Art of Grafting
Grafting is an age old horticultural art. The extreme heterozygosity of apples means that true to type trees can't be achieved by planting seeds. (You can read more about seedling trees on this page). Vegetative propagation means that all Northern Spy trees, for example, are a clone of one original tree, the scion wood being passed down by grafters from generation to generation, from one living tree to the next. On this page you can see photos and read about the basics of three different grafting techniques for apples.
MAKING BABY TREES:
Most of the trees we plant on our farm we graft or bud ourselves. There is something thrilling about making your own tree...a chance to play creator for a bit, to make a baby and grow it in a nursery, imagining the tree it will become in a decade or so. We also grow our own trees because true cider apple trees are hard still to come by as most commercial nurseries don't offer them. We want the flexibility to plant what we want, when we want. There are two basic techniques for making baby tree: one is to bench graft scions to rootstocks in the winter, and the other is to bud dormant buds into liners in the nursery in late summer.
THE WHIP AND TONGUE GRAFT
- Obtain rootstocks. We recommend Cummins Nursery as a source.
- Collect scions. Cider variety scions from our farm can be ordered from Twisted Tree Farm. Collect dormant one year wood from desired variety in the winter. Store in a cool place, away from ethylene producing fruits or vegetables, wrapped in a damp cloth to keep it from drying out.
- We prefer the Whip and Tongue graft because of it's strength. It is a superior graft and worth the effort to learn. First, make a diagonal cut. Then make a parallel back cut about a third of the way through the diameter. Do this on both root and scion and then mate them together.
- Tie it tight with a grafting band.
- Dip the tip in wax to prevent desiccation.
- LABEL everything!
- We like to make bundles of 25 and pack them in sawdust in nursery pots. Store them in a cool dark place for at least 2 weeks while the callous tissue heals.
- Plant before they begin to leaf out but after danger of hard frost has passed.
T- BUDDING IN AUGUST
- Rootstocks are planted out as liners in the nursery.
- When the current growth on apple trees goes dormant in late summer, collect your bud wood from the desired variety.
- When you cut the leaves off your scion wood, leave a piece of the stem so you have a little handle.
- Cut the bud off.
- We T-bud. Cut a small tee in the rootstock. Peel the bark back, and insert the bud, like in an envelope.
- Tie it closed as tight as you can with the budding band. But leave a space for the bud to sprout.
- Don't forget mouse guards to protect the over-wintering nursery!
- Next spring, when the bud shows it's alive, cut off the rootstock directly above the new bud.
CHANGING OLDER TREES:
That you can transform a mature tree of one variety to another is truly amazing. In our orchard we have changed many trees of varieties useless for cider making over to cider varieties with top-grafting.
TOP GRAFTING BASICS
- Collect one year dormant scion wood and store it properly until just prior to bloom.
- Make a nice fresh cut. It's a good idea to leave some nurse branches on the trees to support it while the scion wood grows.
- Cut scions like a wedge and insert between the cambium and inner wood in a ring around the trunk.
- Staple shut and coat the cut areas with tree coat or wax.
- Next spring, cut back the new growth by half to insure a stiff union. In 3 years you will have grown a simple fruiting "umbrella"
GRAFTING: THE ORIGINAL D.I.Y. HORTICULTURE
Grafting embodies what I love about age old horticultural practices. With a few simple tools and learned skill, you posses a certain kind of independence from the limits on taste imposed by an apple industry driven by bland mass market appeal. Escape the tyranny of the Granny Smith! Plant apples that taste good! Grow your own and graft your own!
- Autumn Stoscheck