Why was I interested in grafting? Because I have always heard it talked about, but never saw anyone doing it. I wanted to be make those ‘fruit cocktail’ trees you read about. I wanted to see what it was like to stick a piece of one tree onto another and watch it grow.
Why Are My Grafts Not Taking?
Unfortunately, I was met with failure after failure. When I first got to the farm, the only thing I ever successfully grafted was a Honey Crisp onto an Orange Cox Pippen. Unfortunately the Pippen (and the graft) died in 2019 after about 17 years of life.
After that, it would be another 2 years before I got my Summer Crisp pear to accept the scion of the Beurre Blanc. Following that, another year passed before I successfully married Hukar pear to Summer Crisp again. Remember that each season I am trying at least a dozen grafts, but only those mentioned above turned out successfully.
When to Harvest Wood for Grafting
This year however, i decided to read the instructions 🙂 I decided to harvest the scion wood like every article told me to…in the dead of winter when it was completely dormant. That’s precisely what I did. I can still see myself trudging through the snow, in the bitter cold, chopping off pieces of my favorite apple trees. I cut the wood of the past season’s growth, popped it in a large trash bag, added a bit of snow for moisture, then loosely sealed it and placed it in the milk house for cold storage keeping.
When should I graft?
Prior to this year, I had always grafted in the earliest part of spring…March and early April when everything was still dormant. I didn’t understand that the parent tree must be VERY alive in order for grafts to succeed. So this year, I waited until we had a full week of warmth and there was definite bud swell and growth occurring in my parent trees. Then after the week was up, I started my first phase of grafting.
It was probably still too early. According to the Amish guy that sold me my latest batch of trees. They don’t graft till NOW (middle of May). Some grafters say that they wait till they see ‘mouse ears’ of green on the trees. This year, as I said, I waited till we had a full week of warm weather and I knew that the sap was flowing (I saw bud swell). After that, I took a business trip, then returned and did additional grafting when things were further along. Then today, May 12th, I received a shipment of fruit trees from the Amish farm. The Whitney crabapple I received was still dormant, so I tried it onto my volunteer apple in the corn patch. It successfully bonded! The first to do so after at least a dozen attempts to get it right.
What Wood To Use When Grafting?
In my attempts, I’ve cut the scion wood from the previous season’s growth. That means that the wood I collect in January ’16 will be wood that grew June-August in 2015.
I harvest a large portion of wood, much more than will actually be grafted. The ‘water sprouts’ are especially appealing to me; they look so fecund! In general, I harvest a large portion because I believe it helps the branch retain moisture. I bag it and keep it refrigerated (in my case I put the wood in a trash bag and store it on the floor of the milk house)
How To Graft in Three Steps
Collect the Scion Wood
I have watched and read ALOT about grafting. I know that there are many, many ways to cut the scion wood. I default to the easiest which is to slice the bottom portion of the wood into a wedge. I try to do this with as few cuts as possible so that the wood remains viable and healthy to graft to the receiving tree. The total length of your scion should be 7-9 inches long. Make sure that before you graft the scion onto the tree, you have either used Tree Kote, grafting wax, or grafting tape to seal the tip of the scion against drying out. In the above photo of the Almata onto C.O.P, you can see a bit of masking tape holds an underlying wrap of grafting tape securely over the pruned, scion tip.
Prepare the Receiving Tree
The next step is to prune a portion of your receiving tree back. When i graft, I try to match the diameter of the branch that I am pruning back to the diameter of the scion, but this is not critical as you can see in the Almata to C.O.P graft above. Provided a good portion of the cambium (the active growing layer just below the bark) of both the scion and the receiving tree are in physical contact, the graft can work.
Now make a cut into the receiving tree limb that you just pruned. If you are removing one portion of a branch and replacing it with another, then this cut will be perpendicular to the cut that you just made. In the case of the ‘side’ graft, this cut is made into the receiving wood at a 45 degree angle to the length of the stem (again, look at the Almata graft)
Graft Your Trees
Using the blade of your knife to wedge the receiving tree slice open, slide the scion into place. Pay attention that at least one side of the cambium on the scion aligns with the cambium on the receiving tree. The pressure of the wood on the receiving tree should hold your scion securely, but for added support, wrap the graft using grafting tape.
Why Aren’t My Grafts ‘Taking’…Probably Timing
That’s it. Really, grafting is not difficult. I used to believe that the devil was in the details. In this case, the devil is in the timing. Collect wood when it is completely dormant and store it so that it remains dormant (and cool and moist). Then, when the receiving tree is actively growing and the weather is warm (in Northeast Pa, this is late April, early May) graft the scion wood. Do what you can to prevent the scion wood and the grafting union from drying out. I use grafting tape. Also, be patient! Some grafts will take off like rockets, others will be much slower about showing signs of life. Don’t forget to label! It will be great to know which limb is what somewhere down the line 🙂