Gardeners Chat-Shed Forum

 

 

 

 

GRAFTING FRUIT TREES

To accompany this article there are two Fact-sheets that I've compiled which are available for you to download:

Fruit Trees - Rootstock Guide
Fruit Trees - Pollination Guide

Foreword

I was fascinated by grafting when I was a boy at Tregaron County School, and got taught the basic (?black art?) theory about such things by dear old Mr Lewis - in what was called  "Rural Science Studies" (RSS) in those days.

Mr Lewis was an unassuming ex RAF Spitfire pilot and one of the nicest and most genuinely humble teachers that I've ever had the pleasure to meet.

Rural science mostly involved horticultural studies and we got a taste of it for one double lesson once a week. It was one of those early post war subject that was taught to all children in order to heighten everyone's knowledge about growing food - in case we experienced another war I presume! The school even had a big vegetable garden with a high chain link fence around it - so that we could practice in the day but not return later to take our efforts home to Mam!

It later got dropped from the curriculum, after all the fears that had sprung up from WW2 food shortages had calmed down and the panic had subsided (about 25 years after the end of that particular war in 1945!).

Personally I think they should bring it back for our children in this modern world we now live in - (RSS that is - not war!). It was one of the best - and, for me, one of the most interesting & practical subjects possible for youngsters. Not only should RSS be brought back, but along with it wood-work and domestic science (cooking & needle-work). The governments since the war, in my view, should also have perpetuated the "Dig for Victory" campaign (not that I can remember that one myself - being a product of the early 50s!). They should have kept it and called it something else more sexy, like "survival post capital collapse!". Perhaps "sexy" is not the word I'm looking for there!

I was totally engrossed in the techniques and methods of making one plant grow from another (perhaps it's due to the Dr Frankenstein that lurks inside most of us  - especially when we were young boys). More especially the thought of being able to grow different varieties of apples on the same tree was even more intriguing!

I always used to come close to, if not top of the class in RSS during most school terms  - perhaps that's where I should have concentrated my efforts, rather than becoming an electronics engineer as a professional first, and an amateur vegetable gardener on an allotment plot second. I dropped RSS somewhere along my educational journey through school - in preference for the more academic subject of Physics & some other more "modern" science offerings. However the old school's textbook diagrams of "Whip & Tongue" & "Saddle" grafts have stayed with me as an image in my memory to this day.

Few of us get a lot of opportunity to do fruit tree grafting on a regular basis - unless you happen own an orchard. Or if you hire yourself out as a professional grafter to more timid fruit tree growers, who subscribe to the old myth that grafting is a complicated and ticklish procedure, that can only be accomplished by someone with the intellect & the steady hand of a brain surgeon (hence why I called it a "black art" above). In reality nothing is further from the truth! It's not a "black" art at all. Grafting your own trees is very easy once you know the basics. The science behind grafting however is fascinating.

Why Graft?

A good question to which there is a VERY simple answer!

To those gardeners amongst us who are used to starting all their crops from seed, it may come as a surprise to learn that fruit trees are NOT grown from seeds (or pips as they are called) but are, in fact, grafted. This may seem a very unnatural concept, but there's a very good reason for it - and the answer again goes back to your school biology lessons.

Like us humans, the pips (or stones) produced by a fruit tree are unique to that particular tree, it is the only one of it's kind in the world and it's characteristics are a random mix of it's parents' genes. Exactly like us humans. The embryos produced that eventually grow into adult humans by two parents will always be unique. So you could have a fantastic new variety of apple created from a tree grown from a pip, or you could land up with something which is totally useless. In other words it's a lottery.

A fruit tree supplied from a nursery consists of two parts, the scion (the fruiting wood) which makes up most of the tree that you see above ground-level, and the rootstock which - as the name suggests - is the root & lower trunk. The join or "union" is easy to spot in a young tree - it is the kink a few inches above the ground where the scion was grafted on to the rootstock.

This marriage works because rootstocks are very closely related to scions - thus apple rootstocks are apple varieties in their own right, but where the main attribute is not fruit flavour but the overall vigour and eventual tree size. Plum rootstocks can also be used for apricots and peaches, which shows just how closely these species are related. Most rootstocks will produce edible fruit if left to grow naturally, but the fruit is usually small and poorly flavoured.

To guarantee the outcome of your fruit producing tree, a length of scion wood is grafted on to a rootstock. The scion has been cut from a known variety. You are in effect cloning the original and implanting it on to a donor tree. The result is you have a tree that will produce the exact fruit you expected, but it grows on it's "surrogate mother" -the rootstock that it was originally grafted on to! You can even graft more than one variety on to the same rootstock - how cool is that?

This process is really cloning at horticultural level, and it's been going on for a LONG time Grafting with detached scions has been practiced for thousands of years. It was in use by the Chinese before 2000 BC, and then spread to the rest of Eurasia. The practice was almost commonplace in ancient Greece. Without the development of grafting, heterosexual fruit trees such as apples and cherries would never have been domesticated, as their natural sexual reproductive method prevents useful genes from being passed on consistently.

Isn't that amazing? I certainly think so! Anyway let's get down to the nitty gritty of this "black art"!

 

An Introduction to Grafting

 

Most apple trees are produced by grafting the required variety (the "scion") on to a rootstock. The main reason for doing this is because the natural vigour (from low to high) of the rootstock helps to control the size of the mature apple tree. However rootstocks also confer other advantages and disadvantages.

The following table lists apple rootstocks in ascending order (1 - 5 with five being the most vigorous) giving an approximate indication of what the expected size of the mature apple tree would be.

Rootstock Types & Habits

Very Small

6ft /2m

Small

8ft/2.5m

Medium

10ft / 3m

Large

 

14ft/4m

Very Large

18ft / 5m

Type Ref. (name) Type Ref. (name) Type Ref. (name) Type Ref. (name) Type Ref. (name)

P22,

M27,

G65

M9,

Bud. 9,

G16

Mark

G11,

M26,

G202,

G30,

MM102,

MM111/G11

M7

M116,

MM106

MM111,

Bud. 118,

M25

The most widely-used rootstock in Europe in the 19th century was called Paradise. During the 1920s researchers at East Malling Research Station in the UK were the first to classify rootstocks and develop new ones for specific purposes. One of their first rootstocks was "M9", which was developed from Paradise and another variety called "Jaune de Metz". (It is possible that "Jaune" refers to the golden yellow bark of this rootstock). Apple trees grown on M9 rootstocks are small, and they fruit very early in life - making this an ideal rootstock for commercial apple orchards, and it is indeed probably the most widely-planted of all rootstocks. East Malling Research Station, in conjunction with some other UK research stations at Merton and Long Ashton developed a range of virus-free rootstocks of which M27, M9, M26, MM106, M7, MM111, and M25 are in widespread use today. Note that the numbers in the East Malling series have no relation to the size of the tree - M27 and M26 produce trees which are respectively smaller and larger than M9!

 The table above should not be taken too literally. The ultimate size of a fruit tree - its mature height and spread - is affected by many characteristics. Local climate, soil conditions, and the species (apple, plum, cherry and so on) all play a part. Within species some varieties naturally tend to grow more vigorously than others. Bramley's Seedling apple trees for example tend to be bigger and stronger than Rubinette apple trees. However the most significant factor in the ultimate size of your fruit tree is its rootstock.

Furthermore, although we have created discrete size bands for convenience, in practice the performance of different rootstocks overlaps considerably.

When to Graft

Unlike budding, (which I'll focus on in another news-letter some time in the future) which can be performed before or during the growing season, most grafting is done during winter and early spring while both scion and rootstock are still dormant (by the time you get this newsletter it will probably be a little late to do it this year). Containerized plants may be moved indoors during the actual grafting process; after grafting, these plants are placed in protected areas or in unheated over-wintering houses. Field-grown stock, of course, must be grafted in place. Some deciduous trees are commonly grafted as bare rootstock during the winter and stored until spring planting. Indoor winter grafting is often referred to as bench grafting because it is accomplished at a bench.

 

 Selecting and Handling Scion Wood

The best quality scion wood usually comes from shoots grown the previous season. Select short lengths about the diameter (and about the length) of a pencil. In some areas the collected scion wood is often called “pencils” for this reason. Scions should be severed with sharp, clean shears or knives and placed immediately in moistened burlap or plastic bags. It is good practice during the harvesting of scions and the making of grafts to clean the cutting tools regularly. This may be done by flaming or immersing them in a sterilizing solution. Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol also works well as a sterilent, although it evaporates quite readily. An alternative sterilizing solution may be prepared by mixing one part household bleach with nine parts water (by volume). However, this bleach solution can be highly corrosive to certain metals. Another sterilizing fluid that can be used, and which is easily available is Mentholated Spirits.

 

For best results, harvest only as much scion wood as can be used for grafting during the same day. Select only healthy scion wood that is free from insect, disease, or winter damage. Be sure the stock plants are of good quality, healthy, and true to type. Scion wood that is frozen at harvest often knits more slowly and in lower percentage. If large quantities of scion wood must be harvested at one time, follow these steps:

 

  • Cut all scions to a uniform length,

  • Keep their basal ends together, and tie them in bundles of known quantity (for example, 20 scions per bundle).

  • Label them, recording the cultivar, date of harvest, and location of the stock plant.

  • Wrap the base of the bundles in moistened burlap or sphagnum, place them in polyethylene or waterproof paper bags, and seal the bags.

  • Store the bundles for short periods, if necessary, either iced down in insulated coolers or in a fridge at 0o – 1o C (32o to 34o F)

  • Never store scions in refrigerated units where fruits or vegetables are currently kept or have been stored recently. Stored fruits and vegetables release ethylene gas, which can cause woody plant buds to abort, making the scions useless.

  •  Keep the scions from freezing during storage.

 

NOTE: In grafting, as well as budding, the vascular cambium of the scion or bud must be aligned with the vascular cambium of rootstock. In woody plants the cambium is a very thin ribbon of actively dividing cells located just below the bark. The cambium produces conductive tissue for the actively growing plant (Figure 1). This vascular cambium initiates callus tissue at the graft and bud unions in addition to stimulating tissue growth on the basal ends of many vegetative cuttings before they have rooted.

 

Figure 1. Cross section of a woody plant stem.

 

Types of Grafts

Nurserymen can choose from a number of different types of grafts. This section describes only those basic types of grafts used on nursery crop plants.

 

Cleft Graft

One of the simplest and most popular forms of grafting, cleft grafting (Figure 2), is a method for top working both flowering and fruiting trees (apples, cherries, pears, and peaches) in order to change varieties. Cleft grafting is also used to propagate varieties of camellias that are difficult to root. This type of grafting is usually done during the winter and early spring while both scion and rootstock are still dormant. Cleft grafting may be performed on main stems or on lateral or scaffold branches.

 

The rootstock used for cleft grafting should range from 1 to 4 inches in diameter and should be straight grained. The scion should be about 1/4 inch in diameter, straight, and long enough to have at least three buds. Scions that are between 6 and 8 inches long are usually the easiest to use.

Figure 2. Cleft graft.

 

Preparing the Rootstock.

The stock should be sawed off with a clean, smooth cut perpendicular to the main axis of the stem to be grafted. Using a clefting tool wedge and a mallet, make a split or "cleft" through the centre of the stock and down 2 to 3 inches. Remove the clefting tool wedge and drive the pick end of the tool into the centre of the newly made cleft so that the stock can be held open while inserting the scion.

 

Preparing the Scion.

In cleft grafting, one scion is usually inserted at each end of the cleft, so prepare two scions for each graft. Select scions that have three or four good buds. Using a sharp, clean grafting knife, start near the base of the lowest bud and make two opposing smooth-tapered cuts 1 to 2 inches long toward the basal end of the scion. Cut the side with the lowest bud slightly thicker than the opposite side. Be sure the basal end of the scion gradually tapers off along both sides.

 

Inserting the Scion.

Insert a scion on each end of the cleft, with the wider side of the wedge facing outward. The cambium of each scion should contact the cambium of the rootstock.

 

Securing the Graft.

Remove the clefting tool from the cleft so that the rootstock can close. Pressure from the rootstock will hold the scions in place. Thoroughly seal all cut surfaces with grafting wax or grafting paint to keep out water and prevent drying. If both scions in the cleft "take," one will usually grow more rapidly than the other. After the first growing season, choose the stronger scion and prune out the weaker.

NOTE: The temperature of grafting wax is critical. It must be hot enough to flow but not so hot as to kill plant tissue. Recently, paint-like sealants have replaced wax in many areas because they are easier to use and require no heating.

 


Rind or Bark Graft

Bark grafting (Figure 3) is used primarily to top work flowering and fruiting trees. In contrast to cleft grafting, this technique can be applied to rootstock of larger diameter (4 to 12 inches) and is done during early spring when the bark slips easily from the wood but before major sap flow. The rootstock is severed with a sharp saw, leaving a clean cut as with cleft grafting.

Figure 3. Bark graft.

 

Preparing the Stock.

 Start at the cut surface of the rootstock and make a vertical slit through the bark where each scion can be inserted (2 inches long and spaced 1 inch apart).

 

Preparing the Scion.

Since multiple scions are usually inserted around the cut surface of the rootstock, prepare several scions for each graft. Cut the base of each scion to a 1 ½- to 2-inch tapered wedge on one side only.

 

Inserting the Scion.

Loosen the bark slightly and insert the scion so that the wedge-shaped tapered surface of the scion is against the exposed wood under the flap of bark. Push the scion firmly down into place behind the flap of bark, replace the bark flap, and nail the scion in place by driving one or two wire brads through the bark and scion into the rootstock. Insert a scion every 3 to 4 inches around the cut perimeter of the rootstock.

 

Securing the Graft.

Seal all exposed surfaces with grafting wax or grafting paint. Once the scions have begun to grow, leave only the most vigorous one on each stub; prune out all the others. Bark grafts tend to form weak unions and therefore usually require staking or support during the first few years.

 


Side-Veneer Graft

At one time the side-veneer graft (Figure 4) was a popular technique for grafting varieties of camellias and rhododendrons that are difficult to root. Currently, it is the most popular way to graft conifers, especially those having a compact or dwarf form. Side-veneer grafting is usually done on potted rootstock.

 

 

Fig. 4 Side veneer graft

 

Preparing the Stock.

Rootstock is grown in pots the season before grafting, allowed to go dormant, and then stored as with other container nursery stock. After exposure to cold weather for at least six weeks, the rootstock is brought into a cool greenhouse for a few days before grafting takes place to encourage renewed root growth. The plant should not be watered at this time.

 

Make a shallow downward cut about 3/4 inch to 1 inch long at the base of the stem on the potted rootstock to expose a flap of bark with some wood still attached. Make an inward cut at the base so that the flap of bark and wood can be removed from the rootstock.

 

Preparing the Scion.

Choose a scion with a diameter the same as or slightly smaller than the rootstock. Make a sloping cut 3/4 to 1 inch long at the base of the scion. (Use the bark grafting technique shown in Figure 3.)

 

Inserting the Scion.

Insert the cut surface of the scion against the cut surface of the rootstock. Be certain that the cambia contact each other.

 

Securing the Graft. Hold the scion in place using a rubber grafting strip, tape, or grafting twine. Seal the entire graft area with warm grafting wax or grafting paint. Remove the rubber or twine shortly after the union has healed. Never allow the binding material to girdle the stem.

 


 Splice Graft

Splice grafting (Figure 5) is used to join a scion onto the stem of a rootstock or onto an intact root-piece. This simple method is usually applied to herbaceous materials that callus or "knit" easily, or it is used on plants with a stem diameter of 1/2 inch or less. In splice grafting, both the stock and scion must be of the same diameter.

Figure 5. Splice graft.

 

Preparing the Stock and Scion.

Cut off the rootstock using a diagonal cut 3/4 to 1 inch long. Make the same type of cut at the base of the scion.

 

Inserting the Scion.

Fit the scion to the stock. Wrap this junction securely with a rubber grafting strip or twine.

 

Securing the Graft.

Seal the junction with grafting wax or grafting paint. Water rootstock sparingly until the graft knits. Over watering may cause sap to "drown" the scion. Be sure to remove the twine or strip as soon as the graft has healed.

 


Whip and Tongue Graft

The whip and tongue technique (Figure 6) is most commonly used to graft nursery crops or woody ornamentals. Both the rootstock and scion should be of equal size and preferably no more than 1/2 inch in diameter. The technique is similar to splice grafting except that the whip on the rootstock holds the tongue of the scion in place (and vice versa). This leaves both hands free to wrap the joint.

For the whip and tongue graft, make similar cuts on both the stock and scion. These cuts should be made with a single draw of the knife and should have a smooth surface so that the two can develop a good graft union. Up to this point, rootstock and scion are cut the same as for a splice graft.

Figure 6. Whip and tongue graft.

 

Preparing the Stock and Scion.

Cut off the stock using a diagonal cut. The cut should be four to five times longer than the diameter of the stock to be grafted. Make the same kind of cut at the base of the scion.

 

Next, place the blade of the knife across the cut end of the stock, halfway between the bark and pith (on the upper part of the cut surface). Use a single knife stroke to draw the blade down at an angle through the wood and pith. Stop at the base of the initial diagonal cut. This second cut must not follow the grain of the wood but should run parallel to the first cut.

 

Inserting the Scion.

Prepare the scion in the same way. Fit the scion into the rootstock so that they interlock whip and tongue. Be certain that the cambia are aligned.

 

Securing the Graft.

Wrap the junction with a grafting strip or twine, and seal it with grafting wax or grafting paint. Never allow the binding material to girdle the stem.


 Saddle Graft

Saddle grafting (Figure 7) is a relatively easy technique to learn and once mastered can be performed quite rapidly. The stock may be either field-grown or potted. Both rootstock and scion should be the same diameter. For best results, use saddle grafting on dormant stock in mid- to late winter. Stock should not be more than 1 inch in diameter.

Figure 7. Saddle graft.

 

Preparing the Stock.

Using two opposing upward strokes of the grafting knife, sever the top from the rootstock. The resulting cut should resemble an inverted V, with the surface of the cuts ranging from 1/2 to 1 inch long.

 

Preparing the Scion.

Now reverse the technique to prepare the base of the scion. These cuts on the rootstock and scion must be the same length and have the same slope so that a maximum amount of cambial tissue will make contact when the two halves are joined.

 

Inserting the Scion.

Place the V-notched scion onto the saddle of the rootstock. If rootstock and scion are the same diameter, cambial alignment is easier; otherwise adjust as needed.

 

Securing the Graft.

Wrap the graft with a grafting twine, tape, or strip, then seal it with grafting wax or grafting paint.

 

All of the preceding techniques are used to top work horticultural crops for a particular purpose. Occasionally, however, grafting is used to repair injured or diseased plants. Two common techniques available for this purpose are bridge grafting and inarch grafting.

 


Bridge Graft

Bridge grafting (Figure 8) is used to "bridge" a diseased or damaged area of a plant, usually at or near the base of the trunk. Such damage commonly results from contact with grading or lawn maintenance equipment, or it may be caused by rodents, cold temperatures, or disease organisms. The bridge graft provides support as well as a pipeline that allows water and nutrients to move across the damaged area.

 

Bridge grafts are usually done in early spring just before active plant growth begins. They may be performed any time the bark on the injured plant "slips."

Figure 8. Bridge graft.

 

Preparing the Scion.

Select scions that are straight and about twice as long as the damaged area to be bridged. Make a 1 1/2- to 2-inch-long tapered cut on the same plane at each end of the scion.

 

Preparing the Stock.

Remove any damaged tissue so the graft is on healthy stems. Cut a flap in the bark on the rootstock the same width as the scion and below the injury to be repaired. Gently fold the flap away from the stock, being careful not to tear the bark flap.

 

Inserting the Scion.

First, insert and secure the scion below the injury; push the scion under the flap with the cut portion of the scion against the wood of the injured stem or trunk. Then go back and insert and secure the scion above the injury following these same steps. Push the scion firmly into place. Pull the flap over the scion and tack it into place as described for bark grafting (Figure 3).

When grafting with young stems that may waver in the wind, insert the scions so that they bow outward slightly. Bridge grafts should be spaced about 3 to 4 inches apart across the damaged area

 

Securing the Graft.

Secure all graft areas with warm grafting wax or grafting paint. During and after the healing period, remove any buds or shoots that develop on the scions.

 


Inarch Graft

Inarching, like bridge grafting, is used to bypass or support a damaged or weakened area of a plant stem (Figure 9). Unlike bridge grafting, the scion can be an existing shoot, sucker, or water sprout that is already growing below and extending above the injury. The scion may also be a shoot of the same species as the injured plant growing on its own root system next to the main trunk of the damaged tree. With the inarching technique, the tip of the scion is grafted in above the injury using the same method as for bark or bridge grafting.

 

 

Figure 9. Inarch graft.


In Conclusion

Grafting collected scions (most apple tree owners/ orchard growers will usually gladly give you a bit of scion wood if you ask for it in winter) on to your own rootstock is a VERY cost effective way of building up a collection of fruit trees. Rootstocks cost about £2.00 each - and don't forget you can graft a few different variety scions on to each rootstock!

Something you should also consider is saving the disappearing "heirloom" varieties from the UK. There are over 1200 native apples for eating, cooking, as well as for cider making and crab apples for pickling. They have enchanting names: Acklam Russets, Barnack Beauty, Nutmeg Pippin, Knobby Russet…and many more. Despite this, most growers concentrate on a few commercially proven varieties, leaving us with little choice. Worldwide it's estimated there are 7,500 varieties.

Supermarkets stock approximately 30 varieties - in TOTAL - between them!  The criteria for variety selection? Uniform size/ shape & colour. Freshness and variety of flavour is NOT a consideration.

It is estimated that each fruit is sprayed approximately 18 times with herbicide and insecticide poisons. They are further sprayed with hormones to aid storage and induce ripening at a set time (they are harvested before they are ripe).

Most of them are flown in from places like South Africa, New Zealand & Australia in the southern hemisphere, using vast amounts of fuel and causing huge amounts of pollution. By the time they reach your fruit bowl they already have a huge carbon footprint.

 Our native varieties are disappearing. Others are disappearing the world over. I challenge you to argue that is sensible or sustainable.

Bring some sanity back into our lives and grow your own - for yourself, your grandchildren & great grandchildren - because apple trees can easily produce fruit for at least three generations. So get grafting!


If you are having trouble sourcing fruit trees or can't find a rootstock LOCALLY then give one of our on-line fruit tree nursery sponsors a try. Discover the mystical BARDSEY ISLAND APPLE account CLICK to go to our sponsor's web-site shop
Two of our main web-site fruit tree sponsors are shown here. Click on the graphics to go to their sites.

 


There will be a page dedicated to fruit trees (including rootstock choices, pollination grouping, caring for fruit trees, pruning etc. etc.) on our web-site in the near future.

I am currently in the process of writing and compiling it. To date I have some Fact-files that I've completed that you may like to view before the main Fruit Tree section is finalised and uploaded on to the web-site. You are also welcome to scrutinise the contents and contribute further if you think I've left anything out.

Fruit Trees Rootstock Guide
Fruit Trees - Pollination Guide
If you would like to see a video of how to graft (in the flesh as it were!) Then please view one of Dr Stephen Hayes' amateur videos on the subject. He has an YouTube channel dedicated just to apple trees & grafting!

 
 
 

 

 

 

Compiled by: Gwilym ab Ioan 2012