If you plant a peach or other fruit tree seed, the tree that comes up will not produce the same type of fruit that the seed was from. The only way to produce a fruit tree that will produce the same fruit as the original tree is through grafting. Grafting refers to any of several methods of attaching a section of a stem with leaf buds into the stock of an existing tree.
- Before You Begin
- Tools Needed for Grafting
- Methods of Grafting
- Reasons for Graft Failure
- Graft Failure Repercussions
- Rewards of Grafting
- An Easy Method for Grafting Apple Trees
- As Easy as (Apple) Pie
- Grafting Trees: What Is Tree Grafting
- Tree Grafting Techniques
- Grafting Tree Branches with the Bud Grafting Method
- Step-by-Step Guide to Grafting Fruit Trees
Before You Begin
Trees for Grafting
Young, vigorous fruit trees less than five years old are the best for grafting. You want a rootstock, or the tree the graft is going into, to be vigorous and as disease resistant as possible. The quality of its fruit is not important; it is the quality of the tree that is the important part. The trees should be tall enough that the tree will have 1 to 2 feet between the trunk and the graft.
Best Scions for Grafting
Scions are the pieces of wood with three or four buds on them that will be grafted onto the rootstock. The best time to harvest scions is in the winter. Harvest pieces that are 1/4 to 3/8 inches in diameter and that have three or four buds on them. Store them in your refrigerator with the cut ends wrapped in a damp paper towel and the entire scion in a plastic bag. These will store three to four months and still be good for grafting. Do not store in the freezer.
Be sure to label which type of tree each scion is from. The scion and rootstock need to be the same type of fruit tree. You cannot graft a pear scion on an apple tree, for example.
When to Graft
It is best to graft in the spring, when the buds of the rootstock are just starting to open. You can graft until blossom time, however.
All grafts should be covered as soon as they are made. Electrician’s tape may be used to bind the two pieces together. The good brands will stick to themselves and last through the first summer, when they are no longer needed.
Asphalt water emulsion compound is widely used as a protective coating on graphing unions. It is of a pasty consistency, and should be put on with a small paddle or tongue depressor so you can apply it thickly.
Tools Needed for Grafting
You will need the following tools to graft your trees:
- Budding knife
- Grafting knife
- Fine tooth saw
- Pruning shears
- Dormant scions
- Grafting tape or electrician’s tape
- Asphalt water emulsion compound for covering grafts
- Light hammer
- Cleft grafting chisel and mallet
Methods of Grafting
There are four general methods of grafting fruit trees. These methods are used with different species of trees and in different situations. Trees up to five years old can be grafted all at one time. Older trees need to be grafted one branch at a time with a year or so between grafts. Make sure that when you graft the scion to the rootstock, that the scion is right side up. You can tell because the buds point up.
Budding uses a single bud as the scion rather than a stick. It is the grafting method of choice for cherry, plum, apricot, and peach trees, and can be used for apple and pear trees.
Budding is done later than other types of grafting, in the summer. This is when the bark slips easily and there are well grown buds to use in the grafting. It is the easiest method of grafting for beginners.
1. Cut bud sticks from strong shoots of the present season’s growth with mature buds that are slightly brownish in color.
2. Clip off the leaves from the bud sticks, leaving 1/2 inch of the leafstalk for a handle.
3. Discard the soft tips of the bud sticks.
4. Choose branches from the rootstock that are the size of a lead pencil up to 1/2 inch diameter. Larger branches have too thick a bark for this method to work.
5. On the rootstock, about 15 or more inches from the trunk, make a T cut across the bark.
6. With a knife blade, lift the corners and carefully loosen the bark.
|Budding step 6||Budding step 6 part 2|
7. Cut a bud from the bud stick which includes a thin piece of attached wood.
8. Slide the bud under the flaps of the bark on the rootstock until the ends are firmly under the bark.
9. Using electrician’s tape, tie the bud to the rootstock.
10. Wrap the ends tightly, but be sure not to cover the bud with tape.
11. In two to three weeks, cut the tie so you will not girdle the graft.
12. The next year, cut the rootstock off above the graft when the bud starts growing.
13. Remove any shoots below the graft.
14. The second year, remove all growth from the tree except the bud grafted shoots.
The Whip Graft
The whip graft is usually used on small apple and pear trees. The diameter of both the rootstock and the scion should be about the same size, not more than 1/2 inch in diameter.
1. Cut a branch off the rootstock, leaving a stub of at least 1 foot.
2. Cut a straight, vertical 1-1/2 inch cut on the bottom end of the scion and the top end of the rootstock.
3. Then carefully cut a slit down the middle of the scion cut, leaving a tongue about 1 inch long attached to the scion.
4. Do the same to the rootstock.
5. Fit the scion and rootstock together interlocking the tongues so that the cambium, or inner bark, of both is in contact.
6. Cover the graft with electrical tape to hold the two pieces together. Do not stretch the tape too much or it will be too tight.
7. Cover the electrical tape completely with asphalt water emulsion compound.
8. Remove the asphalt and tape as soon as the scion has begun to grow to prevent girdling of the graft.
This type of graft is difficult for the beginner to do well.
The Cleft Graft
The cleft graft is used when grafting onto an older apple or pear tree. The tree trunk or branch being grafted to should be about 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The graft should be made within a foot of the trunk or main branch and preferably not more than 4 to 6 feet off the ground. Otherwise the top will be too tall to easily pick.
1. Cut off the branch or trunk of the rootstock where the graft will go.
2. Cut the cleft in the middle of the top of the rootstock with a cleft chisel. You can also use a large knife or hatchet. Do not split the branch or trunk. Cut it deep enough to fit the end of the scion in it, about 1-1/2 inches.
3. Cut the bottom of the scion to a wedge shape. Making a sharp point will tend to break off when inserted.
4. Insert two scions in the wedge of the rootstock, one on each edge of the trunk or branch. You will need to open the cleft with a grafting tool or screwdriver to insert the scions.
5. Make sure the cambium of the rootstock is in contact with the cambium of the scion. You will need to tilt the scion slightly to make good contact.
6. Wrap the cleft graft with electrical tape.
Cleft grafting step 6
7. Cover the graft and the length of the cleft with asphalt grafting compound.
Cleft grafting step 7
8. When the scions start growing, tie to a support stake to prevent breakage.
9. Tie all the branches coming from the scion together with a piece of string to stabilize them.
10. The first year, let all scions and the branches below them grow.
11. The second year, chose one scion as the main branch and cut the rest to three buds. Remove all branches below the graft.
12. The third year, cut the spare scions back to three buds again. Continue to remove any branches below the graft.
13. The fourth year, cut the spare scions off. Continue to remove any branches below the graft.
The Side Graft
The side graft is generally used for trees that are too big for the whip graft but not big enough for the cleft graft. The scion is inserted in the side of the rootstock, then the rootstock above the graft is cut off when the scion starts growing.
1. Find a smooth place on the underside of a branch at least a foot from the trunk. Make a slanting cut almost to the core of the branch.
2. Cut the scion to a short, sharp wedge with one side longer than the other.
3. Bend the branch a little to open the cut and insert the scion. Make sure the cambium of both branch and scion meet.
|Side graft step 3||Side graft step 3|
4. Cover the graft with asphalt grafting compound.
5. Wait two weeks, then cut the rootstock above the graft off.
6. Cover the cut with grafting compound.
7. After the first season, cut all growth off below the graft.
8. Fire blight is a disease that attacks fruit trees. If the scion is attacked by fire blight, cut it back six inches below the fire blight symptoms.
Reasons for Graft Failure
There are several reasons for graft failure. These are the most common:
- The stock and the scion were not compatible.
- The cambiums did not meet properly.
- The scion was upside down.
- Grafting was done at the wrong time of the year.
- Either the scion or the rootstock was not healthy.
- The scions were dried out or injured by cold.
- The scions were not dormant when grafted.
- The graft was not properly covered.
- The scion was displaced by some means.
- The graft was too shaded by other growth to grow.
- The graft was attacked by insects or disease.
- The graft union was girdled because the tape was left on too long.
Graft Failure Repercussions
If some of the grafts fail, do not worry. One hundred percent success is almost unheard of. Usually, you graft more scions than are needed for the tree to succeed. Let the shoots where the graft failed grow and bud them that summer, or let them grow a year and try another graft. Just do not let them grow so much they shade other scions.
Rewards of Grafting
Grafting fruit trees allows you to put exactly the scion on the rootstock that you want. This means you will get exactly the kind of fruit you want from that fruit tree. While grafting is a bit of trouble, you should get years of enjoyment from the resulting tree.
One of the most important elements while building our food producing systems is to acquire the genetic diversity by way of tree seedlings, heirloom vegetable seeds, accumulators, companions, soil microbiology etc. I would like to draw your attention to trees particularly which are usually costly if bought from nurseries.
While the S.T.U.N method of Mark Sheppard is also very acceptable to grow fruit trees, grafting is still a nice skill to have for a permaculturist. I now grow and graft my trees and exceeded the numbers I bought from nurseries. Of course, in my little back and front yard, I don’t have enough space to grow them all. I give them to friends and planted mostly for Grandpa Bill to open areas.
I collect seeds of my Granny Smith apple; I have read somewhere that granny smith seedling’s root system is much more prolific than the others. I can graft pear or apple on them but I usually graft apples to apples and pears to pears. I simply believe that sap sugar compatibility is important to carry the nutrients, minerals, and phytochemicals to the fruit that result in higher nutrient density.
I am also collecting any store bought fruit seeds like nashi, peach, nectarine and plums throughout the summer in small containers on a window sill.
I don’t do cold stratification in the fridge anymore. I collect seeds in summer, prepare my large 39L root pouches and bury the seeds around autumn to the depth of their thickness. Some mulch on top and water to keep moist. Root pouch works well as the drainage is very well taken care of, even if the rain is bucketing down, they will be alright. Winter times will do the required cold stratification naturally.
Wikipedia definition of stratification is: “In horticulture, stratification is the process of treating stored or collected seed prior to sowing to simulate natural winter conditions that a seed must endure before germination. Some seed species undergo an embryonic dormancy phase, and generally will not sprout until this dormancy is broken.”
I used to do cold stratification in the fridge and transfer to soil but the survival rate was less. Growing in good soil in a larger space gives more chance to seedlings and they actually grow faster with the available nutrients and mycorrhiza that is naturally there. You can also collect mushrooms naturally growing among the same kind of trees you collected seeds from and sprinkle them on the seeds. The symbiotic relationship will help the seedlings to draw nutrients from the soil and grow into a better root stocks.
You may need to feed the root pouches during spring and summer to prevent stunted growth. A homemade liquid fish fertilizer will do the job.
Once the seedlings grow for a season, I transfer them into large pots in winter while they are dormant, starting from the larger and thicker ones. The ones thick like a pinkie gets a graft around 4 weeks before the apple bloom. I usually use a saddle graft with my grafting scissor. I have tried some bud grafts as well. Saddle graft is the only graft I do these days for the young seedlings.
Grafting has some rules and with a little bit of care and watching some YT videos, you will get the idea and be successful. Stephen Hayes is my go to person on YT for grafting videos. Don’t make 3 or 5 grafts but make like 20 or 30 so that the ones that accept the graft will still be enough for your use.
I keep the unsuccessful grafts and remove the scion. This lets the seedling to grow normally and I can try grafting them again next winter.
If you don’t want to graft, concentrate on olive, peach, nectarine, cherry, plum, apricot, nashi and all sorts of berries. These will produce almost true to type where the fruit will taste like the mother tree if not better. Most berries grow from cuttings or air layering too.
A plum and a nectarine grown from seeds thrown by my kids in my garden are fruiting for the last 2 years. Nectarine has this strange beautiful perfumed aroma and eating a fruit from this tree is an experience out of this world. I tried to graft the plum and it didn’t accept anything. The branch died off too. I let it grow as a screening between me and the neighbour. Boy! I should have done that earlier; dark, matt, purple plums as big as walnuts so juicy and aromatic that I need to fight with possums to get some. Luckily the plum has got these big, hidden-under-leaves, spikes; possums don’t know about (hopefully).
I have never tried citrus seeds though people swear that lemon seeds grow to a nice productive lemon tree. I’ve read that drying the citrus seed is not good, they should be buried in soil as soon as extracted from the fruit. Cherry seeds are also the same.
I have grown walnut and chestnut from store bought nuts too. Almond also works. No need for grafting on these. They will produce an acceptable crop for you, deer and chipmunks. Sometimes hard-shelled seeds like apricot and almond require scarification that is grinding part of the shell in order to thin it without punching a hole so that water can penetrate after winter and break the dormancy of the embryo.
Wikipedia definition of scarification is: “Scarification in botany involves weakening, opening, or otherwise altering the coat of a seed to encourage germination. Scarification is often done mechanically, thermally, and chemically. The seeds of many plant species are often impervious to water and gasses, thus preventing or delaying germination. Any process designed to make the testa (seed coat) more permeable to water and gasses (and thus more likely to germinate) is known as scarification.”
If you see a nice apple, pear, plum or apricot at your friend’s garden and would like the same fruit, your only option is to take some 1-year-old samples from the mother tree (scion wood) and graft these on your root stocks.
Commercial operations states that a 10-year-old tree is not suitable for taking scion wood as it would already have bloomed 7 or 8 times and contracted pollen-born virus diseases.
The scion wood should not have any fruit spurs, water sprouts or terminal buds on top. It should have buds close together and should be straight. 1-year-old growth wouldn’t have any fruit spurs and you can cut the terminal bud on top. I have grafted some scions with terminal buds on them; they took off but the growth was slow.
Water sprouts are fast growing vertical branches and the distance between buds are longer. They don’t make good scion wood. Use horizontal branches with lots of buds on them.
Scion wood should be about 5 to 10mm diameter but it should also match the diameter of the root stock. This is important to match the cambium where the nutrients flow right under the skin of trees. Use a caliper to measure the root stock and the scion wood to make sure that the cambium layer will match when grafted.
If scion wood is bigger or smaller diameter than the root stock; make sure at least one side of scion matches the cambium of the root stock. The other side should be covered with wax or grafting paste to prevent over drying or diseases. I used natural beeswax mixed with linseed oil which makes it pliable and doesn’t dry easily under the sun.
Once I think the union is done and the cambiums matching, I use a grafting tape and cover the graft union and 2cm up and down.
I usually cut the scion wood from the mother tree during the grafting but you can collect 30-40cm long scion woods from friends’ trees, wrap them with moist paper kitchen towels and store them in ziplock bags in the fridge for 4 to 8 weeks till you graft. Make sure buds are not damaged under pressure. Some serious scion wood providers also dip the ends of the wood in wax to prevent drying and couple drops of bleach into a bucket of water to moist the kitchen towels to prevent diseases.
“In a waxing moon, when light increases towards a full moon, sap flow is drawn up. This is the most suitable time for applying liquid fertilisers, pruning and grafting as increased sap flow produces new growth more quickly” says the article from Richard Telford here at PRI. I have never followed moon planting or grafting but worth to try if there is a slight chance of increasing success on our grafts.
The tools required for grafting are a good, sharp grafting knife, grafting tape, secateurs with a piece of cloth and methylated spirit bottle and if you are doing guerrilla grafting; a grafting scissor as carrying a grafting knife would raise some eyebrows. You can get all these tools from garden centres or online shops.
If there are 2 main branches growing on the seedling; I leave one of the branches to help with the pollination and you never know, you may hit a good apple or pear on that branch. I don’t do double grafting with different cultivars. The reason being is usually one of them takes over in the coming years and the other disappears. Instead, you can do “2 trees in the same hole” method with 2 different apple cultivars (or any other fruit).
If you are in a dry location, you might want to cover the pot entirely with a plastic bag and punch some holes at the top for airing. This method will keep the scion wood from drying too much. I have never done it and most of my grafts are okay with dry Canberra weather. I protect them from the sun though.
I think grafting is one of those emotionally fulfilling skills. It will be a very happy and Zen moment when you look at your trees 10 years later and think that you have grafted them. And if you teach this skill to your kids, it will make you feel even better. Happy grafting.
An Easy Method for Grafting Apple Trees
Locate your host tree. Often, the best choice is an ailing “fruit factory” that’s all but shut down production as a result of neglect. Or do as I did, and graft several delicious varieties on to one of those scrubby little crab apple-makers that seem to grow just about everywhere. In either case, no more than a quarter to a third of any tree should be grafted each year, and only the healthiest branches should be selected as hosts. The limbs can be any length you wish, but their diameters should range from 3/4” to 2” at the points where they’ll be cut off to receive the scions.
Using a saw that won’t tear up the limb, cut the first host branch off square to form a stump. Next, use a chisel or a heavy knife and a hefty block of wood as a mallet to drive a cleft a couple of inches deep (and no more than that distance!) into the center of the stump. For now, leave the chisel in place.
Got that pail of scions handy? Using the same bevel cut you employed to harvest them, shorten each of the longer bud-sticks into 3” and 4” sections with three or four buds. Then, with the chisel acting as a wedge to hold open the cleft in the stump, make the implants … one scion in a limb of 1” diameter or less, and two in a larger stump.
Now, here’s the important part: Do you see the pulpy layer just under the bark? It’s called the cambium, and it’s where all the merging and growing takes place … so make sure that the cambium of the scions is lined up and in contact with that of the stump. In addition, the bottom bud of each implanted scion should rest just a fraction of an inch above the stump, facing outward. With two-scion implants, position one at each side of the stump. Next, carefully withdraw the chisel, allowing the cleft to spring shut, clamping the scion(s) in place. .. and you’re ready to move along to the next limb.
Coat all the exposed (that is, cut) portions of your grafts with melted wax. And to insure a good “take” for your grafts, give the entire tree a pruning, removing all dead limbs and wild shoots that might rob your “babies” of vital nutrients.
Except to check your wax “wrappers” for damage (recoat any exposed areas), leave the grafts alone for the first year. At the beginning of their second year of growth, prune off the weaker of the two scions on each of the larger host limbs.
As Easy as (Apple) Pie
See? There’s no big secret to crossbreeding fruit trees with the cleft-grafting method. And you can do a new batch of grafts each spring until you’ve converted a near worthless yard decoration into a multicolored, one-tree apple orchard!
Grafting is a form of propagating new fruit trees using buds or twigs – the ‘scion wood’ from an existing tree and fusing it onto a branch or stem of another tree – ‘the rootstock’, which is selected for size, suitability to site and tolerance of certain soil conditions.
Once you have got the hang of it, you can look forward to getting new trees for a fraction of what you would pay down at the nursery.
Grafting produces clones of known fruit varieties. This technique is thousands of years old and is the only way to guarantee that the fruit grown on a new tree is the variety we want. Simply planting the seeds of our favourite fruit will produce new varieties with unknown qualities.
There are two main techniques for grafting fruit trees – whip grafting, where a short piece of scion wood is attached to the rootstock in late winter/early spring, producing a single stem one-year old tree by the following summer. Bud grafting occurs where a single bud is attached to an actively growing rootstock in the summer time. Whip grafting allows the tree to develop more quickly because it uses a larger piece of the scion wood, however, bud grafting produces a straighter tree and a stronger union.
Whip grafting is often done inside with dormant rootstock dug out of the ground. This is called bench-grafting. An alternative method, used where there is sufficient land available is field grafting, where the rootstock is left undisturbed in the ground and the grafting is done there and then.
Selecting Scion Wood
Choose a healthy tree if possible, use well ripened, mature green wood from the outside/sunny side of the tree (interior wood may be ‘etiolated’ – pale and weaker).
Cut a 7.5-10cm whip with three buds present:
- Stock bud: just behind the grafting cut, helps with callusing
- Top bud: to form the shoot
- Middle bud: back-up if the top bud fails
Attaching the Scion to the Rootstock
Cut back the rootstock to between 15-30cm – too low a graft union invites pathogen risk from splash back from the soil. Too high, especially on dwarfing rootstock can make for a weak union.
The ends of each joining piece should be cut in matching clean elliptical slices so that when joined together, as much of the cambium layer (the part of the wood between the outer bark and the woody bit) as possible is touching. This may take some practice!
Leave a small ‘church window’ of internal scion wood sticking over the top of the rootstock wood to help with callusing.
Putting horticultural wax on the open cuts will help prevent water loss.
For bud grafting, look for a plump, healthy looking bud from the outside/sunny side of the tree that is not dry and shrivelled or with obvious damage to create your scion.
Using a grafting knife, cut a small slit into the bark ½ an inch underneath the bud and slowly pull the knife upwards taking in the cambium layer and outer bark without cutting into the heartwood, or inner part of the branch. End the slice ½ an inch above the bud, so it comes away neatly.
Cut a 1 inch vertical slit into the branch where the bud will be placed, cutting only into the bark layer. At the top of this incision, cut a cross-wise slit, creating a T-shape.
Then, gently lifting the corners where they meet, slide in the scion bud with the growing tip pointing upwards, ensuring that the cambium layers on each are touching.
Wrap the join in grafting tape to keep dry and in the following spring prune off the tip of the branch as soon as the grafted bud begins to grow.
Further reading – The Grafter’s Handbook by R.J. Garner
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Grafting Trees: What Is Tree Grafting
Grafted trees reproduce the fruit, structure and characteristics of a similar plant in which you are propagating. Trees grafted from vigorous rootstock will grow faster and develop quicker. Most grafting is done in the winter or early spring while both rootstock and scion plants are dormant.
Tree Grafting Techniques
Tree grafting is the most common method used for grafting trees, especially for fruit trees. However, there are various grafting techniques. Each type of grafting is used to accomplish various needs for grafting trees and plants. For instance, root and stem grafting are techniques preferred for small plants.
- Veneer grafting is often used for evergreens.
- Bark grafting is used for larger diameter rootstocks, and often requires staking.
- Crown grafting is a type of grafting used to establish a variety of fruit on a single tree.
- Whip grafting uses a wood branch or scion.
- Bud grafting uses a very small bud from the branch.
- Cleft, saddle, splice and inarching tree grafting are some other types of grafting.
Grafting Tree Branches with the Bud Grafting Method
First cut a budded branch from the scion tree. A budded branch is a whip like branch that has mature (brownish) but unopened buds on it. Remove any leaves and wrap the budded branch in a damp paper towel.
On the rootstock tree, select a healthy and somewhat younger (smaller) branch. About two-thirds of the way up the branch, make a T cut lengthways on the branch, only deep enough to go through the bark. Lift the two corners that the T cut creates so that it creates two flaps.
Remove the budded branch from the protective wrap and carefully slice a mature bud from the branch, being careful to leave strip of the bark around it and the wood below it still attached.
Slip the bud under the flaps in the same direction on the rootstock branch that it was cut from the budded branch.
Tape or wrap the bud into place making sure you do not cover the bud itself.
In a few weeks, cut the wrapping away and wait for the bud to grow. This can take until the next period of active growth. So if you do your bud grafting in the summer, you may not see growth until spring.
Once the bud starts actively growing, cut off the branch above the bud.
One year after the bud has started actively growing, cut all branches but the grafted branch off of the tree.
Trees grafted with the right kind of rootstock can create a tree that benefits from the best of both the rootstock and scion trees. Grafted trees can make a healthy and beautiful addition to your yard.
Step-by-Step Guide to Grafting Fruit Trees
Jarrod E. Stephens | Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine. To subscribe, .
A trip down memory lane for many outdoorsmen will lead to some great times beneath one of grandfather’s apple trees. Not only did grandfather’s apple tree draw kids like ants to sugar, but it also brought out the deer and other wildlife to enjoy the smorgasbord. It is no secret that apples on the ground are a magnet for deer and particularly bucks near the end of summer and into fall when much of the natural vegetation is getting tough. The overall drawing power of a mast tree makes it a logical addition to any gamekeeper’s repertoire of feeding options for local wildlife. If fruit trees are in your plans you can create your own for a fraction of the price by grafting.
Tree grafting is a procedure where you take a piece of an existing tree (scion) and attach it to a receptive root stock and they form a new tree. You might refer to it as “tree surgery.” It may sound complicated but it is actually quite simple and rewarding. Adding grafted fruit trees to your property won’t have an immediate impact but can improve wildlife feeding options for many years to come.
Having the right tools will ensure greater success with your grafts. You will need root stock for apple trees if you are grafting apple trees, and pear root stock if you are grafting pear trees and you can even graft persimmon or cherry trees, too. The best way to get root stock that is well suited for your region is to contact your local extension agent. They will likely be able to get the root stock for you or help you find a vendor. Nativ Nurseries also offers crabapple, persimmon, and pear that make excellent rootstocks.
To make clean cuts you will need a sharp pair of pruning shears to remove the scion (the part of the tree you intend to graft). A razor sharp knife that can trim the scion and root stock is essential. Crafting knives such as the Exacto Knife can be used as well. Grafting tape and grafting sealant will aid in keeping the pieces together as they join.
Choosing the Right Trees to Graft
Choosing the right trees to graft is one of the easiest steps. Think back to previous years when you were driving around and you noticed deer in your neighbor’s yard enjoying the falling apples. It’s obvious the particular variety of tree is well suited for your region and if it is grafted successfully then the deer will be drawn to your property as well.
Ask your friends and neighbors for cuttings (scions) from their trees. Don’t settle for one type of tree but instead graft as many varieties as possible. Some trees graft easier than others so you may need to experiment with several types.
To extend the benefits of your trees for wildlife food you should also consider grafting trees that will bear fruit during different months of the year. For instance, you can graft early June apples, which will drop their fruit during mid-summer, and then graft other hardy varieties that will begin dropping their fruit in late August, September and October.
Time to Graft
Late winter into early summer is the best time to graft fruit trees. Much will depend upon the type of grafting you’re doing. You want to have your root stock and collect your scion before the sap rises and buds begin to emerge. To choose the best scion you will want to avoid collecting water sprouts that grow from the base of the tree, but instead you should collect hardy pieces from the branches that have four to six buds and are ten to twelve inches long. The scion should also be as close to the same diameter as the root stock as possible.
As you collect your scion, make clean cuts with your pruning shears and place the pieces in a bucket of water to prevent them from drying out. Keep the water handy throughout the grafting process. There are multiple ways to graft trees and you will see two methods in the photos. The method seen in the photos “Step 4 and 5” is called the “modified cleft graft.” In photos “Step 6 through 8” you will see “bark grafting.”
The outer layer of the scion and root stock is referred to as the cambium layer. This layer is where the nutrients and water are fed throughout the tree and that is where the actual union will occur. The cambium layer of each piece needs to touch as closely as possible for successful grafting. This is true for either method of grafting – for successful grafting to take place, the vascular cambium tissues of the stock and scion must be placed in contact with each other.
Choose root stock and a scion that are close in size (for modified cleft graft) and cut the root stock with a sharp pair of pruning shears about 3 inches from where the ground line will be on the tree. Carefully split the root stock down the middle about 1 ½ inches. Make a wedge with the scion that comes to a blunt end and is equal in length to the depth of the wedge you cut in the root stock. Carefully insert the scion wedge into the split of the root stock. Closely inspect the two pieces to ensure that the outer cambium layers touch as much as possible. Continue whittling the scion end and inspecting it until a clean and solid match is made. Don’t rush this step because the entire process depends on good contact between the scion and root stock.
With bark grafting the root stock can be larger, and in fact, should be larger than your scions. Rather than splitting the root stock down the middle, you’ll want to carefully make a horizontal slit several inches long just through the cambium layer. You’ll want to loosen the bark on each side of the root stock to make a spot to insert the scions – it is most common with bark grafting to use two scions. You can see how this has been done in “Step 6.” The scions will be inserted into the slits you have made just behind the bark (cambium layer), one on each side of the root stock. This is the main difference between the two grafting styles.
Once you are satisfied with the two pieces, you can strengthen the union by using grafting tape or masking tape to hold the pieces together. Wrap the union tightly to ensure a good bond. Some people choose to apply a thin layer of grafting sealant to cover the union. Both the tape and the sealant will weather and decay within the first year of growth. However, it’s important that you don’t use too much tape or grafting sealant because applying too much can cause girdling which may damage and ultimately kill the tree. After finishing the graft, place it into a bucket of water as you continue your work so that the scion doesn’t dry out. Keep the union submerged until you are ready to plant them.
Plant your newly grafted trees in a fertile area where they will not be disturbed. Put the root into a hole leaving the area where you grafted the scion about one to two inches from the surface of the ground. Mark the tip of the graft with a small piece of fluorescent colored ribbon so that it is easily seen. If you do decide to graft multiple varieties, you will want to record the variety of the tree on the ribbon and also keep a record of the varieties so that you can see which ones were the most successfully grafted.
Rootstocks can also be planted first and then grafted later. Rootstocks can also be “volunteer” seedlings, meaning you can find a random crabapple or persimmon growing in the field and graft onto it. There are many options for grafting.
Water and fertilize the grafts regularly to ensure quick growth. Keep the area around the grafts weed free so that there is little competition for needed nutrients. Your hope is that the scion and the root stock successfully unite and the roots begin to feed the scion. Small buds will emerge as other trees in your area begin to bud. To ensure that all of the growth goes into the scion, you should remove any suckers or small sprouts that emerge from the root stock. Leaving them will allow much needed nutrients to be taken from the scion.
Protecting Your Grafts
After you have invested your time and energy into getting a successful graft, it is important that you protect it from damage for the first few years. The union where the graft has occurred is quite delicate and if it is disturbed it can lead to failure and death of the new tree. Protective tree tubes work great for this. Otherwise, driving a stake next to your grafts and loosely tying them to it can keep the union strong through windy conditions. Don’t tie the string too tightly and it’s best to avoid using nylon or synthetic string. Instead you should use a string that will decay such as sisal.
For added protection you may also build a wire cage to surround the tree, like the ones that you use in your tomato garden. Doing so will protect the tender branches from browsing wildlife. Allowing deer and other critters to eat and tug at the newly established leaves can place too much stress on the graft and cause it to fail. You should transplant the grafted trees from their original spot into their permanent location after their first year or two of growth.
No matter where you plant the trees it remains imperative that you continue fertilizing and watering them so they grow well. An excellent way to ensure deep watering for your trees is to put a piece of one inch waterline in the hole alongside the tree as you plant it. Under the end of the pipe you should place a handful of gravel to allow the water to filter into the hole. Leave about one foot of the pipe to stick out of the ground. Every drop of water and fertilize that you pour down the pipe will go directly to the roots of the tree and have an immediate impact on its success.
Well Worth the Wait
Keep in mind that your grafted trees will not have an instant impact on your hunting plot, but instead they are for long range consideration. Grafting fruit trees is one of the only food plot enhancements you can make that can truly last a lifetime. Don’t be expecting fruit anytime soon however. A grafted dwarf fruit tree will not likely produce fruit for five to seven years. Semi-dwarf trees can take seven to nine years to produce fruit.
Once the trees do begin bearing fruit then you and the deer can enjoy them each season. The apples will fall from the branches over a period of several weeks which will give you time to pick out your trophy for the season. In the end you’ll be glad that you took that initial step to make a lasting improvement on your plot. After all, being a gamekeeper isn’t just about making an impact today; it’s about making a lasting impact for generations to come.