Antonovka as a Rootstock

By Kevin Irvin

Most commercially sold Apple Trees with a Hardy Standard size rootstock are budded onto M. Antonovka. Baileys Nursery a wholesale grower for the Nursery Trade uses Antonovka as well as Columbia, Borowinka and others as a Hardy rootstock. Most Nursery (Greenhouse) retail outlets here in Alaska commonly buy from Baileys among others. The Big Box stores have their suppliers. Lowes’ supplier is Dave Wilson Nursery, which uses Antonovka. Home Depot and Wal-Mart I am not sure who their supplier is. St. Lawrence Nursery, a Mail Order Nursery located in Potsdam New York uses Antonovka exclusively as an apple rootstock. Lawyer Nursery also uses Antonovka exclusively as their Standard size Apple Tree rootstock. Apple Trees from Fedco (another Mail Order Nursery) are primarily on Antonovka as well.

Many members have advocated through the years that M. Ranetka as the only rootstock to use here in Alaska, and is why the club always orders and provides Ranetka at our Annual Grafting Workshop. M. Baccata is another standard size Apple rootstock. Baccata is the Hardiest Apple known but has the stigma of being not compatible with some varieties of Apple. Ranetka is hardier than Antonovka but less hardy than Baccata. Ranetka is a cross of M. Prunifolia and M. Baccata (source Lawyer Nursery).

With the closing of Bear Creek Nursery a few years ago, (a mail order Nursery that provided an extensive list of Apple varieties that were good for our growing conditions and which provided trees on numerous rootstock including Ranetka) it left one Mail Order source for numerous varieties of Apples favorable to us here in Alaska which is St. Lawrence Nursery.

After moving to Wasilla a few years ago I wanted to ‘jump start’ my fledgling Orchard and bought trees from St. Lawrence Nursery, Lawyer Nursery and Fedco, and one year I was provided an opportunity to buy direct from Baileys Nursery. I knew the trees I bought from St. Lawrence and Lawyer were on Antonovka and I knew that the trees from Baileys could be on Antonovka but could also be on Columbia or Borowinka.

The Trees from Baileys grew well from the get go. The Trees from St. Lawrence and Fedco seemed to ‘pout’ after planting but then some began to grow relatively well but never seemed to put on much growth, whereas Trees from Baileys did.

I need to point out that the trees I bought from Fedco were mostly unknown for hardiness here in Alaska but from the description ‘looked’ like they might do well here. Trees from Baileys were known hardy and reliable producers, Trees from St. Lawrence were varieties that others were growing and some I bought for trial, and trees from Lawyer’s were known reliable hardy and producers.

Over the last couple years I have lost all the trees from Fedco roughly 70 % from St. Lawrence and Lawyer Nursery. The remaining trees from these are only ‘surviving’! About 40% from Baileys have died while the others are doing well.

Compared to the trees I grafted myself onto Ranetka at about the same time I bought the various 2 to 3 yr old trees from the various Nurseries, my own grafted trees are out performing hands down and I am no closer to fruit production buying any of the trees on Antonovka than I was when I first purchased them. I do have a couple trees of a variety from Baileys that are doing very well yet a couple from the same bundle of 5 are only ‘surviving’.

What does this information mean?

Do Not Waste your time or money on Apple Trees on Antonovka rootstock.

The $64 question’s are 1) Why do all these Nurseries primarily use Antonovka as a rootstock for Hardy Apple trees for Northern areas of the US? And 2) If Antonovka is the primary Hardy rootstock in the Nursery trade, why does it not work in Alaska? I can’t answer these questions.

While there might be some microclimates here in Alaska favorable to Antonovka, is it worth the wait to see? Are you going to be any closer to production? Or would it be better to graft your own onto Ranetka and wait for them to grow and mature into producing trees?

In my opinion, after the few years I have been here in Wasilla, I should have put all the effort into grafting more trees onto Ranetka and planting them out rather than to waste the money spent on trees plus shipping from any of these Nurseries. I am no closer to production on any of the trees I purchased on Antonovka than I was 3 years ago. Any remaining trees I know that are on Antonovka are or will soon be dug up and replaced with my grafts on Ranetka.

Would I buy from Bailey’s again given the chance? The answer is no. It’s not worth the gamble you will get a tree on something other than Antonovka.

While I can’t say for sure how trees on Baccata will do (as I only have a couple on Baccata which are ding fine) I do know others here in Alaska are using it successfully.

I will still continue to experiment with varieties and new rootstock as they become available, as I believe we need to find a backup rootstock should Ranetka become unavailable as it did a couple years back. I wont experiment getting producing Apple trees anymore. If someone wants to start an Orchard here in Alaska and wants the shortest route to apple production I will only recommend trees on Ranetka rootstock.

This Article is only information as observed by my growing here in Wasilla and should not be taken that you shouldn’t buy anything from any of these Nurseries. I should also point out that Lawyer Nursery is the only source I know of for Ranetka rootstock here in the US.

The following web link may be of interest to some, it’s an Article written by Cathy Wright who used to work at the Plant Materials Center in Palmer and is a rootstock trial from the 1980’s here in Alaska.