Plants & Trees

Grafting Heritage Apples

This year after four years of practising grafting my apple wood from one tree to another I have decided to expand my horizons to heritage varieties of apple. I have watched Stephen Hayes on YouTube for a few years now and each year he has encouraged others to graft heritage fruit trees and offering scions (small pieces of fruit wood the size of a pencil) to others for free. The idea is you help expand the range and number of heritage fruit trees, preserving biodiversity and of course England’s historical apples, many of which offer far better flavour and texture than their supermarket counterparts. Stephen asks in return that you give to the Tree Aid charity through his Just Giving page. This year Stephen sent out 100 parcels taking him a week of his time and considerable expense for postage, my parcel containing 60 scions with eight varieties costing over £6 to post. I can’t thank Stephen enough for this gift and my contribution to Tree Aid seems inadequate in comparison to his donation of time money and potential future productivity. I would ask anyone reading this to have a look at Stephen’s Just Giving page and make a contribute if you have the funds.

So back to the point in anticipation of receipt of the scions I decided to order some rootstock’s to graft on to, up to now I have only used seedlings I have grown myself. My search bore fruit in many ways, I found Fairplant from Holland who as-well as providing rootstock’s sell many other trees and hedging plants we wanted for this year more on that in another post. They only sell root stocks in bundles of 50 and only expecting about 10 scions from Stephen I also searched for a source of more scions to graft on to my rootstock’s and found Amelia’s Apples and ordered a further 10 varieties, Shelley who runs Amelia’s Apples kindly sent me 5 more as a gift. So I ended up with 75 scions of heritage apples and only 60 available root stocks, 50 MM 106 purchased and 10 seedlings but I also ordered 50 Malus sylvestris seedlings. These are crab apples which will grow to 12 meters in height so I will have to give the grafted tree plenty of space to grow in. The MM 106 rootstock will dwarf to about 6 meters.

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The next consideration was what to plant the rootstock’s into, we have a good supply of used pots around the property we reuse every year but not enough for this project. Plastic pots are not cheep in France and after a search in all the usual places we came across an offer in a DIY store on builders buckets for 1€ each so settled on them and purchased 50. The plan was to plant 40 of the MM 106 rootstock’s in buckets a 10 of the Malus sylvestris and graft the rest of the scions on to existing trees including a multi-variety tree I already have 6 different varieties grafted on to.

So my list of new varieties is as follows.

  • Adam’s Pearmain
  • Ashmead’s Kernel
  • Ball’s Bittersweet
  • Catshead
  • Chritmas Pearman
  • Court Pendu Plat
  • Duck’s Bill
  • Ellison’s Orange
  • King of the Pippins
  • May Queen
  • Royal Turk
  • Peasgood Nonsuch
  • Pitmaston Pine
  • Strummer Pippin
  • Sunset
  • Suntan
  • Tydeman’s Early Oraange
  • Welsh Russet
  • Winter  Bannana
  • Winter King Winston

Grafting is done by taking a cutting (scion) from a dormant tree and grafting on to another tree as the tree is coming back to life in the spring. Storing your cutting where they will not dry out or rot from being too wet, I try to take cuttings as late as possible so the storage time is kept to a minimum. Both of my suppliers this year cut scions within a week of posting them out to me in late March. I grafted them in early April as the apple trees were breaking in to leaf.

There is normally a genetic match from your donor tree to your host tree, apple on to apple, pear on to pear, there are exceptions but more on that another day.

You can graft with a sharp knife but I prefer to use grafting secateurs, it’s quicker, easier and I get good success rates with them.

Grafting 037 (2)Cleaning is an issue but WD40 and an old tooth blush does the job.

Grafting 039 (2)So here is what you get from the cutting action.

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Here you can see the cambium the white layer under the bark this is the nutrient transport path, similar to our vascular system and  this is the part you have to make a good connection with for your graft to work well.

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The most important part of the grafting union is to get the best size match you can manage, match the size of the host wood to your scion. This is an OK match but not a perfect one. Note you can still see the cambium layer.

Grafting 045 (2)This a perfect union all be it the same two pieces of the cut simply put back together.

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Here is a very poor match, note I have set the smaller piece of to one side so the cambium connects on one side, this is done and still work but the closer the fit the better the success rate.

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Once I make my pieces match the best I can, I join  them together with about 20cm of Parafilm® Grafting Tape. This stretches and sticks to its self and it’s micro-porous so it lets the union breath while keeping it moist. First I attach it to scion which I cut with the fork left on the cut end.

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Then I attach the two pieces of wood together and continue to wrap the tape down across the joint keeping the tape pulled tight.

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Then continue until the joint area is covered and then go back over it again until all the tape is used up, pull the last bit of tape really tight so it stick to its-self really well. This union resists wind and rain and seldom fails.

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For the buckets used to plant the rootstock’s in to I had to give them a drainage hole, so I simply drilled it with a large saw-toothed bit.

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Then take some of the 2.5 cubic meters of well-rotted compost from one of last years compost shower installations, fill buckets and plant  with rootstock’s.

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Graft them all up and put in a safe place and keep watered.

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Here a couple of weeks after grafting are the first signs of growth, OK its just the bud swelling but its progress.

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Here is my multi variety tree it’s just a seedling from a commercial apple I ate. I planted the seed the first spring after we arrived here in 2004. I planted the tree out in our forest garden in 2009.

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I made the first graft on to it in the spring of 2010, this it after five years of healing.

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Here is another graft union I made in 2013.

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Here is another graft union made in 2014 its a Games Grieve, one of my favourites.

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Now after five years and having added six varieties of apple so far this year I have added another six varieties.

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I hope you have found this instructive, don’t forget to check out Stephen Hayes YouTube channel.

All the best.