The Q&A Archives: Grandpa Graybeard

Question: My grandmother has in her front yard a bush she calls a grandpa graybeard. Relatives in Mississippi brought it to her years ago and I have tried several different ways to get a start of it for myself but none have worked. Through some research I have found the name of it is Chinonanthus Virginicus but nothing on how to propagate it. Do you have any advice on how to get one started and how to properly care for it?

Answer: According to Michael Dirr's "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants," Chionanthus virginicus (White Fringetree, Grancy Gray-Beard, Old-man's-beard) can be a difficult plant to propagate which may in turn explain why we do not see it for sale very often. it can be done by seed, but the seed takes two years to germinate because it has double dormancy. It requires a three to five month warm period during which it roots, then a cold period at 41 degrees minimum during which the shoot would break dormancy. The seedlings are also very slow the first year. Basically, it will take two years to see top growth from a seeding. Summer tip cuttings can also be used, but the success rate is fairly low and the cuttings can take three or four months to root.

Once you have the plant, it is not terribly difficult to care for; it grows in sun or part shade and it is hardy over a wide range (zones 3 to 9) and in a variety of soils although it would prefer a rich, deep, moist, acid soil. This is not surprising because in the wild it grows along streams and at the edge of swampy areas.

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