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Past Articles Library | Trees | Learning to Graft Apple Trees

If you plant the seeds from a piece of apple that you have eaten, the tree that comes up will not have the same kind of apple.  The only way to produce trees that will have the same kind of apple is by grafting.  There are several methods of grafting apple trees but all involve putting wood from the desirable tree, or scion, into the stock tree.  Stock trees are chosen for disease resistance and growing characteristics, not their fruit bearing characteristics.  This article will explain the whip graft, the cleft graft, and the side graft.

Young vigorous trees up to five years of age may be grafted.  These trees will serve as the rootstock of the graft.  The scions should be selected from the previous year’s growth while they are dormant and before they bud out in spring.  Scions should be harvested in midwinter and kept in cold storage until used for grafting.  The best time to graft is early spring, from the time the buds on the stock trees begin to open until blossom time.

You will need the following supplies to graft an apple tree, whichever type of grafting you choose:

  1. Budding knife
  2. Grafting knife
  3. A fine-tooth saw for cleft grafting
  4. Pruning shears
  5. Dormant scions (cultivar labeled)
  6. Tying material such as grafting tape, adhesive tape, electrician's rubber tape or rubber strips
  7. Asphalt water emulsion compound for covering grafts
  8. A cleft-grafting chisel and mallet, or a heavy knife or hatchet can be used for a small job

The whip graft is used on young trees about the diameter of a pencil.  Both the scion and rootstock must be the same size.  Cut off a branch of the stock, leaving a stub at least a foot long to work with.  Use a piece of scion about a foot long as well.  Cut a long cut that goes from one side of the stock to the other, leaving a bevel on the stock.  Make a similar cut on the scion.

Join the cut side of the scion to the cut side of the stock and wrap together tightly with grafting tape, electrician’s rubber tape, or adhesive tape.  Then carefully cover the entire union with grafting compound.  After the scion starts to grow, remove the tape to prevent the girdling of the tree.

The cleft graft is used on trees that are older and established.  It is best used on branches two or three feet in diameter and no more than four of five feet off the ground.  Cut the stock off at a straight place free of knots.  Cut the cleft, without splitting the wood, with a cleft grafting chisel, a heavy knife, or a hatchet.  Cut the cleft sidewise in the branch, not perpendicular to the tree.

Cut the scion into a wedge shape not a sharp chisel point.  The sharp chisel point may break off. 

Spread the cleft apart with a screwdriver and put two scions on opposite sides of the cleft, with the bark facing toward the outside of the tree.

A slight tilt of the scion will ensure contact with as much of the cleft as possible.  Then cover the stock and cleft with grafting compound to protect the graft.

The side graft is used on branches that are too large for the whip graft but too small for the cleft graft.  As the name suggests, the scion is inserted into the side of the larger stock branch.  Choose a smooth place in the stock at least a foot from the trunk.  Make a slanting cut at a steep angle almost to the pith.

Cut the scion to a short, sharp wedge with one side shorter than the other.  Bend the branch back slightly and slip the scion into the cut so the cambium layers meet on one side.

If the scion fits in the cut firmly, you will not have to tie it.  Otherwise, use tape to wrap it well and cover all cut surfaces with the grafting compound.  About two weeks after the graph, go in and cut the branch off just above the graft, being careful not to damage the graph site or the scion.

If the graft has been wrapped with tape, cut the tape when the scion starts to grow to prevent girdling.

These three methods of grafting are the most commonly used on apple trees.  One of them should work on any tree under five years old.

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