Sucker-free Crabapples Enter the Marketplace

Carlton Plants’ new rootstock eliminates an age-old problem

(l-r) Dick Bocci, Mike Anderson and Jose Carrillo. Bocci, national account manager, has been with Carlton for 39 years. Anderson, propagation manager, has been with the nursery for 28 years. Carrillo, crabapple growing blocks supervisor, has worked for Carlton for 35 years.Let’s face it, besides consumer misconception about fruit size, unwanted root suckers have been the Achilles’ heel of the modern-day crabapple. They detract from the trees’ aesthetic appeal and cause maintenance headaches.
Jim Chatfield, extension specialist for Ohio State University, is president of the International Ornamental Crab
apple Society and the curator of the ‘Crablandia’ collection at Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, Ohio. “If there was a reliable rootstock that would reduce or get rid of suckering in crabapples, it could have a dramatic effect in terms of acceptance by the general public,” Chatfield said.

A new solution
Carlton Plants, a bare-root nursery stock grower in Dayton, Ore., appears to have found the solution to this age-old problem: SproutFree Malus rootstock. SproutFree will virtually eliminate root suckering, provided the trees are planted properly in the landscape, said Mike Anderson, propagation manager at Carlton.

The nursery has tested and evaluated the SproutFree rootstock for about 15 years throughout the United States and Canada. Scott Johnson, vice president of Johnson’s Nursery in Menomonee Falls, Wis., has been growing and evaluating crabapple varieties on SproutFree rootstock. “SproutFree has been a great improvement over other rootstocks,” Johnson said.
He looks forward to when their Malus production is completely on SproutFree. “SproutFree rootstocks show all the attributes we would want in a crabapple rootstock; it’s vigorous, develops a nice crown, makes good caliper and has well-anchored roots with minimal root sprouts,” Johnson said.
Another test location for SproutFree is A. Brown & Sons Nursery in Phillipsburg, Ohio. The nursery has been growing SproutFree crabapples for several years.
“We find them [SproutFree] to be vigorous growers with a good root system, both in our fields and container production,” owner Ken Brown said. “We feel we’ve possibly gained as much as an extra year of growth over a two- to five-year period.”
Like Johnson’s, Brown’s goal is to have all of his crabapples grown on SproutFree. Brown expects to have sufficient numbers available within two or three years. “We feel this is a major step in the right direction,” Brown said.
Johnson’s and Brown’s experiences echo Carlton Plants’ own production experience with SproutFree. “This new rootstock has enabled us to reduce labor in suckering by at least 50-75 percent,” said Dick Bocci, national account manager for Carlton Plants. Not only does this save the grower dollars on the bottom line, but it means less maintenance. This is a major benefit and selling tool to the homeowner and other users such as municipalities.

Plant parameters
SproutFree is a full-size, standard rootstock and is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 3. Carlton uses SproutFree on all trees, except for a few crabapple varieties that must go to Zone 2 hardiness. Those few are grown on Dolgo rootstock.
When a finished tree grown on SproutFree is dug at a 3-inch caliper, the root system will be much more fibrous than a traditional root system, Bocci said. Another important trait of SproutFree is its compatibility with the broad spectrum of crabapple varieties in the marketplace.
Demand for the new rootstock has been strong. Carlton’s sales have met and exceeded expectations. The grower is still having to pro-rate orders to cover the demand. There are caliper-size trees, both balled-and-burlapped and container, available on the market from producers across the country.
Along with the development of disease-resistant and non-messy “persistent fruiting varieties,” SproutFree makes crabapples far more attractive than ever before as a flowering tree for planting in commercial, residential and municipal landscapes.
In fact, one is hard pressed to find another genus that includes so many beautiful and diverse forms, sizes and ornamental characteristics. “We feel that SproutFree has the ability to revive a flowering crabapple market that has been struggling for quite some time,” Bocci said.

For more: Carlton Plants, Johnson’s Nursery, A. Brown & Sons Nursery,

October 2009
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