sub alpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) experments

amatbrewer

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I am experimenting with 3 sub alpine firs (Abies lasiocarpa) I have. They were all collected and then field grown for a while (no idea when or for how long) before I got them. They were intended to be landscape trees, but they don’t do well in my clay soil so I figured why not see what I can do with them. All 3 were healthy prior to starting this spring.

I really abused #1, mainly to see how far I could push it…major reduction of roots and branches, repotted in my mostly inorganic bonsai mix (OilDry and a small amount of composted bark) with only a small amount of the original soil, and as some wiring.
#2 received some initial trimming to open it up and shorten some of the lower branches as well as some wiring.
For #3 I just removed dead material and did minimal trimming of any extra-long branches.
#2&3 were overpotted using a sandy mix of soil similar to what they were originally in (and similar to what they naturally grow in) but the roots were left virtually untouched.
All 3 get a mix of sun/shade and regular overhead watering (additional hand watering when necessary). All are receiving an application of organic fertilizer once a month.

I think I was a hairs breath from killing #1 (it is looking rather rough), but it pushed some healthy growth at the branch tips then has done little else since. I plan to give it a year (maybe 3?) to recover. (probably shouldn't be fertilizing it)
The second and third both pushed new growth at the branch tips twice, early spring and again early summer.
#3 is pushing a third batch of needle clusters (see 4th image), mainly from the base of existing branches. I did not measure or wire #3 so can’t really judge how much girth it has put on if any.
#2 is backbudding on branches and trunk (see 5th image). It also grew so much in about 3 months that much of the wire was already cutting deeply and had to be removed (now I have some ugly scars to deal with).

Observations so far:
These might be capable of taking a lot of abuse but they do have their limits.
With the branches and trunks exposed to the sun, healthy material seems capable of backbudding on old and new wood.
Without the branches/trunks exposed to the sun they will branch and produce foliage but may not back bud.
It was my understanding that these may be slow growers (don’t recall where I picked that up) but this does not seem to be the case with a healthy specimen in good conditions.

Something else to monitor: How well does it heal over scars?

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0soyoung

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I pushed a similar one hard, comparably to your #1. It had a nice low trunk and I was pushing for low budding, which I got at first, then the foliage of those buds went brown as it went through 4 years of slow, steady decline before I accepted that it wasn't coming back. I think one has to be very careful about reducing foliage. I think it needs to be vibrantly bushy to bud and thrive (IOW, get and keep the engine running high speed).

It interests me to see how this experiment works out.

Foliage is gorgeous; love the bark of these trees!
 

amatbrewer

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I pushed a similar one hard, comparably to your #1. It had a nice low trunk and I was pushing for low budding, which I got at first, then the foliage of those buds went brown as it went through 4 years of slow, steady decline before I accepted that it wasn't coming back. I think one has to be very careful about reducing foliage. I think it needs to be vibrantly bushy to bud and thrive (IOW, get and keep the engine running high speed).

It interests me to see how this experiment works out.

Foliage is gorgeous; love the bark of these trees!
Thanks for the heads up. #1 may end up being a lesson in what is too much. My hope was that these are subjected to and survive some major stresses in nature, it might survive if given the right after care. I guess I will know in a few years.
I am on the fence at which I prefer Subalpine fur or Whitebark pine...at least as far as seeing them in the mountains. Now that I have both, I will see which I prefer to work with. So far the slow growth of the Whitbark is putting it in second place.
 

Potawatomi13

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Thanks for the heads up. #1 may end up being a lesson in what is too much. My hope was that these are subjected to and survive some major stresses in nature, it might survive if given the right after care. I guess I will know in a few years.
I am on the fence at which I prefer Subalpine fur or Whitebark pine...at least as far as seeing them in the mountains. Now that I have both, I will see which I prefer to work with. So far the slow growth of the Whitbark is putting it in second place.
Your Fir suffer often from abundant Deer pruning so are made to back bud to survive. However there is no damage to roots at the same time so can put that strength back to foliage growth. Is there perhaps picture(s)of personal Whitebark pine(s):confused:?
 

Potawatomi13

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Thank you. Was this from the nursery in southern OR:confused:? We may have commed before.
 

amatbrewer

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Wanted to update this for my own records.

Fir#1: (in the grow box) struggled after all the abuse it endured, but I think it turned the corner. This spring put out some sparse but healthy growth on branches as well as some new shoots on the trunk. I clearly did too much, too fast, but I gained a good sense of how much abuse these can take and how long they might take to recover. I expect to be able to move forward with it's development next spring. Until then only doing minimal work such as positioning the branches to get maximum light to all foliage and interior branches/trunk, and lots of fertilizer. It is clear that it takes a while to get wired branches to set with these.

Fir#2: Hoped (maybe still hope) to be able to air layer out the bottom 6" or so. Did a test air layer of a low branch this spring but it quickly withered. So I am not sure these take to air layering, or maybe the branch was just too small. Rethinking the plan, might end up making the second trunk a dead wood feature if I can't remove the lower section. I will probably repot this into a grow box during the summer repotting window. Cuts and wire scars are healing very well, and it seems willing to back bud anyplace I might want.

Fir#3: Did the least to this and it responded with explosive growth this spring. I basically have a happy little X-mas tree. It may have potential for a formal upright some day. I have positioned many of the lower branches to get the most light into the interior. Might try another air layering experiment using the top section that I expect to be chopping off in the next year or two anyway. So if it doesn't work, I will have lost nothing. If I don't try the airlayer experiment, I might repot this summer to get it out of the nursery soil.
 

jevanlewis

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Thanks for the update. It would be great to see some pictures, too!
 
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