Rootstocks: how we propagate our apple trees.

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Ezra planting rootstocks

Now that you know how to make biochar (that is if you have been regularly reading The Beckhorn Valley View), you're wondering what should I do with it? This report is about what exactly the kind of thing us folks at Eve’s Cidery use it for.


Did you know that most apple trees that are a specific variety are clones? Yup, you don’t propagate apple trees via seeds, that would make a whole new variety! Instead you vegetatively propagate them. In plain English that translates to making new trees by cutting certain parts of an adult tree to make a new tree with the exact same genetic code. Since what is cut off doesn’t have roots-- enter the rootstock. 

Autumn holds a rootstock

What is a rootstock? A rootstock is quite simply a set of roots. They can be grown from seed, but here again you won't really know the attributes of a seedling rootstock. Most folks use clonal rootstocks for making apple trees. A clonal rootstock is a specific variety, chosen for for its excellent root making abilities, as well as its diseases resistance, ability to confer productivity or precocity, and the ultimate size it makes the tree. The rootstock is what the orchardist will graft their apple variety onto to make a tree. (You can read more about grafting here)

Cathryn and the rootstocks

Unfortunately most commercial rootstocks are conventionally grown on dead soils treated with herbicides. That’s why we decided to make our own. When we plant a tree in our orchard, we expect it to survive in a 'tough love' environment and grow up to be healthy, strong and to produce highly flavorful fruit. The Budagovsky 118 rootstocks we grow in our stool beds are able to do this exceptionally well. What’s more, our rootstocks are certified organic!

row of rootstocks

Our rootstocks are propagated from mother plants grown in a trench called a stool bed.  Each year they send up sprouts. When the sprouts have grown a certain amount, we fill in the trench with a loose mix of plant superfood. That’s where the biochar comes in! 

spreading manuer

The trench is filled with a mix of biochar, hardwood sawdust, and compost. This microbe friendly mix causes mycorrhizal fungi to coat the roots, allowing the rootstocks to access much greater nutrient absorption. Then those little rootstocks grow roots like crazy! At the end of the season, the sawdust mixture is pulled back and the sprout is clipped off at the base of the mother plant. Voila! A rootstock ready to have a cider variety grafted onto it.

the vally orchard

It is definitely a lot of work to grow rootstocks, but we believe that all that hard work pays off. Growing a healthy, organic apple tree that you cloned yourself? That’s a pretty good feeling. Someday, those hard earned rootstocks that have been grafted, pruned, and loved, will bear fruit. (that's probably where the saying "the fruits of your labor" comes from 🙂

Thanks for reading, I hope this was interesting, I learned a few things myself making it. Stay safe, stay healthy and stay INSPIRED, Leila out.

Hi there! Welcome to my column: The Beckhorn Valley View.


My name is Leila. I'm an un-schooling, circus performing, art-loving farm kid who now has their own column in the Eves Cidery farm blog. In my regular column you'll get a Leila-eye-view of the farm, I'll share with you the beautiful scenery of the cider orchards, creative solutions to everyday farm problems, the latest news from the farm dogs, a unique glimpse of my distracted parents and so much more. I hope you enjoy the read and become a regular- have a creative day!