Tree Grafting 101

Brian Campbell: Local honey given to him as thanks for the grafting workshop.

Brian Campbell: Local honey given to him as thanks for the grafting workshop.

A couple of weekends ago I attended a fruit tree grafting workshop. Brian Campbell, a fruit tree grafter and beekeeper from Vancouver, flew in to teach the course. He brought with him a nice variety of scion (grafting) wood as well as the root stock for us to use during the workshop. He’d sent a list around to us the different kinds of scion wood that he would bring which provided a chance to look them up on the web and decide which three species I wanted. I was thrilled to see in his list that there were several heritage breeds of apples, one of them (the blue pearmain) is listed in the Slow Food ‘Ark of Taste’. That, I had to have.

Apple and pear trees don’t grow true from seed, consequently most trees are grafted on to a type of root stock. In fact, nowadays, almost all fruit trees you buy are grafted. There are some good reasons for this: it can give increased disease resistances as well as pest resistance, it allows you to control the size and vigor of the tree depending upon the root stock you choose, and the root stock can be chosen to match your soil type so you can design the tree to grow in what would otherwise be a less than optimum breeding ground for the particular apple or pear you wish to grow.

Because grafting is making the successful union of the cambium layers, there is an art to the process that takes some time to learn. After providing us with a demonstration and a few basic tools (knives and a metal washer to preserve our fingers), he turned us loose on some wood to practice with. There are a few ways of grafting but the method Brian showed us was called the ‘whip and tongue’ graft. The idea is to make two cuts into the root stock and then two cuts into the scion wood and slide the two ends together and bind it with grafting tape.

Step one: The whip cuts.

Make a diagonal cut on the scion wood leaving only three buds above the cut.

The whip cut.

The whip cut.

Make an identical cut on the root stock about one hand length above the soil line (roughly 8-10 inches above the roots).

Where to make the whip cut on the root stock.

Brian demonstrating where you make the whip cut on the root stock wood.

Brian demonstrating where you make the whip cut on the root stock wood.

Step three: Slice through the diagonal cut on the whip cuts on both the scion wood and the root stock to make the tongue cuts. Use a metal washer to protect your hands in case of knife slippage!

The grater's workplace safety item!

The grater's workplace safety item!

Step four: Join the scion to the root stock and wrap securely with grafting (or electricians) tape. Slide the two tongue cuts together being careful to make the bark meet as best you can.

Wrap your join carefully.

A carefully wrapped first graft.

A carefully wrapped first graft.

Label the trees and place them in wet wood shavings in a shady, but warm spot, for about a month or so and do not let it dry out! After this time it can be planted in the soil in the garden or moved to a larger pot. The little tree can be kept in a large pot for one year if you do not let it dry out. Once the graft has calloused over (after about one month to six weeks) you can safely remove the grafting tape.

My first grafting attempt, wrapped, planted and labeled.

My first completed fruit tree graft!

My first completed fruit tree graft!

All up we each go to make three grafts. It was a straightforward procedure which surprised me because I’ve read about grafting and the literature tends to make it sound more complicated than it is (or that is the way I’ve been understanding it!). Of course, it will be another month or so before I know if I was successful or not. Our intstructor boasted a nearly 100% success rate–here’s hoping some of his talent has rubbed off!



Filed under Agriforestry, Fruit Trees, How to...

7 responses to “Tree Grafting 101

  1. Sounds like a fun class. I’m growing a bunch of apple seedlings this year just so I can have rootstock to try some grafts on next year. I know the rootstock I get will be wildcards, but what the hell. I might as well try it. I want to take scion wood from our old apple tree which I cannot identify, but which produces great eating apples and superb cider. And a relative of mine has offered scion wood from her Ashmead’s Kernel apple tree. She says it’s the best eating apple ever. I look forward to trying it out.

  2. It was a great class. I don’t think I’ve been successful at it (the little graftlings are not showing any sign of growth above the graft yet). But, I will attempt it again. I am now growing some root stock for future years.


  3. Heather

    This is very interesting. I just found out about this process and looking forward to giving it a try. Your explanation made it very easy to understand and follow. I can’t wait to see the results. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Seeds and Scions: How Apple Varieties Originate and Perpetuate – Vol. 1, No. 5 « The Palate Jack®

  5. Gabbai

    I don’t know about this process at all and was sad to find out that the apple seeds I was saving would not “just” produce the same types of apples. How do you know which trees to graft together?

    For example, if I wanted Granny Smith Apples what would I do? Does it matter which two trees go together? Which one is the root tree and which one is the top part?

    Thanks for any questions you can answer.

  6. Doyle Adkins

    to get a granny smith tree you would need scionwood from a granny smith tree. This would be a small piece of last years growth taken from a limb or watersprout. Graft this onto any rootstock and you will have a granny smith apple tree. The scionwood forms the top part of the tree. Good luck!

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