‘Blizzard’ is a rarely encountered chance sport mutation of Chinese lacebark elm. Chinese lacebark elm is a strong nursery and landscape participant in the southern USA tree industry. While many sold are seedlings, there are many superior varieties and ‘Blizzard’ is unique in several respects. First, it’s going to be slower-growing smaller version of the lacebark elm. Second, it’s decidedly variegated, and appears not to revert, at least for us. The unique paint-flecked variegation is guaranteed to lighten up any part shade garden and for us in the Pineywoods, it’s best in almost full sun. Yes, it’s a bit slow, but not ridiculously so. From a distance, the variegation is blended to create a lime-green glow. Up close, the variegation is cheerful, clean and crisp.
Now there is a bit of controversy on the original source. If you google the plant, the first thing that comes up is a Wikipedia: “The Chinese Elm cultivar Ulmus parvifolia ‘Blizzard’ arose in 2001 from a sport mutation on a tree growing in the Louisville Gardens, Kentucky. It was cloned at the Mast Arboretum of the Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.” I’m not sure this is totally correct. It’s partially correct, however. The clone in the SFA Mast Arboretum is via Mike Hayman, Louisville, Kentucky. In September, 2001, I was in Louisville making a presentation to the Kentucky Nursery and Landscape Association and Mike took a day to squire me around some of the great Louisville gardens. His personal garden was one of those special places brimming over with all kinds of interesting plants – a cornucopia of diversity. Mike allowed me to take a few cuttings of the little variegated lacebark back to Texas. I can’t remember exactly, but I think Mike had acquired the genotype via seed from a University of Nebraska expedition to China. One came up variegated. At SFA, we were able to multiply the clone via cutting propagation, and, to be honest, and as we’re prone to do, we scattered it far and wide. Several years after the plants were well established in our garden, I learned from friends in Kentucky that the clone had been given the name ‘Blizzard’. This is a great name and it fully describes the flecks of light green and cream spots splashed on the foliage. Years later, I learned that Tony Avent of Plants Delight in North Carolina ( http://www.plantdelights.com/ ) offered a clone ‘variegata’, described in one of those rave reviews that only Tony can conjure up. In an email, Tony said he got the plant via Glasshouse Works in Ohio and he remarked that the clone he had had been floating around there since the early 1970s. Unfortunately, this clone fails to root and Tony won’t graft, so he sows seedlings and picks the variegated seedlings. Wow. Diversity rules even in the little lacebark tree variegated world. However, this means that there may be Blizzard-like plants floating here and there that are not actually the true ‘Blizzard’. That should concern no one. The fact that the ‘Blizzard’ at SFA Gardens roots at all is encouraging. Tony’s website image was strikingly similar to the ‘Blizzard’ we know here in our East Texas garden. In our environment, the variegation has been stable and we’ve yet to see a reversion – but that might not be the case in other areas – and it may break green tomorrow.
Propagation has been easy via late spring and summer cuttings placed under mist, with or without hormones. Because the variety is prone to thin branches, finding suitable cutting wood is often a bit tricky. The thicker young wood from vigorous shoots roots easier than the thin twiggy branches. We generally apply a 2500 to 5000 PPM K-IBA rooting hormone as a five-second dip. In our work, roots appear in three to four weeks. While our rooting percentages have been lower than desired (25 to 50%), I’m convinced that careful selection of the right kind of cuttings would increase that number. After rooting, ‘Blizzard’ has been a slow grower in the container for the first few months, but soon becomes well established and thrifty if the container substrate is well drained and good nutrition is applied. A saleable one gallon container can be developed in one year. A well-drained container substrate is essential to good growth; soupy wet mixes can kill plants quickly.
Because the clone is relatively new to the garden world, I’m not sure just what the ultimate height might be. Our oldest plant is a specimen about 15′ tall and 10′ wide in a part-shade location of the Arboretum. ‘Blizzard’ should be planted in a well-drained garden location and appreciates mulch. In our area, the plant performs well in part shade – or at least protected from the harsh western sun in summer. We have had a few container plants burn in full sun in the nursery but this might have been moisture related. In more northern climes, the variety does quite well in full sun if attention is paid to soil moisture. The variety should receive timely irrigation during the establishment years.