Apple grafting- lesson learned- give it time

patapscomikeMay 16, 2011

Learned a lesson this year. Got some nice looking scions from GF's scottfsmith this winter. This was the second year in a row, as none of them had taken last year (so I thought). As the year before, I stored them appropriately and put them on at close to the right time using a whip graft.

I watched them like a hawk from the time I did the grafts through leaf-out (three weeks ago). I only have two apple trees, both a few steps from my truck, so I spent way too much time staring at them. The trees leafed out on schedule, growing like weeds. The new shoots extended to 8" long, but not one scion showed any signs of life at all. Then were becoming tough to even see through the new leaves all around them. Grrrrr!

I resigned myself to failure. Just one of those things I don't have the knack for. I ripped the Fregburg scions off my Golden Delicious tree in disgust, removing the metal letter-bead markers I had made and attached to the branch (how presumptuous!) and unwinding the plastic strips under teflon tape I'd used to affix them. I vowed that next year I'd buy parafilm and proper grafting tape.

But I got distracted, and I never removed the Gala and Newtown P. scions from my Honeycrisp tree. I finally got around to it on Sunday. As I reached to remove the first one, I saw the buds were just beginning to break. So had the next one. In fact they all took!

Now, two weeks later, all have leaves. I had removed the other scions too soon! I can graft!

Lesson learned- sometimes grafts can take a really long time to show life. Give them time, lots of time!

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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Congrats, Mike! It sure feels good to see those little green heads doesn't it?

One thing I wonder may be causing you problems is the competition from the other shoots (based on your comment about finding them hard to see). Always make sure to graft to a dominant position and remove all the sprouts on the limb you are grafting to. Maybe you did fine on this but the remark about having trouble finding them made me wonder.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 9:14AM
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I did not remove the sprouts- I had been following this advice "you may allow some shoot growth from below the graft, but do not permit this growth to shade the scion growth. After the first season, all growth should be cut off, except that of the graft." from the url in this post.

Do most recommend removing ALL other shoots? I'll do it tonight if that's the case.

Here is a link that might be useful: the advice link I used

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 11:02AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

It varies a lot from fruit to fruit; on apples you need to remove or tip anything that is below it that is vigorous. If its more than 2' below thats usually OK, but even on those I would tip long shoots so they are not competing. For the first 2' below the graft I always strip it clean. Every situation is a little different, it also depends on what the adjacent scaffolds are like and how high the graft is in the tree overall. Lower grafts require a lot of work to get to take.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 11:11AM
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i have 1 apple tree that came up from seed a few years ago that i just stuck all the remaining scion wood on after i got all my rootstocks done it now has about 15 different varieties growing on it as they all took. i will do the same thing next year to it

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 7:22PM
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So Pata, how long were the grafts there before they came to life? I'd like to think those bud grafts I slapped on apple trees yesterday had a chance to come back from the dead....

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 12:49AM
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ive had grafts take 6 weeks or longer to even show signs of being alive

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 3:17AM
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alan haigh

Here's a story I've told here before but it is amazing enough to repeat. I had a graft fail to sprout for an entire season, and the scion wood survived that and the following winter to sprout leaves a year late!

Now it's been another year gone by and the graft is healthy with some flowers. The wood was a pretty thick piece of Hudson's Golden Gem (apple). No parafilm to reduce evaporation either- just its own bark with some graft putty on the tip.

I believe that all scion wood is not equal and towards the base of an annual shoot the buds are not as well formed and slower to come out of dormancy. I now discard the lower wood of such shoots unless the buds look prominent. Maybe this miracle graft was from wood at the base of a shoot.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 6:35AM
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I have been waiting patiently as well for my grafts to emerge. Although I grafted onto bare root rootstock that I purchased from Cummins. It appears all 10 of the grafts will take, however they are extremely slow with none of the scions completely leafed out. One side note, I took the extra smaller scions and potted them directly using rooting hormone and these are farther along than my grafts! Will these sticks assume the characteristics of the original rootstock they were taken from? Will they survive?

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 8:10AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Tuffa, did you look for roots on those guys? I got similarly excited many years ago and pulled them for a look .. no roots! Apples are very hard to root.

Grafts on just purchased young rootstock are very slow to start. I don't do that anymore unless I am desperate. Think ahead a few years and get more rootstock than you need - they are cheaper when purchased in quantity as well. They can be grown very close together when they are young, or temporarily put them between young trees.


    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 8:19AM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Congrats! My plum scions (2 of 3) are active. I like to graft.


    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 8:43AM
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Since this now seems to be a general grafting thread, I've got a question. I grafted some Wickson crab scion to the stump of the same tree which had been killed by a buck rub. I actually did two bark grafts, but only one has leafed out and has a few inches of growth. The stump is about an inch in diameter, so there is a pretty big "wound" at the site of the graft. It is still covered by parafilm. Should I do anything to that area? Leave the parafilm on? Remove the parafilm and coat the cut surface with something?


    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 10:04AM
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@ koko- I did my grafts March 22, so they took almost two full months (8 weeks) to show the first sign of life. Not the miracle grafts harvestman saw (I would have never imagined that), but longer than I thought it would take. I figured they would leaf out at the same time as the rest of the tree, but this was clearly not the case.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 10:41AM
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glenn_russell(6b RI)

I'm glad this topic was posted. I topworked 4 trees with about 12 or so saddle grafts (rubber bands/parafilm) a little over a month ago, and there have been no signs of life. I didn't strip below the scions, but it sounds like I should have. I did trim the end of two of the grafts the other day just so I could see if there was any green wood inside... The wood was greenish with a little beige, unlike the beige of the original scion cut. Anyway, it sounds like I need to give these grafts more time. Thanks guys,

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 1:42PM
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alan haigh

Chuck, I'd cover that wound up with anything that would slow evaporation- for me that would be grafting putty. I think the graft will have to grow a bit to develop an independent cambium completely walled off from the wound- just guessing though.

On another subject, most varieties of apples don't root, but some have root primordia forming all along their wood and I hear such types root very easily. N. Spy often has this as do some strains of Red Delicious. Using N. Spy to create self rooted trees was even discussed here by a man involved in an NGO project about helping small farmers in the African tropics to grow apples as a cash crop.

Scott's quite right though, odds are high that the shoots are growing from stored energy and water in the wood alone. It happens to lots of wood I leave in the bag but leave out of the fridge. It also happens when I use fresh-cut 2-year uprights for garden stakes.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 5:10PM
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Pruned back all the competing shoots this evening in the rain. I could not go 2' back, as this is a very young tree and no branch save the main is 2' long. I got them back 6" or so, and made sure they had full sun.

We'll see.

That was fun, I enjoy grafting now, and it's nice to know that if my Honeycrisp doesn't pan out I can turn it into something else in short order.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 9:38PM
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Just a note pata,
depending on your local disease pressure I believe any pruning in the rain is considered a bad idea. My understanding is the wet conditions, and an open wound make bacterial infection more fireblight or canker....this is not to say I haven't done the same....but i have read that it is a frowned upon practice.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 9:06AM
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This thread is old but maybe someone is still there. I grafted 10 sweet cherry scions to colt rootstock bare root trees and
planted them. I left some existing buds on the rootstock thinking I can bud graft in the fall and still have success if at least one of the 10 saddle grafts are successful. ( my rootstock was much larger diameter than my scions). Weather was wild this spring (several frosts down to low 20's after I planted them) but did not seem to kill anything only slowed it down. Buds on all 10 trees turned green and in about a 4 week period I have leaves on two of the new grafts. These 2 have no leaves on rootstock. The other 8 the buds have turned back red and leaves grow good on the rootstock however the scion wood is still green. This morning I cut the buds out supporting leaves on the rootstock and painted with wound dressing on 3 of the 8 to try to force life to be directed to the scion. I also bagged 7 of the 8. Do any of you have experience with this situation and can give me advice?

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 1:52PM
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Thanks for bringing back this old thread. This April was the first time I tried my hand on grafting. I am glad to read that a graft may take a long time to take esp. for a rookie grafter like me.

I grafted Korean Giant and 20th Century to a Shinko (all Asian pears) on 4/6. The first graft showed sign of life around 5/16. That's 6 weeks!! Now, 2 more grafts took. The other two look like they will, too. Whew!!!

I hope someone with grafting experience will help you out.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 6:05PM
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I have a graft on my apple that took last year, and then died, failing to come back this spring. I didn't get around to removing it, and now I see tiny, tiny signs of life from the center of the "dead" bud. Not the first so-called dead bud I've seen break a year late either: last year I had a few, too.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 7:38PM
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john222-gg(Mississippi 8a/8b)

I just wanted to thank everyone on the forum for all the grafting tips.For years I tried to graft, no good.Finally, after I started reading all the advice and help on the forum this year all but 1 of my grafts took thanks again. I did apples,pears and plums

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 9:32PM
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I agree with Scott that grafting on just-purchased rootstock may be less successful than grafting on older, well-established rootstock. I made notes last season on this observation.

My low-tech grafting method involves: taping graft with small piece of masking tape, followed by tight wrap with bread bag strips. Over this is tied a sandwich bag (or larger clear plastic bag) "greenhouse." As soon as leaves emerge on the graft, I pierce the greenhouse bag a little. As graft grows, remove the bag entirely. I usually leave the tight, bread-bag wrap all season.

Another thing I've observed: abundant rain or watering after grafting will result in larger percent successes. Last year I had 100% and am nearing that this year: (two grafts on this-year's rootstock have not started yet.)

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 6:52AM
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I would also think it would be less strain if the tree was already established instead of bare root but I had only one window to get these scions and I had no established cherry trees.

I watered the roots in on the trees when I planted and have deep watered once but the ground has stayed wet enough.

I use cpvc pipe to water and cut a 10 ft piece into 4 30 inch + or -. Then I jet it into the ground close to the tree (hold garden hose with a valve on the end tight on pipe and force enough water through it to allow inserting it into the ground while keeping pipe open). Then to water I use a 5 gallon bucket and start a siphon into the embedded pipe. Usually in 2 hours all of the water is under ground.

All trees leaved but only two above the graft so far but grafts are all still green.

The tree that looked best after 3 or 4 weeks (I uploaded a photo of it taken at that time) did not leaf but the buds have lost their green color and are red the same color as the top bud in that photo. It was 2 trees that did not look so good that produced leaves above the graft.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 1:39PM
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Here is a rind graft I did earlier this year.

Here is another graft, just taking off...

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 1:33PM
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I am posting a later photo of the graft I posted above. It budded so nice at 3 weeks but I think because of a combination of using a bare root tree and leaving existing buds that after budding all the power was directed to the existing buds. I stripped all existing leafed out buds from the rootstock May 25 but it was too late and the scion continued dying.

Bagging is not an option for me because my wife thought the bags were not good for the trees and the second night I returned from work my bags had all mysteriously disappeared.

However one tree I tried to bag did produce leaves on the scion. I have no reason to believe the bags were a determining factor since they were on for such a short time. I am also posting a photo of it.

I now have 3 successful grafts out of 10 so my original strain is saved. When I bought the rootstock I was hoping for 1. This fall I will take from these trees and bud graft back to the other 7 as well as 10 more I just bought and potted.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2013 at 11:44AM
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I grafted and planted this tree mid april. It started leafing after May 26.

Derek your grafts look like they are going to go. Great!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2013 at 11:55AM
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