Apple tree grafting - planned success rate and other questions

sam_ny(5)October 3, 2011


I've decided to try grafting some wood from some friends' favorite apple and pear trees onto rootstock this spring. I think I have a handle on how to collect the scions, when to do everything, and techniques for grafting, but I do have some questions that I was hoping that someone might be able to help with:

The nursery I want to order rootstock from is taking orders now for the spring. I think I will end up wanting two new apple trees and two new pear trees. How many should I buy? I should probably allow for some failure, right? Two rootstocks for every hoped-for future tree? More?

I notice in some publications, what they call "rootstocks" have a bunch of stems. I'm guessing those get separated out at nurseries, right? So if I order six root stocks, I get six stems on which to graft?

I thought I'd heel them in in our vegetable garden for the year and then transplant them next year to the field. Any reason not to heel them in in containers to allow for easy removal?

Lastly, we have large mess of an ancient apple tree in the backyard that hasn't been kept in any way for decades. I thought I'd prune it this year and for fun graft on some of the scions I get from my friends. I don't want to take off EVERY limb (and I know I'm supposed to leave a "mother limb" anyway), but it will be a fairly major pruning job. I'll seal up any cuts, but is there much risk of seriously injuring the tree by pruning it back very heavily?

Thanks in advance for any responses to any part of this! Any external resources/recommendations are welcome and appreciated.


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you might try the same issue in the fruit forum ...

there were quite a number of posts on this last year.. but i cant remember if it was here or there ...

might want to try the GW search engine

NEVER seal a wound on a tree ... you have just as great odds of trapping moisture in.. as keeping it out ... you might want to try this question in the tree forum ... unless the fruit peeps do it differently ...

dont get me wrong.. i care not where you post.. i am just trying to guide you to other fonts of knowledge ...

i have never seen the fruit peeps in the tree forum ..

check out the link if you have some time to waste ... i dont know why your post made me think of it ...


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 5:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"...I'm guessing those get separated out at nurseries, right?..."

I think I'd contact the supplier about these questions. Their practices may not be universal.

"Any reason not to heel them in in containers to allow for easy removal?"

Possible issues include drainage problems, root system formation disadvantages, increase in planting labor due to necessity of addressing distorted root system, and problems removing the container if roots grow out of the bottom. I'm not saying not to use containers, but I did want to mention some possible disadvantages.

"...I know I'm supposed to leave a "mother limb" anyway..."

I've never heard of the term "mother limb". If you are talking about a central leader, most fruit production pruning methods result in the termination of the leader.

"I'll seal up any cuts, but is there much risk of seriously injuring the tree by pruning it back very heavily?"

NO!!! Never (well, almost never) seal a pruning cut or wound, except when grafting. Sealing around grafts (for some techniques, is imperative).

"Lastly, we have large mess of an ancient apple tree in the backyard that hasn't been kept in any way for decades."

Here's my recommendation on that...Search the fruit forum for Harvestman's discussions on this topic, and/or email him for more info. I disagree with him on many topics and sometimes find discussions with him rather difficult (He enjoys being the contrarian, even when discussing fairly well settled matters), but renovating old fruit trees is the one topic in which he may be the most knowledgeable of anyone on GW.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 9:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks Ken and Brandon,

So you're both basically saying I should put lots of sealer on any wounds/cuts, right? JK. I had actually just watched some grafting videos/read some instructional blurbs about topworking apple trees and was more thinking about sealing the branch/limb that I'd be grafting onto--which I believe is necessary to make sure the limb doesn't dry out and ruin the graft. Sorry for the confusion.

Re. the term "mother limb": I've also since seen this called a "nurse limb." My understanding is that it's the term for a limb left attached to keep the tree alive and actively growing. I don't think it has to be the leader, although I suppose it could be. I could be off on that though.

Good points on putting them in containers w/r/t drainage and root formation issues. I guess I don't see huge disadvantages to just sticking them in the ground. The garden in question is well-worked and easy to dig in. I suppose putting them in containers has the advantage of protecting the roots from voles, etc. I guess I could also bury some hardware cloth around the row, too, which would help protect from hungry creatures and allow straight taproots, etc. Will think on that some more.

I will try to contact harvestman, who's helped me on threads before.

Thanks again,


    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 3:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sam, I always turn to the experts on all matters related to northern fruit trees. Do a search for "Geneva Experiment Station + how to graft on apple root stock". It should be a helpful search. Phoned in questions are also accepted there. And now is the autumn time to visit this Geneva, NY institution and walk its growing fields. An amazing place and an educational destination.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 12:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This ancient apple tree you have. What kind is it?
How old do you think it is?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 10:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

steveintn, I don't really know either. According to family members, it was fully grown when they moved onto the land in the late 70s. The apples are pretty tart and small. Another family member said folks used to make cider out of apples like that, but who knows.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 10:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You don't have to buy rootstock. You can dig up shoots from old apple tree or even dig up young roots to graft to. Its good to have pear root stock for pears although I have grafted pear to apple once before. Get good grafting knife and pratice cutting on a couple green sticks. Being left handed I like to cut away from myself but some grafting instructions say to pull knife toward you. Either way, what you feel comfortable with. I got good with whip grafts and stuck with it but there is bud grafting but it is wrong time of year for that. Good luck with it.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 6:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"I've also since seen this called a nurse limb."

I think that would be a non-conventional use of that term. The most common word for what I think you are trying to describe (after rereading your post) is "sap riser".

You don't have to buy rootstock.

There are a LOT of possible advantages to using specific rootstocks. While a generic seedling rootstock might "work", it most often will not be the best choice for most applications.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 11:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for the responses to the post. I must have missed the last few--sorry for the late replies. Anyway, I read two things in Michael Phillips' The Apple Grower (a recent purchase) that are relevant to this thread and I thought I'd follow-up.

Phillips writes that an "experienced" grafter can count on 90% success rate. Since I am unexperienced, I guess I'll expect less than that, but good to know what I should be shooting for.

Also, regarding topworking, he writes: "Leaving a 'nurse limb' as a photosynthesis sink for the roots during that first season results in better yields from the grafts sooner." That wasn't where I originally came across the term, but apparently some use it this way. No matter what the word, though, the bottom line is apparently not to cut off EVERYTHING when topworking.

Stevintn, I have no idea how old or what variety that tree is. In taking a closer look, I see no evidence of a graft. Anyway, next year I've decided to prune it back, but limit grafting on this tree. I've found two other old apple trees on the edge of another field that get much better light and seem healthier. Whatever extra scionwood I end up with after grafting onto rootstock I'll graft onto those.

Thanks for all the tips and advice.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 2:18PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
How much light for cuttings?
How much light needs a bed for cuttings? If I put some...
plant growth regulators
Hi all, just found this web site selling plant growth...
Why do some daffodils never increase in numbers?
(This has been cross-posted.) I'm really confused with...
Speed up Plant Propagation!
This will not be needed for most plant propagation...
Clonex gel turned liquid
When my Clonex gel was about a year old and I went...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™