Changing young crab trees to over to domestic varieties

griddlerFebruary 28, 2014

We recently purchased a home with a little acreage and it has numerous young crabapple trees (old ones too but that�s a subject for a different post). I would like to change over to domestic varieties. I have access to ample scion wood for Cortland, Red Delicious, Victory, Wealthy, and two unknown varieties. As you can see from the picture there are multiple trunks, tons of small branches, and some relatively larger limbs.
I am new to grafting and pruning, but I was thinking of whip grafting the smaller branches and cleft grafting the larger branches and maybe some of the smaller trunks. In other words, do a ton of grafts and maybe leave a nurse branch or two and see what happens. Or, should I prune it back to one major trunk and a few major branches and just graft those? I was also thinking of only doing a part of the trees until I have honed my grafting skills and know what my success rate is with grafting.
I also have some other apple trees about this size that do not appear to be crab apples but did not produce anything last year. I do not know if they bloomed because we did not get into the house until the end of May, but the previous owner said all the apples on the property (more than 30 of all ages) are wild.
There are also 5 mature trees with apples that taste very good but are small and wormy because the trees have never been pruned or sprayed. I have seen some previous posts about changing over or pruning mature wild trees, but I have not seen any posts about changing over trees like the ones in the picture.

One more question, Is the omega grafting tool worth getting if I will be doing lots of grafting (not bench grafting but on trees out in the yard)?

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funny. I did just that. I would not buy the tool. it only works on perfect sized scion and root stock. I would cut it back hard, leaving 6-8 stubs to cleft graft to. I did almost 100 on one tree, and it gets to be too many. the tree gets very vigorous and needs to be controlled. it is good practice, but based on how you posed your will do fine. I got 90% in my first batch! and almost 100 %since. I grafted fruiting wood to a tree just like yours and got fruit in the first year. some of the pundants on this forum thought I was full of crap! but it happened. try it....if you know what fruiting wood looks like.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 6:13PM
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are you sure those are not thorn apple trees ? I hope not.....cuz they are not graftable.!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 6:23PM
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This particular tree produced very small bitter fruits with long stems in clusters. It is not really thorny, but the picture could give that impression, because we have deer all the time and I cannot find a terminal bud at this time of year on either the trees I am trying to graft, or the scion wood I am using, below 6 feet. I have read that clipping the terminal bud leads to much more branching, I think that is what we are seeing, and something I will have to deal with.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 7:07PM
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are you sure those are not thorn apple trees ? I hope not.....cuz they are not graftable.!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 7:19PM
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the thorns would be on the main stems. they would be about an inch long and very sharp. where are you located? they are very common I wi.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 7:25PM
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Located in southern Wiconsin. No thorns. Lots of wild apples and crab apples.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 7:52PM
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I would select out the best trunk from that cluster and thin everything else out. From there, you've got an option of doing a cleft graft on that remaining trunk, just stump it, split it and get your grafts in when the buds start to swell. That's the simplest, though it is recommended to leave a nurse limb or two as photosynthesis sinks for a few years.
The largest sprout on that cluster has a Y, you could stub one (larger)half and graft into that and leave the other side be for the time being. That would be top working the tree.
Otherwise you can get as involved as you want to. Look at the The Grafter's Handbook by RJ.Gardener- chapter VII Grafting of Established Trees. He details a dozen or so different grafting techniques in addition to the cleft, but he starts with that one.
The frameworking option is more labor-intensive, but could lead to harvesting earlier by grafting on more/longer shoots. Stub grafts attach scions to the bases of existing secondary branchs. Side grafts, oblique side graft, inverted L rind graft, and slit grafts are all ways of getting more scions onto larger host limbs without stubbing them. Whip and tongue work as long as they aren't made too far out.
Then there's summer budding season...!
As far as tools go, I like a bevel-sharpened pocketknife.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 9:55PM
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alan haigh

I've done this many times over the years, using either cleft or splice grafts. The easiest is splice but you need nice young shoots to graft to. I will often hack the trees back aggressively and then graft the following year to vigorous shoots that form as a result.

You can either use a single graft a few feet up the trunk to be the entire tree or for quicker harvests, graft for individual scaffold branches.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 6:52AM
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This not an apple but should help you.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:50AM
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I know it sounds like butchery but chop them all down except one big trunk on every one of them and paint over the other trunks at ground level with tanglefoot or wax or indoor latex paint so they are not a point of disease entry. Then leave one of the old branches only on the trunk and top the trees. That branch will serve as a feeder branch to pull nutrients into the tree. Then I would use rind grafts or cleft grafts as mentioned to top work the trees. I would also paint the trunk with light colored indoor paint if they show any signs of sunburn. Go back in July or August when the grafts have taken and cut off that old branch you left.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cleft Graft

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 6:29AM
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I mentioned the rind grafting technique as well so I will post a video from Stephen Hayes channel for that as well. You mentioned whip grafting on individual branches so I wanted to discourage you from doing that as I have tried and had not the greatest luck with that on larger trees. In my opinion whip and saddle grafts are strictly for when you are planting rootstocks and I have never found a practical use for those techniques outside of that purpose. They are the best technique if you find some small crabapple trees just coming up around there.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rind Grafting

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 6:41AM
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alan haigh

Clark, unless you understand why you had trouble with another kind of graft, I think it is very premature to assume that what worked and didn't work for you is somehow universal- this is the source of so much misinformation on the internet. It is also annoying whenever someone considers there own experience more significant than that of another contributor on a forum, something that I've often been guilty of and slow to learn.

With fruit trees in particular, responses will vary, but with healthy wood on vigorous trees, species that graft easily can be grafted in many ways.

The method I described I've used on hundreds of trees that have been baring heavy crops from the grafts for a long time. I've found it the easiest approach for me. The splice graft is the quickest, easiest to learn, and a vigorous, one year shoot is likely to heal quickly and grow quickly. I've taught many beginners this graft and they've generally encountered immediate success.

The reason I developed the approach I do is that I'm often called on to change varieties of very old apple trees on estates, and this allows a fairly rapid transition without having to look at a butchered tree, and the scalding of trunks from excessive wood removal is prevented.

I'm sure rind grafting works very well also, and removing most other growing parts of the tree assures the roots will send everything to a drastically reduced branch system. What you describe is the most common approach used in commercial orchards when changing over varieties, so it obviously has a lot going for it.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 7:15AM
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Thank you all for your much needed advice and sources for more information. I have ordered the Grafter's Handbook by RJ.Gardener. I like the idea of frameworking some scaffold branches for an earlier harvest as suggested by Harvestman and JesseSt, but I am also hearing that it might not be a good idea to do too many. I have also done a little more digging and ran across the concept of high density planting where multiple trees are planted in the same hole for space reasons, and then pruned as if it where one tree by encouraging outward growth and discouraging growth towards the middle. I have included a picture of the best producer on the property (I will clean it up this spring), and it just naturally grew multiple trunks growing outward and very open in the middle. Space is not an issue, but the small crab apple is already heading that direction, so I think I will cut aggressively in the middle, and graft some scaffold branches that are headed outward for early fruit, and try a variety of different grafting techniques just for the fun of it. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 10:15AM
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Harvestman no disrespect was intended it is actually to the contrary I have nothing but respect for yours and others methods. The problem I have had with grafting whips on the tree is the undergrowth grows away and the tip gets a few apples on it and the rest is all bitter crabs, That was the problem I had every time. The difference may have been because the whip grafts I did were on fairly mature trees where I was forced to go further up the branch to graft and the rootstock is always more hardy than the tips I used. I should have been clear about my experience and what caused the problem. In those cases a cleft makes a lot of since because you can go further down the branch where the bigger part of the branch is.The cleft graft I mentioned and rind graft are just my opinion of the best method but someone else may say a side graft is better. By going to the main trunk I eliminate the undergrowth coming back to haunt me later and even then it sends shoots out on the main trunk I clip off several times in the summer to ensure my grafts are getting the nutrients and not the rootstock branches

This post was edited by ClarkinKS on Sun, Mar 2, 14 at 11:34

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 11:09AM
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alan haigh

Thanks Clark.

The only spot where I've converted seedling apple trees in any scale was and is at a hunting preserve in upstate CT, although I've done a handful of such trees at other sites. In CT we have an almost endless supply of such trees on a couple thousand acres which I started changing over about ten years ago. At other sites I do this it is usually with ancient apple trees that are originally of a grafted variety that either aint that great or enough is enough- one tree can literally bare a ton of fruit so better to mix it up.

If you put a graft on a well exposed water sprout and gradually cut away competing growth, any growth beneath the graft will soon be dominated by the more exposed graft higher in the tree. Pruning away shoots that come out of the original trunk will not be particularly time consuming and nothing more than what you'd be doing with any normal apple that begins near the ground.

The mistake I made doing this kind of work at first was often not bringing the original tree down in height enough before grafting so the vigorous grafts often started above 10' up the tree. Lower grafts wouldn't get enough light and sap and runt out. Now I make sure the grafts are where I want them from the start, no matter how much I need to take from the original tree to give the graft superior light and the opportunity to quickly dominate

Lower branches of the original tree can be useful for tying above graft growth to more horizontal position. Vertical growth is always the most vigorous, so I don't do this until I have to.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 12:22PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Those crabs in the first picture make good multiple variety trees. I'd cut all large stems off at ground level and use only smaller/thinner 3 or 4 stems, graft about 2 foot up, these should have enough energy for a good take on any type of graft. I like using smaller branches because the graft union can heal over much better and faster,.. less of a chance by braking off down the road.

Here is a link that might be useful: Konrad's modified bark grafting

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 12:43PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I wanted to say, when grafting 3 or 4 stems, you might cut down
to only 2 or 3 down the road when you see which apple you prefer.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 12:51PM
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If you don't prevent the deer from browsing you are going to be very disappointed because you won't have any apples below six feet!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 3:59PM
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I have accepted the fact that I will have no apples below 6 feet. Last fall I planted 3 pears and a honey crisp around 6 feet tall from a nursery. Within 3 days the bark had been stripped from two of the trees from deer cleaning their antlers. I replanted and fenced them in, but the wild trees are all over a large yard and the wife likes watching the deer, turkeys, fox etc. Last week we saw deer on their hind limbs trying to get to crab apples that were still on a tree. I will probably keep the nursery trees fenced, but I will need a basket on a pole to get at most of the wild apples unless there are other options I am not aware of. Most of the mature trees are around 30 feet tall. The apples taste good on all of these but one. On one tree the apples went from green to mushy and mealy almost overnight. I plane to completely top work that one, but prune the rest.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 4:23PM
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