's worse than the sun. If it's just sun, I can keep them sufficiently hydrated. But the wind just rips the leaves apart and dries them out.

Experience (which comes down to perseverance plus trial and error) is the best teacher. Dan can help by sharing some of his. Why don't you wait to add more JMs until you have a full cycle under your belt at least.

And one more plug for the ACS - with what you're spending on plants the $38 is a drop in the bucket and you will then have access to all kinds of growers and hobbyists. Many are JM freaks as well.


    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 7:11PM
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I am very familiar with your area and have concerns about the JM's. There is a HUGE difference in climate between coastal S. Orange county (i.e. right along the PCH) and even a mile or two at Saddleback. JM's that can thrive in Dana Point can suffer mightily in San Juan or at the college.

Temperature as well as sunlight intensity may be excessive - I would make sure any variety gets afternoon shade at the very least and all day filtered shade preferred. And you may want to acidify your irrigation water to keep them happy.

I think you will have better luck with the conifers. They are in general much less demanding than the Japanese maples.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 4:58PM
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My JM's seem to be doing ok... the jiro I posted in the maples section stopped dropping leaves. I will move pink lace and ever red this fall (they seem to be getting reflected heat) but the rest def get protection from afternoon sun. The two spots I posted aboutare working out so far but im cautious and will wait before i put them in the ground.

Anyway I went ahead and bought my first two conifers: Teeny Mugo Pine (iseli) blue star juniper (also iseli). They were at my local nursery and I know they will will thrive out here so I went for it!!! Now my question is, there are a few branches with brown needles. On teeny, there were a few branches smooshed up against the base of another plant and some needles under its own tag that turned brown is what im referring too. Do I prune those off or leave them be?

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 12:35AM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

You can do either...probably won't make any difference. Congratulations on your first conifers! I spent the last few days in Atlanta with Brent and Dan at the ACS Annual Meeting and we're rooting for you!


    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 7:35PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

I constantly worry that I did some newb gardner mistake with them.

==>>> this MI boy has nothing to say about CA ..

but lets clear something up for you ... you are not a gardener.. until you have killed EVERY TYPE OF PLANT 3 TIMES ....

and by then.. you should have figured everything out for that plant ... so you start killing others.. lol ...

but worry??? ... you have to have some level of zen ....

so do you best.. and kill some stuff.. sooner or later ... you will figure it out.. even if it means.. you cant do JMs for whatever reason ... or conifers for lack of FULL SUN ...

who knows.. but trust me.. nothing was ever discovered ... unless someone tried ... so.. go for it ...

join the ACS.. and maybe you will meet sara at some local shindig .... its worth it ...

good luck.. have fun.. but dont go all psycho worry about it.. nobody is keeping score ... nor point at your back and whisper ... lol ...


ps: SHADE... as a word.. means nothing... i have been in full shade hosta gardens.. and my glasses were dark like sunglasses ... its all about light levels ... tree canopies raised high.. etc... in the olden days.. peeps actually had camera light meters ... but to simply say.. they are in shade.. really tells us nothing ... the word can mean anything from extremely bright.. to cave like ... and how do you find out... plant things.. and find out .. nothing dies outright for such ... it just doesnt perform to expectations ... like yellow plants that stay green ... a pic for us.. might get you some info in that regard ... but i wouldnt bury it in this post... start a new one.. with a searchable title ...

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 9:31PM
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You do need to get abies on firma if u are going to grow that far south. I do know where u can get abies on firma now. Including icebreaker. Looks like u are not set up to email yet. U can send me one.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 9:46PM
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The whole Abies firma theory is all about growing firs in sub-tropical conditions. This does not apply to California. Best rootstock for California would be from a fir native to Mediterranean climates, meaning Nordmann or Turkish fir. Species like pinsapo or numidica would also be a good choice if you want a pretty tree for the landscape.

Previously stated was the fact that most firs don't mind heat as long as they get to cool down at night. A fir growing in the Rocky or Cascade mountains may very well sear in 100-degree heat with low humidity during the day, but as long as the nighttime temps drop into the 40s or 50s, they're good to go, thus the problem with Abies in the midwest and southeast.


    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 7:21AM
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Hi Sara! I hope you guys weren't all talking about how crazy I am and how I ask like a billion questions! lol! Thanks and I'm super happy with the conifers, I can't wait until I get more! I pruned the ugly branches, I also want to shape it a little more.

Ken, that puts me somewhat at ease, but I'm the kind of person who actually would love to use a light meter to know if I have the right light conditions! LOL!

Steve, how do I send and email? I'll click around and see if I can figure it out.

Dave, interesting! So conifer kingdom grafts on Bornmuelleriana which is Turkish fir, which means their trees will work for me? Night time does cool down here, but in August or in heat waves, I don't think it drops down that low. So, during those times could I.... put a bag ice around the base at night to help them cool down? A guy at a nursery told me to ice by peonies in the winter so that they would bloom in the spring. Could I try to too with my conifers when it doesn't get cool enough at night in the summer?

Also, do ALL conifers like full sun, or should I protect them from our intense afternoon sun? I thought I was going to put the firs in shade to protect them from heat when it gets really hot, but I guess my question is if too much shade could kill a conifer.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 12:37PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

No we were just laughing that we all knew you! Asking questions is how you find out the answers.

Your conifers will probably do better with a bit of shade from the afternoon sun. Not all of them, but many of them. Dan is your best source there - he really has the experience with your climate. Yes, too much shade can make a conifer languish, but some are more shade-tolerant than others.

A few heat waves won't matter, it's the prevailing conditions that determine whether the plant will work out or not.

Keep experimenting!

ps if you do join the ACS we are planning an excursion down there next spring so you would be invited. Just a thought!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 1:40PM
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Ok phew! The internet makes the world small! I haven't heard back from Dan since he went to ATL so I will reach out again, and I will join ACS!!! I don't get to go out very often but it would be very cool to meet you guys!

OK I will experiment! I know I shouldn't buy too much now that the weather is about to get nasty, but I want to try some less expensive ones out right away and then maybe try the more expensive ones next year. Hard to wait though so maybe I won't be able to control myself :)

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 5:37PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

Best time to plant where you are is in the fall. Again, Dan can give you more specific guidance. It really makes a difference if you plant when they can get established before it gets blisteringly hot. Once you join the ACS, register on the site and you can post photos there. I can show you how.


    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 8:03PM
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but lets clear something up for you ... you are not a gardener.. until you have killed EVERY TYPE OF PLANT 3 TIMES ....
ken is singing my song
and every thing else he says is spot on.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 6:15PM
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