Why are my grafts slow/dead?

megamav(5a - NY)May 30, 2014

I can include a picture if needed.
I grafted my crab apple tree (Red Jade) last year and had a 90% take rate.
This year, I used 1 year wood from the grafts from last year to graft again lower in the tree than the top graft. I clipped my scions late February in about 18 degree weather.

The grafts dont look shriveled, but they havent pushed out other than one graft and its very slow. A few of my grafts last year did the same thing, one of which I had to regraft and then it took off.
I also grafted a pin cherry to Montmorency using a 4 way bark graft.
I grafted after the leaves started coming out of the buds on the mother tree. This is extremely slow as well, it started pushing leaves from the buds, now it appears to have slowed down.

What is going on? How can I go from such a high success rate to virtually zero this year (at least it appears that way)? Do I have bad wood? It was stored at 36 degree, sealed in a bag with wet newspaper, and the newspaper was wet when I took the wood out.

Montmorency is from Geneva - Slow, grafted to 4" diameter pin cherry.
Pomme Gris is from Geneva - Took, very fast.
Belle de Boskoop - I grafted to a friends tree, he says virtually no movement.
Freyberg - No movement
Reine des Reinettes - No movement
Calville Blanc - End bud on one graft pushed an inch, and very slowly.

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alan haigh

I'm in 6 and my grafts have just started pushing wood this year- probably 3 weeks later than last. But they are now pushing hard.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 11:22AM
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megamav(5a - NY)

Harvestman, when did you start grafting?
I grafted here just south of Saratoga on April 21st.
Leaves were "the size of a mouse's ear".

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 11:29AM
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My experience with my Liberty is that grafts done on the lower part of the tree won't do as well as those done on the higher part. The grafts may appear to take and then fail without dying, or they may simple callous over and remain dormant, but they won't reliably push. If they do push they'll be slow to start and sluggish growers- might not even take off for another full year.

I have had some success countering that by scoring the bark on the wood directly above the grafted branch. This notch is deep enough and wide enough to remove a strip of bark right down to the wood. That's about 1/8" to 1/4" wide. I make it about twice as long as the branch that was grafted to- so a 1" branch would have a 1/"2 overhang on either side. Seems to work, and I've managed to coax out a few dormant grafts this way. So unless your scion is dessicated and fails to callous be patient- you may get it going yet.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 7:49PM
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megamav(5a - NY)

I'll have to wait it out.
I cut the cherry tree at the knees, the bark grafts started, then stopped.
I had them wrapped up with white budding tape around the trunk, sealed with grafting wax, good cambium contact.

I cut my friends Macoun tree 1/2 way up, did the same thing with Belle de Boskoop. Same results, slow, no movement.

This makes no sense. I used the same techniquest last year and it seemed like bark grafts were fool proof. Looks like I may be the fool.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 1:25PM
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Megamav, my comments on grafting to different levels of the tree would not apply to your trees- sorry I didn't understand your approach when I commented.

I'm curious about what you said about the mother tree also stalling out, so to speak. Is there some weather or irrigation thing going on that wasn't there in your earlier experience?

There are just so many variables that it makes it hard to draw conclusions- witness the discussion going on now regarding biennialism in apples. (Sometimes the only sane thing to do is go away and try to forget about it for a while!)


    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 9:47PM
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megamav(5a - NY)

Apples should be relatively easy to take.
When I do a bark graft, I lop off the mother tree branch, sink a clean, sharp knife into the cambium, pull up both sides of the cambium at the cut, and sink in a wedged scion. I had this take on an injury callous on my crab apple. I did a really bad job last year on a bark graft and it took.

I tried the same method on the cherry and it appears, even being wrapped up the cambium has swelled and possibly pulled away from the scion.
I have also seen people only pull up one side of the flap and insert a lopsided wedge.

Not happy, because if these dont take, I'll have to order wood from Geneva again in the winter and reattempt.

Am I doing this wrong? I guess even if these fail, like I think they have, I'll have to chalk this up to experience. Its frustrating to try to do it all correctly, wait, and wait, and the opportunity to do it this year passes you by.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 10:09AM
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alan haigh

Funny, I guess I forgot the final part of sending my answer, Mega. Looks like I have to write it again.

I grafted pears and apples over a month ago within a couple days of first growth. Some of the apples are just barely beginning to push while others are shoots of a couple inches- the better lit ones being farthest along.

I grafted plums 3 weeks later and some of the Japs are as far along as first apple grafts. E's are just beginning to push.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 10:30AM
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Megamev, don't get discouraged. As Mark stated, there are many variables. One factor that stands out for me is the temperature at which you collected your scionwood: 18 degrees. Many sources will tell you that is too cold--your temperature should be close to freezing. I've never collected that cold, so I have no experience.

Also, in my experience, grafts lower on a tree, where there is less vigor, are less likely to succeed.

All is not lost for this year. Try budding in late summer with green wood. With apples, your chances of success are at least as good as with grafting. Using strips of poly food bags wrapped tightly, I find they rarely fail.


    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 10:51PM
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bob_z6(6b/7a SW CT)

How thick was the scionwood you collected yourself? If it was significantly different than the Geneva wood, that could be a factor.

I did the same thing this spring- collecting scionwood from 1 year grafts. I cut my wood on two days in Feb, with temps in the upper 20's on one and around 50 on the other (I hate the cold and waited for a nice day). Both types took nicely on new rootstocks. The pear and peach scions I took at the same time also did well.

I also had good success with the Geneva scions- I've got 15 of the 16 varieties to take. My actual success rate isn't quite that high, but I usually grafted more than one of each to be sure. The only one which seems to have failed is Josephine De Malines, whose scions didn't seem fully dormant when I was grafting.

Most of my grafting was done from the 2nd week of April through the 2nd week of May. The early stuff took 4-6 weeks to show growth, while the later grafts took only 2-3 weeks.

Most of the Geneva wood was nice and thick. But some of the Kazakhstan apples were pretty spindly. I grafted more of them because I was worried about how well it would do, but I ended up with a very good rate of success (3 types, 15 for 15, spread across 2 mature trees and a 1 year old potted rootstock). So while spindly did OK with my grafting method (cleft and double cleft grafts), I'm not sure how well it would do with bark grafts.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 12:02AM
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megamav(5a - NY)

Patience is key.
There is so much to learn.
Even when I think I have it down pat there is still a level of ignorance to my methods.

I thought all dormant wood is created equal.
I had grafts takes over the last 2 weeks, very late, 6 weeks after grafting.
I just regrafted a failed one tonight, low on the tree of course.
Ill be collecting scion wood around 30F next time, maybe there was cambium damage from collecting at a frigid temp.

Always learning, thank you, everyone!


    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 10:00PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


What comes to my mind is the position of the graft on the tree and whether that's the part of the tree that wants to grow. It sounds like your grafts are healing but not pushing. Could it be that the tree energy is being directed elsewhere? In order to get any kind of graft or bud to push it has to be positioned properly and the tree has to be growing. I've grafted many times and couldn't get the graft to push just because the trees energy wasn't directed to the bud I wanted to grow.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 10:39PM
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megamav(5a - NY)


Hard to say. I've heard low in the tree is tough.
One other graft im OK giving up on is directly adjacent to another scaffold.

The tree seems to be fairly stimulated from its hacking last season.
It is a 35 year old Red Jade on M7.
Last season I cleft grafted all of its main branches with:

Belle de Boskoop
Reine des Reinettes
Calville Blanc d'Hiver

I also lopped off the top and grafted a new central leader with the most vigorous variety in Belle de Boskoop. Its skyrocketing now. Last year it put on 6 feet of growth from May to September. Belle de Boskoop is a MONSTER.

So, the tree and the rootstock are thoroughly stimulated.
It was a stumpy tree 12 months ago, filling out now, but still pushing a ton of new growth out.

I think my best chance is to graft these now and not in 3 years when the tree is settling into fruit production. If my regraft from today takes, this tree is done. The rest of the new growth can be crabapple to help with Belle de Boskoop (Early triploid) pollination.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 11:23PM
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bob_z6(6b/7a SW CT)

My Red Boskoop is also very vigorous. It is on M27 rootstock and behaves almost like a B9. It is double the size of all my other M27.

To update my last post, one Josephine De Malines (so I have at least one of all 16 apples and pears from ARS) finally took on June 6th, more than a month and a half after it was grafted. I had written it off at that point and was quite surprised when I saw it.

I agree- it's better to get your grafts in now. The sooner you graft, the sooner you can try the new varieties. Also, I suspect that a harsh cutback to graft could interfere with fruiting. My franken-tree didn't have any apples on the few original branches I left from last year's grafting. They are now gone and I've got 14 more varieties on it, as well as the 9 I added last year.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 12:21AM
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I have lots of apple branches that are struggling from what I think was the cold winter. Maybe your tree has areas that you grafted to that are not responding well because of the cold winter. Also if blight is in the area or was on the scion wood it will retard the growth. I have blight for the first time this year or at least noticed. You would see it if you have it though.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 11:59AM
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megamav(5a - NY)

Bob, mine is on M7.
I am wondering if I made a BIG mistake with the Belle de Boskoop.
If your anecdote holds true to my situation may eclipse the height of my house, ~25 feet.
The Red Jade is a weeper, but very vigorous so grafting onto that may just be an extension of the rootstock vigor, more than an interstem.
From the pictures below, I think you can tell what is the weeping Red Jade and what is grafted. Also the monster Belle de Boskoop graft. That was the girth of a pencil 12 months ago, now its close to a half dollar. MONSTER.

I am smitten with my project tree. This is fun.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 1:10PM
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Your tree looks great. Next year you might get apples. Is this the tree your new grafts didn't grow on? The growth might slow down when the foliage catches back up to where it was before you headed it back. You have all those roots working for you and your big limbs. You can head the tops of too to promote more lateral branching. It will also help from growing to tall. I just put crotch sticks on my laterals this morning to make them grow at a better angle. They all wanted to grow straight up against the main leader. A couple I made loops with flagging tape and then taped that loop to a piece of gravel with electric tape. Then lassoed the lateral with the loop to bend it down.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 6:15PM
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megamav(5a - NY)

Same tree, yes.
We are hoping for a few apples next year.
For this tree to catch up to where it was, its only about half way there.
Compared to where I think it will end up, its about 25% there.
I took quite a bit of the tree off when I started grafting.

The Belle de Boskoop will consume the top and north side of the tree.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 7:42PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


The graft in your last picture looks like it could blow out easily in a wind storm. You might consider some support for it.

I lost a graft a couple weeks ago because of wind.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 10:57AM
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megamav(5a - NY)


I have it strung up tight o a gutter with some plastic tape to allow it some movement, but it will not whip around.
I can see the graft overtaking the branch cambium under the bark.
Its very aggressive.

You can see the tape strung up to the gutter in the first picture.

Thanks for looking out for me.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 5:21PM
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megamav(5a - NY)

From the back:

The front:

You can see it starting to wriggle its way around the mother branch under the bark. Amazing!

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 5:47PM
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