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Rootstocks for Zones 3&4

Posted by Josh Karp 
Rootstocks for Zones 3&4
February 19, 2013 09:24AM
My 4 acre orchard is all standard trees. Why? Being in northern Vermont, in zone 3b, I have not been willing to risk planting less-hardier trees to have them do OK for a number of years, only to be severely damaged or killed in one of those pesky 'test winters'. Like this winter, for instance: We've had very little or NO snow cover for weeks at a time, and temps. into the teens below zero...seems like a good test of rootstock hardiness.

I'd like to plant some semi-standards or even some 50% size trees, to 'see how they do', and 'get some early production'. But, I've heard from a few northern nurseries (in zone 3b) that 'oh, we've trialed them all and they've all done poorly'. Is this really true? I don't want to waste my time doing trials that have already been done in a similar climate.

How about an honest discussion of rootstock hardiness and precocity - based not on theoretical hardiness but based on actual in-the-ground experience in ZONES 3 & 4. (Lets just assume that semi-standards & smaller will do OK in zone 5+, so we don't have to go there)

A few ideas for the discussion:
1. what zone are you in?
2. what rootstock(s) have you tried and for how long?
3. Typical winter conditions: average annual low , coldest your trees have seen since planted, typical snow cover, typical wind exposure.
4. how precocious have your trees been?
5. would you say that your trees are truly thriving, or just hangin' in there?
6. have you noticed partial / full winterkill of root systems?
7. observations on a less-hardy rootstock affecting the hardiness of the scion?
8. etc.

There are certainly many advantages to smaller trees in a commercial orchard context. But if they aren't going to be hardy enough over at least a fifteen year period and be truly precocious, then there's no point in planting them, eh?



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/12/2013 11:05PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Rootstocks for Zones 3&4
February 20, 2013 11:26AM
I have a few trees doing well on Ottawa 3, but other than these, I never had really good trees on smaller stock. Some M106 and 111 are doing just OK but no more, and are not very productive nor vigorous. I had one on M26 that broke at the graft union after having been well vigorous and productive for about 10 years. It broke because of the weight of the apples in a nice September afternoon, not even windy!

A few slightly smaller than standard are doing well also: one on Alnarp 2 Swedish stock with a Ott.3 interstem is very nice, and another one on Beautiful Arcade is also excellent. Other than that most of my successful trees are on Antonovka or on wild seedlings I have collected here and there.

So, yes, in a cold climate, I am strongly biaised towards standard (or almost) trees!

Claude

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Re: Rootstocks for Zones 3&4
February 23, 2013 12:10AM
Cold hardy rootstock trials…I can’t wait to see what folks have been experiencing in the colder climes. Josh, you are close to us, so our experiences may be specifically helpful, if limited in scope.
Walden Heights is zone 3 NE Vermont at 1700ft, and has seen -40 this decade. The lower snow cover and temperature swings lately will likely test the marginal species here. Of the dwarfing stocks we have only tried in any real way the bud 9, since in literature it was touted as the hardiest commercially available dwarf stock. We did plant and are watching some bud 490, bud 146, bud 233 (and I think 491 is out there somewhere).
The bud 9 trial (over 100 grafted trees in 2002) has been a near total failure. In terms of their susceptibility to the climatic conditions here they are third rate. This doesn’t necessarily point to cold temps as we have not witnessed any dramatic tissue damage. What I am seeing is classic “failure to thrive” syndrome. When we trial things here, we treat them as the average homesteader will, and like we treat our standards. Not neglect, but not pampering either. The roots are horribly brittle even after years of growth, grow very slowly in our zone without heavy fertilizing and drip irrigation, and are highly attractive to borers. I have had 12 year old trees killed by a single borer. Burr knots have occurred on nearly all. Of the 100+ there are a couple of dozen left. Having seen better luck at orchards who use heavy applications of conventional fertilizers, or high nitrogen and irrigation, folks who grow with a more heavy handed approach may be happy with them, and dwarf trees in general. To come full circle here, I believe the colder climates stress trees, delaying their growth or occasionally stunting them, in the same way that forest species are stunted at high elevations. Adding a paltry root system to the mix can be frustrating. The “bow echo” winds (90mph) that rolled through here on July 4 flattened another half dozen(broken at the base), but no standard apples were damaged. I should also mention every one of our standards (same age and scion cultivar in this trial) offered fruit before the dwarf trees did. There was no more cold or other damage to the grafted portion of the dwarf trees, mortality and damage always occurred to the stock itself.
We have had extremely good luck with standard seedling here including: dolgo, ranetka, antonovka, prunifolia, Selkirk, bud 118(clonal); fairly good luck with robusta, and just began with baccata. Many of the Alaskan growers we ship to will only take ranetka and baccata and I know of none who will touch a size reduction clonal stock.
All the Malling and many of the other dwarfing stocks are rated zone 5 so we have not bothered with them in zone 3.
A caution- nearly all temperate trees will experience damage when the root system is subjected to 19 degrees ABOVE zero. Additionally, the root collar/lower trunk is particularly vulnerable, which is why we are experimenting with clonal stock as an interstem, and high grafting scions.
Since there is likely to conflicting reports on these trials posted here, it will be also an exercise in respecting the diversity of microclimate, culture, and scion cultivar choices.

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Zone 3 in Vermont
Re: Rootstocks for Zones 3&4
March 24, 2013 04:05PM
I have 10 Bud9 trees and am quite happy with them.

"...we treat them as the average homesteader will, and like we treat our standards..."

In other words, you have not actually trialed Bud9. Dwarf trees are not like standard trees, and as part of choosing them you need to accept that they will need a degree of pampering that a seedling rootstock will not need. Failure to recognize that will lead to failure of the trees, no matter what zone you are in. If you planted a tomato in a hayfield, it wouldn't prosper, either. Plant the Bud9s along the north edge of your garden, and treat them more like a garden plant than a pasture tree; then you will have given them a fair trial.

Jim Gallott
New Haven, VT USDA Zone 5a
Re: Rootstocks for Zones 3&4
March 26, 2013 11:33AM
Point well taken Jim. I should make the distinction between orcharding systems as regards dwarf and standard. A commercial orchardist with funds for irrigation, weed management and trellis systems will do better than I. So too will folks who like growing trees like tomatoes (and granted it could be enjoyable for some). My experience is as a nurseryman who is trying to help homesteaders and those with day jobs. Sure, they can grow apples like vegetables, but they are likely already growing vegetables and may not want another thing to babysit. (We cannot grow tomato outdoors in Walden, only pampered in the greenhouse).The difference for most folks is that the apple has the option of growing with fewer crutches if one chooses a tougher rootstock. If I could grow a tomato like a tree, I sure as heck would, but the option doesn't exist. When I "trialed" the bud 9's they were kept weeded and mulched, had borer checks, fertilized, and yes staked. Since they have done very poorly here on my farm in my climate, I think it only prudent that I let folks know to use caution, especially folks who will likely not to take as good care as someone who does this for a living. Now, I will allow that plenty of growers will have great success with dwarf stock in cold climates like ours, but I will bet most are going to have trouble, perhaps to the point where they decide to give up on it, which would be a shame. I also will stress permaculture ideals and the more sustainable approach in this forum, since it is in keeping with our philosophy, but again you make a good point. As regards true testing, an unbiased scientific approach would be a couple dozen of us in zone3/4 to trial these on a wide variety of soil types, aspects and elevation would be a good start. My commentary is based on the experiences of one farm, and meant as only a portion of the contribution. Josh, I would add that Greg Burtt in Cabot, and Ben Applegate in Eden are two of many using dwarf in the area so you might check with them for experiences in our area.
Re: pruning concepts
July 28, 2013 09:18PM
I am not so sure that I would give up on dwarfing rootstocks so quickly. I agree that most of the Malling stocks would be unwise, but, for example, Ottawa-3 is very cold hardy and quite dwarfing. Or the Budagovsky series. Or Alnarp-2, which gives a semi-dwarf. All these are hardy to zone 3. An alternative is something like Antonovka with an interstem of something like O-3 to dwarf it. (I actually have a row of trees on Alnarp-2 with O-3 interstems). Now it must be acknowledged that I am in balmy Nova Scotia, zone 5b, and do not really have personal experience. But Claude Jolicoeur might be able to provide more authoritative commentary.

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: Rootstocks for Zones 3&4
July 29, 2013 10:22AM
Quote
David wrote:
But Claude Jolicoeur might be able to provide more authoritative commentary.
David,
I doubt I can make authoritative comments on the subject of dwarfing rootstock - I haven't tested enough of them for this to be of any of any scientific value - samples are simply too few to be significative!

This being said, I do have a few trees on different rootstocks. Here is a short summary:

Ott.3 - probably the best for this climate.
2 healthy trees which I am fully satisfied of.
1 OK tree, but not sturdy/solid enough in my opinion
2 weak trees, staunted, no vigor. However these were transplanted, and it is documented that this RS doesn't like to be moved.
1 Bramley on Ott.3 did well until it died - but this had nothing to do with the stock, it is the variety that wasn't hardy enough.
1 tree did well until it broke at the graft union under wind. Could have been a graft incompatibility problem with the variety (Pumkin Sweet).

MM 106:
2 trees are doing a bit less than OK, not enough vigor, little productivity.
3 other trees were never vigorous and finally died.

MM 111:
1 tree, doing a bit less than OK, not enough vigor, little productivity.

M26:
1 tree, did well until it broke at the graft union under load from the apples it was bearing.

Interstems:
Ott.3 / Alnarp 2 - this is a combination that the Corn Hill nursery in NB used to make.
1 tree is doing rather well, productive, but not so well anchored. Needs to be staked even if trunk is a good 6 in (15 cm) diameter / 20 years old.

Ott.3 / Beautiful Arcade - another combination from Corn Hill
1 tree, doing a bit less than OK, not enough vigor, little productivity.
1 tree lacking vigor, finally killed by borers.

Claude

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Re: Rootstocks for Zones 3&4
August 01, 2013 08:15AM
I just came across Bernie Nikolai's website (http://members.shaw.ca/BNikolai/apple_notes.html). He is in zone 2b. To quote him:

Dwarf Rootstock in Zones 2 and 3

I've tested many kinds of dwarf rootstock in my Alberta orchard. Guess what? They ALL work fine if irrigated. None of them die. Keep in mind I always have a good snow cover in winter. Ottawa 3, Bud 9, Bud 118, or the Vineland series from the University of Guelph are all decent choices. However, I recommend using Ranetka instead, a full size rootstock. Why? Prairie folks are a tough breed, and we think anything we plant should also be tough. So we tend to plant a tree on dwarf rootstock in good soil, water it in, perhaps stake it, and think that's fine. In a few weeks the grass aggressively grows to the trunk, the dwarf rootstock has a tough time competing, and you get poor results in terms of crops. The trees don't die. However you just get very few apples.

So if you want to use dwarf rootstock and get good results on the prairies, you can, BUT...1/ The trees must be grown in black soil without ANY competition by grass, weeds, etc. That is a TON of backbreaking weeding every few days/weeks. Very few folks have the heart (or back) for it....

Point number two is always stake the trees. Putting them on a metal wire is not good on the prairies. At -40C and colder the metal causes "burns" in the parts of the tree in contact with the wire. So I've had the best luck with individual wooden stakes.

Lastly you MUST irrigate the dwarf apple trees. The roots are just not able to feed the tree, and produce a nice apple crop without extra watering. Dwarf trees need about one inch of water a week in the summer, assuming they are grown in black soil without any grass to compete for the moisture. Most prairie locations get about half that May to Sept. per month. I'm saying dwarf apple trees can work well on the prairies, but require a TON of work. Most folks start out with high hopes and strong determination. But the constant weeding to get rid of grass competition, the irrigation, the staking soon gets old...and the trees go into decline. They don't die. They just produce very poorly. So go with Ranetka instead. The trees won't get too big in our tough, cold climate.
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