Apple Tree Grafting
Like Mary Shelly’s Victor Frankenstein character (The Modern Prometheus), you too could create new life from old life, in a new and improved variety of America’s second most favorite fruit — the apple. There is a difference between Hollywood’s version of grafting and grafting an apple tree. You don’t have to create a monster, (unless you think that the crab apple is one) — your apple clone could be a better tasting and unique variety of apple (or the re-creation of an endangered apple).
It’s Alive! It’s Alive! The Tools You’ll Need To Graft An Apple Tree
In some movie versions of Frankenstein — Victor Frankenstein’s famous line comes to mind in when you realize that your graft or budding has taken:
“Look it’s moving! It’s alive. It’s alive. It’s alive! Now, I know what it’s like to be God!
That comment sort of gives you a clear picture of the possible thrill in creating new life out of dormant, damaged, lost, or unproductive wood (although nothing will be moving except you), when you eventually harvest your first apples.
Fruit trees do not come true from seed, as most of our orchard varieties are hybrids. Grafting and budding are two common methods of propagating apple trees. An undesirable variety may be changed to a more desirable one by grafting. Pollination troubles can be solved by grafting the proper vaiety on part of an unproductive tree through cross-fertilization. When the trunk of a tree has been girdled by mice, grafting will save the tree.
If you have a sharp locking pocket knife, there is really no need for special tools for grafting and budding apple trees. Some will tell you that you need all sorts of other things, like special tape, sealing ointments, etc. That’s nice, but totally unnecessary.
Budding Knives and Grafting Knives
The world of gardening in terms of marketing would have you to believe that you need special budding knives and grafting knives, along with an assortment of “special” tools to graft fruit trees. If you step into that trap, you could find yourself spending twenty dollars or more for a “grafting kit.” If you really want to get crazy, you could a special grafter that can cost most than seventy-five dollars. Also, with them, comes the expense of buying “replacement” blades. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but when did we (especially the males among us) forget how to sharpen tools?
I’m not saying that these aren’t nice tools, but you really don’t need them to be successful in grafting apple trees. Additionally, remember the most important thing to do when grafting and cutting scions or buds — make sure the tools you use are absolute sterile and remain so by cleansing them before each new slice with rubbing alcohol.
Tapes for Binding the Graft
Yes, you can buy special grafting tapes. You can use electrical and plumbing tapes. Or, you can simply recycle strips of plastic freezer bags or trash bags. The apple can be as small as a cherry in some varieties and as large as a grapefruit in other types of apple trees.
Out in the Apple Orchard
For the purposes of this article, I’m sticking to an overview of the various techniques or methods for budding and grafting apple trees. I’ve not included some of the more complicated grafting methods. I don’t think it’s useful to re-invent the wheel, and you’ll find many fine university based online step-by-step instructions for the actual grafting your apple trees.
What I am providing is a foundation in determining what type of apple tree grafting might be desirable in your particular case, and a general knowledge of what budding and grafting are all about. The average apple tree, if healthy, can produce an average of twenty 42 pound boxes of apples each season.
Budding is still another way of grafting and in the opinion of many — it is the easiest way to graft on apples and other fruit trees. The favorite method is known as “T” budding. Its popularity is due to the fact that it is the fast grafting method. Additionally, for beginner in “pomology” (the science of growing apples), it is generally the most successful method compared to other grafting techniques. Unlike other methods of grafting, budding is when you use a single undeveloped bud, as the scion, in place of a section of the stem.
In most parts of the world, budding is done during the summer. Lots of garden calendars of past, urged family farmers to complete their budding between July 15 and August 15. That’s because during this period of apple tree life, the bark of the stock will reveal well-developed and established grown buds.
Storing Apple Tree Scions
I’ve found that the best method for storing them until spring for grafting is to bundle several of them from the same tree together. I then place them in very lightly wetted (but not completely wet) peat moss (sometimes Spanish moss here in Florida). Some people use sawdust for this storage, which also works very well. I’ve also known people who used sand and cotton. Also store them in a cool area to ensure that they will still be green and remain undeveloped, until you are ready to graft them in the spring.
NOTE: Whatever you do, don’t freeze them. You may place them in the lower crisper portion of your refrigerator, if not too cold. Unheated rooms or basements are also good storage sites.
Obtaining Apple Tree Scions
If you’ve never heard the term “scion” — this is last season’s new growth sections with buds. The time for collecting them is of the essence, as they are dormant in the winter, and is best done before new growth in the spring. If possible, you want to harvest them at the very end of fall, or early winter. If you wait until spring, these buds could surprise you and start to grow prematurely, or be injured by cold freezes in an early winter.
Timing Is Everything When Grafting Apple Trees
In terms of actual grafting, it is of course, best done in the spring, just as the host tree’s buds are beginning to open. If you live in a warmer climate you are going to have to use your own best judgment in terms of your “Spring.” However, this can be accomplished up until the normal apple blossom time. April and May are great months for grafting depending upon where you live.
Bet You Didn’t Know
Here’s a fun fact about apples that most people could win in a bet about apples from their friends and family. Apple trivia? Apples are members of the “rose” family.
The Bridge Graft is primarily used in special circumstances, when you have a tree that has been girdled completely around the trunk. Girdling is usually caused by rodents, especially mice. Gophers, and rabbits, who will gnaw on apple trees during the winter. This is a serious and life-threatening event for your apple tree. It might survive that first year after the damage, but will die in the second year unless the tree somehow has managed to make some new shoots below the girdled trunk.
Some people attempt to solve this by covering the wound with water based asphalt grafting compound. It’s widely debated among the universities that teach horticulture and Master Gardener programs as to wound dressing products, really being effective or just postponing the inevitable.
The main body of thought on this, is that if the damage is caught early enough and treated immediately, the injury will not dry out, and new bark from grow around the tree tissue (cambium). Then, this is followed up at the appropriate time of year by a bridge graft.
Note: If you select the wrong wound dressing product, or substitute one that do-it-yourselves have used for decades (such as roofing tar, oil based paints, or other oil based products), you risk injuring your tree even more.
Side grafting is usually reserved for tree branches that are too large for whip grafting, but not large enough for a cleft graft. The basic technique of side grafting is that the scion is placed into the side of the tree stock, in a place that is slightly larger in diameter than the scion.
With older apple trees, the cleft graft is the preferred method of top working. It’s done sometimes on the trunk of small trees. Alternatively, it’s also done on side branches of bigger trees. Ideally, this technique of grafting is suited to apple tree branches about the size of one to two inches in diameter. Another consideration in cleft grafting is the height of where the graft is made. Here, you want to be doing the graft within two and one-half feet or the main branches and not more than five feet above the ground. Otherwise, the new topping out of the apple tree will be too high. It is most successful if done in the spring before growth has made much progress.
This simple grafting technique is both easy to learn and a fast method of grafting if you have a number of trees. It’s best reserved for new field grown apple trees or potted apple trees. In this grafting method both the scion and the rootstock should be of the same size. It’s also best performed in the middle or later part of winter. The root stock should not be larger than one inch in diameter.
For the young apple tree, the whip graft (aka tongue graft) is the best grafting technique to use to propagate nursery stock and should be done in midwinter. This kind of grafting is reserved for the under stock of the young tree. Its branches are still small (not over one-half inch in diameter) and the scion you choose to use for this should be of the same diameter.
In the Lowly Overlooked Leaf
The health of your apple tree is often found in the wellness of the leaves. It’s a small thing, yet amazing to me — that it takes fifty leaves for an apple tree to produce — just one apple.
Apple Punch Recipe
This apple punch recipe came from the 1908 diary of Margaret Ann Todd of Louisiana, Missouri.
- Eight cups of cold water
- Seven large apples (cored, quartered, but not pared)
- Cup of raisins
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 stick of cinnamon (grated)
- 3 lemons (juiced)
Step #1 Instructions:
- Mix all of the above ingredients together
- Bring to a boil
Step #2 Instructions:
- Add eight more cups of cold water
- Boil for 45 minutes
- Add 2 pounds of sugar
- Add juice of 2 lemons
- Stir until dissolved
- Add one dozen maraschino cherries
- Add skinned and seeded raisins
Serve chilled or warm depending upon time of year.
Professionally, my background is that of being a former market research analyst for Fortune 500 companies in the business of selling information. I see an opportunity for someone out there and am hoping to inspire someone to step up to fill a void. With over sixty-eight hundred heirloom apple tree varieties officially extinct just in this country, and even more world-wide — there is an apple opportunity extraordinary.
Currently, there is a huge void in online tracking and registry of endangered, lost, new, or revived apple trees. Nowhere, is there a global central clearing house registry for heirloom apple trees. This could and should be set up, to be profitable in a similar manner to art collection registrars.