Grafting goodness into the garden

The past couple of winters I have enjoyed adding a few new conifers to my collection through the process of grafting. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to graft thousands of new conifers, professionally and just for fun. Although, for an assortment of reasons, my grafting years came to a sudden halt some time ago. In recent years I have enjoyed propagating a few sought after treasures in my little hobby greenhouse.

Picea omorika 'de Ruyter'
Originally a seedling selection in 1938, 'de Ruyter' is a slow-growing tree with unique characteristics.

I planted a number of those treasures in my garden this past summer, and I am terribly excited to watch them grow and become mature specimens. One of those new conifers to my collection is one I have been interested in for a number of years. It has a very unique texture in its growth habit, and is one of the finest of the silvery/blue/greens to be found due to its prominent white stomatic lines on the underside of each needle, which are held on their branches in such a fashion as to light the tree up with their bright waxy brilliance.

Picea omorika 'de Ruyter'
As a frost covered winter specimen, or a silvery spruce in the summer garden, 'de Ruyter' is worthy of the hunt. It might be a good idea to special order this one through your favorite independent garden center.

The Serbian Spruce is known for this feature of bicolored foliage, and its cultivars, in their various shapes and forms, all display it to one degree or another. Picea omorika ‘de Ruyter’ is unique in its growth habit on this otherwise relatively “normal” broad, upright conical form. Each year the terminal cluster of buds – whether at the apex of the tree or at the tips of each branch or branchlet – will push forth a dominant central extension of new growth. At the base of this six or seven inch terminal growth are a thick cluster of buds, which also burst forth their new growth, becoming smaller branchlets of just two to three inches in length. All of this new growth is covered with varying lengths of blunt-tipped needles, longer at the base of the branch, held at an outward angle, while becoming shorter and lying more closely to the branch as they approach its tip.

My little tree is essentially just a terminal stem and its first cluster of branches at this point, and it will be many years before is becomes a notable specimen in my garden.

Although grafting is not for everyone, I intend to add a few new cultivars to my collection each year. I suppose I should begin to make my list for this winter’s fun!

Conifer Lover

4 thoughts on “Grafting goodness into the garden

  1. This was very interesting and in line with I have been trying to do over the past few years but, I am not knowledgeable like you…I am not sure what you mean by grafting…i have grown 2 hedgie arborvitae from seed a few years ago and they are in a 5 gl. container now and doing very well….last year at this time i planted mugo pine seeds….i have 5 -4 inch healthy pots in garage for winter now….keeping my fingers crossed…i started out planting 22 seeds…i have also proagated 2 yrs ago or so..maybe 3 from cuttings of my favorite mugo….i only got one success and it is doing well in its container…i understand after research that success rate is low for cuttings compared to seeds that’s why i started seeds…other cuttings i have done have been very successful…just not my little mugos..I was able to ask a few questions from a gentlemen at our Holden Arboretum who has been generous with his knowledge….I am glad i am doing it for love and not money as this propagating is very difficult(but rewarding)


    1. Hi Mary – What you are doing sounds like a great experience. Have fun with it! I enjoy the seedlings that sprout up around the property from time to time. I haven’t yet physically sown any confer seeds, though I do have a few seeds from a Picea glauca ‘Yukon Blue’ that I plan to toss in the ground and see what happens. :^)

      Grafting is a method of propagation where a rootstock is used, which is generally a seedling of a species conifer in the same genus, if possible – or at least of the same family. For example, I used a few Picea abies seedlings as a rootstock to graft a few cultivars of Picea omorika. In grafting, one takes a cutting, very much like you are doing, and carefully slices the stem of the cutting and the rootstock. The cutting is then attached to the roostock, matching the cambium layers as closely as possible, and securing with a special rubber band or other similar material.

      Gardening is very rewarding, and gardening with dwarf conifers offers so much pleasure, year-round, that sometimes I feel guilty about it. ;^)


  2. What’s your favorite root stock for grafting?

    Though I live where winters are just too harsh for many of the cultivars in your garden, I thoroughly enjoy vicarious confier gardening with you.


    1. Favorite root stock? Hmmm… the one that I have in my greenhouse. Seriously, that depends on what I am intending to propagate, and what is available to me. For most spruce, I’ll use Picea abies, but I have used Picea pungens. For pines, I try to stay with types with equal needle bundle counts, such as for 5 needle pine cultivars, I’ll frequently use the sturdy Pinus strobus, but for two or three needle pines, Pinus sylvestris is usually what is available.

      What Zone are you in?


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