Grafting fruit trees

LurcherJuly 10, 2012

Hi, I have noticed folk say that you should plant grafted trees with the graft below ground, this is nonsense, and would negate the whole purpose of doing the graft in the first place.

Here in the UK there are many thousands of trees, both in commercial orchards, and private gardens. Almost all are grafted, and we NEVER plant with the union below ground. Grafts are NOT doomed to inevitably fail, some of our trees are over 100 years old.

If a tree is found to be unproductive, it is often top worked to change branches for more favourable ones.

I was given a Golden Delicious apple, which I hate, so I grafted it into a Saskatoon, Amelanchier alnifolia, this grows well and eliminates the problem of the Amelanchier suckering and becoming invasive.

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I think you might be taking the comment out of context which probably referred to specific situations. Sometimes people might need a larger tree than their dwarf or semi after deer or raccoons make a mess of things. Another situation might be wanting a deeper root system for stability, water needs or cold hardiness.

In other words they DO IT fully UNDERSTANDING the reasons for doing so. (Couldn't resist as your tone was pretty snippy). These nice folks who post here are very experienced, patient and generous with their time.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 6:14PM
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Not my intention to be 'snippy' as you put it, but when people are seeking advice it is better to give them all the facts, don't you think ?

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 7:31PM
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Having been fruit growing for over half a century, I do have a little experience of my own.
Over here, if we require a tree to have a specific characteristic, be it deep rooting, drought resistant, or whatever, then we specify that requirement when making the purchase, and select a suitable rootstock accordingly.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 7:45PM
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myk1(5 IL)

I agree you have taken something out of context.
It's hard to say when you haven't replied to the thread you are having an issue with but rather started a new thread. It's like going up to a stranger in a store and continuing a conversation you had with somebody else a week ago.

I don't know what you are afraid of in planting a semi-dwarf apple with the graft below ground.
Since there are no true dwarfing plum rootstocks I don't see a problem if the top roots.
A Northstar cherry won't matter if the top roots.
You're supposed to put the lower graft of an interstem grafted apple below ground.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 7:53PM
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Myk1, I have taken nothing out of context. The original thread was written several months ago, so there is little point posting to that. I spotted it whilst reading about Aronia to Pyrus grafts, and thought that for the sake of clarity the record should be put straight.
For dwarfing of plums we use Pixie rootstocks, for dwarf cherries it's Gisela.
We do not plant interstem grafted apples below ground in our orchards, neither did my Grandfather, not my Father, who taught me how to graft trees when I was ten years old.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 8:48PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Lurcher, scientific studies have shown there is some advantage to putting the interstem union below the ground: more hardy, better to tolerate different soils, and more tolerant of crown rot. It makes the tree somewhat more vigorous which may or may not be a good thing. Just because grampa did it that way doesn't make it the best. My grandfather way spraying lead arsenate on his fruit trees.


    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 11:04PM
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If as you say the interstem produces a tree more to your requirements, then why don't you simply select that variety as your rootstock to begin with and graft whatever top growth you desire to that. If we wish to change or revitalize a tree by rind, porcupine, stub, or cleft grafting, we do not dig it up and plant it deeper to bury the original grafts. As I say, our orchards have been run by 3 generations with great success, so I am talking about practical methods, not theoretical.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 4:08AM
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Generally speakin, Ive always read that you shouldnt bury the graft. For the most part, it negates the rootstock. IF you didnt want the rootstock, then why select that tree in the first place right? If I have a semi dwar apple, of a rootstock that is hardy, and say, bliht resistants, and I live in an exceptionaly cold area, where blight is prevalent, there would be no reason to want to bury the graft. As far as I see, if youre going to do this, you might as well get "own root" trees.

HOWEVER, talking to my neighbor, (His family owns acres of orchards in italy) about plums, he recommended that I plant my "toka" with the graft below ground. From what I read, Japanese plums shouldnt be buried deep, let alone the graft buried. But, in the case of own root, european plums, as far as I can tell, you SHOULD bury them deep, especially in a cold climate.

Also, from what ive read, sour cherries (evans bali, meteor etc), should not be buried deep for what ever reason. Most evans cherry trees up here are on their own roots anyways, it being a natural dwarf cherry.

I think it comes down to this. A good general rule is to not bury your graft. I only know of one exception myself, and that is european plums. Logic states that if you get a tree, thats grafted, you should make sure that the understock is desirable and has characteristics you need. There is no point is getting an apple tree on a dwarf rootstock, when you have high winds and bad soil. The reason of having a variety of rootstocks is to ensure that you get the proper characteristics for your situation.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 8:50AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Lurcher, I never said interstems produce a tree more to my requirements. I personally don't think they are worth the extra effort and only use them when necessary for graft compatibility (for example when grafting a quince-incompatible pear to quince rootstock). I also have never buried a graft of any kind. My point was that it still can sometimes be good to do such things, and more generally modern fruit scientists have learned new ways to do things which have improved on what our grandfathers did.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 9:32AM
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Thank you Canadianplant, you echo my point precisely, and perhaps with a measure more patience than I could muster.

What, by the way, do you think of my grafting Saskatoon onto an apple rootstock ? Here they tend to sucker a lot if planted on their own roots and become invasive. I also found that they fruit better if there is more than one variety nearby.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 10:17AM
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myk1(5 IL)

"If as you say the interstem produces a tree more to your requirements, then why don't you..."

I clipped it there because that's where you wander off the trail of knowledge.

An interstem is a semi-dwarf rootstock for the semi-dwarf roostock rooting abilities. Then it has a dwarf stem for the dwarfing qualities. Then the top growth that is desired.

If there was such a thing as a dwarfing rootstock that had semi-dwarf rooting abilities then interstems wouldn't exist.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 3:18PM
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That is not always correct myk1, an interstem is often interposed between a rootstock and the top growth as scottfsmith pointed out, it is there to overcome compatibility problems, it plays little part in any dwarfing process. If you plant it with the graft below ground and permit it to root, then the primary rootstock becomes redundant. In which case there was little point in adding it in the first place. It is the root that is dwarfing, not any intermediary stem between root and top growth.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 6:16PM
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Lurcher I won't argue with you here as obviously your beliefs are strongly held. I would suggest you do a little research on apple rootstock interstems. I have planted some B118/B9. There is a dwarfing effect. The why. My climate is not like the UK. Where I live in a typical years I will have 40C summer temps and -25C winter temps. The last couple of weeks have hover around the 40C, with low humidity and strong winds. I have had no rain since may 26. I need a hardy vigorous rootstock, and I would rather not climb 7 meter ladders. or continually fight to keep growth under control. Plus I have cut my wait to fruit by a couple of years. You may know a lot about your orchard, but not everywhere is like your orchard. Cheers.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 7:28PM
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Lurcher, I would love to hear about the varieties you grow and how they perform for you. I imagine with all the apple history in your family you must have some incredible varieties that we are not too familiar with in N America. I'm sure others would also enjoy hearing about UK varieties as they are sometimes hard to find here. Joan Morgan and Alison Richard's UK book, The New Book of Apples, is my favorite.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 8:21PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

I generally plant my peaches so the graft is below ground level. I do this mainly so I can start my scaffolds lower. All my peaches are in mounds/terraces so there is no danger in drowning the roots from planting too deep.

Unlike plums, the scion portion of a peach won't root out if planted below ground level (although I wouldn't care if it did).

Contrary to popular opinion, I don't think most apple scions will root out very easily either. Several years ago Hman challenged the conventional wisdom on another forum asking for testimonies from people who could confirm scion rooting from various apple varieties. There wasn't much in the way of testimony in the affirmative.

I've planted several apple trees with the graft below grade and subsequently either dug them up or pulled them out and have never observed scion rooting with the graft buried. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just not as often as the conventional wisdom suggests.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 9:13PM
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Could Scott quote the source of his information re. 'Scientific Studies', I should like to read these papers and also verify to what extent these researchers are qualified.

We do not only grow apples, but here are my favourite varieties in alphabetical order.

Anne Elizabeth. Arthur Turner. Beauty of Bath. Belle de Boskoop. Blenheim Orange. Bramley's Seedling. Charles Ross. Duke of Devonshire. Edward V11. Grenadier. Irish Peach. James Grieve. Lane's Prince Albert. Lord Derby. Newton Wonder. Ribston Pippin. Sunset. The Rev. W. Wilks. Wagener. Worcester Pearmain. I also have one tree that I believe is very similar to the old English Costard.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 9:57PM
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If you are interested in apple varieties, Quillfred, then you would enjoy the UK National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent, where they have over 3500 varieties of apple tree.

My own small collection is kept on a 5 acre parcel of land, where I trial different varieties, and also propagate replacements for the main commercial orchards. There we grow mainly Bramleys and Cox's Orange Pippins, but my interest lies with the small plot and the varied trees within.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 11:16PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Lurcher, below is a Google Scholar search on apple interstem planting depth which returns a large pile of papers. Most of these articles appear in Acta Hort. which is one of the leading publication venues for academic research in the field.


Here is a link that might be useful: search string

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 10:40AM
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Thank you very much. I will read them all with great interest.

On the subject of planting depth, I have noticed some suppliers offer grafted trees where the union is very low. I prefer to make my grafts at 2ft of stem, thus permitting me to plant deeper if I so desire, without compromising the graft.

I did find one friend in the UK who bought a Bramley Seedling on a MM106 rootstock. This should have produced a half standard tree, but she had planted it with the union some 8 inches below the ground level, and after 14 years it has yet to produce fruit.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 5:01PM
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Lurcher you do have some interesting varieties. The Duke of Devonshire especially caught my eye. The book (The New Book of Apples) describes it as similar to Ashmead's Kernal which is very popular variety with backyard growers here.

Are you familar with Lord Lambourne (Worchester Pearmain x James Grieve) or Lamb Abbey Pearmain (Newton Pippin pip)? I am allowing a single apple this year to try off the LL. I grow most of mine for fresh consumption although I do have a newly grafted Rhode Island Greening for nice tart pies.

My two favorites at the moment would be Karmijn De Sonnaville and Newton's Pippin. Newton's was clearly the most memorable apple of my childhood and I am struck with how those delicious apples of our youth hold such sentimental value. Both also make fine pies. We are lucky to be able to grow some of the Cox's Orange Pippin family here in the Pacific Northwest.

I hear Brogdale is also celebrating its Diamond Jubilee this year. They feature such a nice website with descriptions and pictures.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 11:15PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

If I wouldn't plant my sweet cherries below graft they would be all dead by now. Today I tasted a Vandalay,..some are just getting dark.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 1:52AM
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Lord Lambourne is a very good variety. Of the more modern types I have been pleased with the Swedish bred Katy, also developed from the Worchester Pearmain, it is very hardy and a regular heavy cropper. Perhaps a worthwhile candidate for you guys with a less than favourable climate.

Konrad, our winter temps rarely dip below -20, so we are lucky in that respect, but we often do not get enough sun in the summer to properly mature the wood of the new growths, so they are more sensitive to the cold. The best sweet cherry we have is the Merton Bigarreau, grown on a Colt rootstock, but as I said, make your graft at least 2 foot from the root, so that you can plant a little deeper if you wish without having to bury the union.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 6:41AM
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