AK Pioneer Fruit Growers Association

March 28, 1990

On Nov 20-21, 1989 I visited St. Lawrence Nurseries near Potsdam New York. Bill and Diana MacKentley own and operate the nursery. We discussed problems related to propagation of nursery stock. He had an unusually large number of failures in grafting new trees of Nova’ pear onto Pyrus communis rootstocks from Lawyer Nursery this past spring. I described the problems I had with Toka plum trees from Lawyer being in deep dormancy, a problem practically unknown in his own nursery operation. When I related how the plum’s bark had been somewhat wrinkled, we suspected that desiccation of the root system followed by desiccation of the cambium, could be the cause of both his problems and mine. The cure suggested to me by Dan Lawyer– wrapping the trees in wet burlap, keeping them warm, and keeping them in the dark— would address the drying out somewhat. Dried-out rootstocks would have difficulty forming successful graft unions because callus tissue forms best from cambium with a high moisture content. A lesson from this is to soak the roots of freshly grafted rootstocks for up to 12 hours before planting them in soil or in bark dust.


Bill likes to make his grafts at the root crown, where there’s an obvious change in the color of the bark. This, the most juvenile part of the root system, has a high ability to form callus tissue, he feels. When the scion is hardier than the rootstock, this makes it easy to plant the graft union below ground as, for example, in the case of ‘Nova’ and Summercrisp’ pear on P. communis. Bill plans to begin propagating his pear trees on P. kirchensaller in 1990 and his plums on P. salicina mandschurica, which should impart additional hardiness and vigor to them. He occasionally uses custom-grown trees from Lawyer to make up for shortfalls in what he grows himself.


The ‘Nova’ is his best-selling pear; he sold 231 trees in 1989. Introduced in 1980, it is named after ‘Nova’, his 10-year-old daughter. Of the 133 apple varieties in his collection, Yellow Transparent’ is the one in most demand. ‘Waneta’, a Gage-type plum, is his best selling plum. I learned that the ‘Hudar’ pear, which ripens around the time of Yellow Transparent’ is named for John Hudar, who owns the land where the mother tree is located, 40 miles from Potsdam.


Bill pointed out that although the university-sponsored plant breeding programs deserve support, there are already new and noteworthy fruit varieties growing as seedling trees or bushes in abandoned orchards, along country roads, and elsewhere, waiting only for a horticultural Indiana Jones to discover, collect, grow and propagate them.


I had a good look at the inner workings of the nursery. Finding qualified help is a problem for him, just as it is for most nurseries. Major expenses include wrapping materials such as plastic, polyethylene, burlap twine, and bark shavings for packages, but there are other expenses as well such as labor and buying new tools. While I was there Bill and Diana were negotiating with printing companies for publishing his 1990 catalog. In light of all this, his price of $10.00 per tree is quite reasonable.


For him, the greatest satisfaction of being a nurseryman was being able to place hardy fruit trees in the hands of his customers. I was impressed with his thorough knowledge of horticulture, his ability to work skillfully with his hands, but most of all with his integrity and openness. The latter qualities were shown by his comment that if a customer tried to order a tree from him which would not be winter- hardy in their climate, he would tell the, so and suggest alternatives. He feels many people have become soured on fruit growing as a result of dealing with nurseries more interested in earning a quick profit than in providing a quality product. When I left Bill gave me a small ‘Precious’ apricot tree, a variety I had wanted to try for a long time. More importantly, though, I took away the knowledge that he is a reliable nurseryman.

—Bob Purvis

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