Apple Tree Grafting

2012 September 2
by Chris Vernon

Apple trees can’t be grown from seed. Well, the pip will grow but it will very likely produce a fairly unpalatable crab apple* and the tree will be large. When propagating apple trees we want to grow a particular variety; Bramley, Cox or Russet etc. and we want the tree to be a manageable size. The only way to grow a Cox is to clone an existing Cox – all Cox apple trees alive today are cones of the original (or clones of clones etc.). In order to clone the existing tree we take cuttings of scion wood in the winter when pruning the tree, typically first year growth of approximately pencil thickness. These ‘twigs’ are then grafted onto rootstocks in the early spring. The size of the eventual tree is determined by the choice of rootstock: a seedling rootstock will be a full sized apple tree but for most gardens or orchards, semi-dwarfing or even very small dwarfing rootstocks are preferred.


Apple rootstocks

The seedling, or standard rootstock is a third larger again than M111/M25.

This spring I bought ten MM106 for £2 each. A couple of months earlier I had attended an apple tree pruning workshop where along with learning the basics of pruning I was able to collect some scion wood from both Bramley and Fiesta (also known as Red Pippin). I also took some scions from the Worcester Pearmain on our allotment. The dry scion wood was wrapped in plastic and kept in the fridge to keep it dormant until it was time to graft. The ten trees were grafted on the 25th March 2012.

There are many ways to graft. I chose the ‘saddle graft’ as it seemed the simplest. An upwards pointing ‘V’ is cut into the rootstock and a matching hollow is cut into the scion so that it forms a tight fit. You can buy special grafting tape to wrap around the join but I used used strips of plastic carrier bag.

I’m writing this six months later on the 25th August having just removed the the plastic bindings (which in all cases stayed on tight). See below for the resulting grafts. Eight of the ten seem to have worked well, one didn’t take at all and one seems to have formed a good join but there are no leaves on the scion wood.

Grafted apple trees

10 apple trees.

Apple tree graft

Apple tree graft.

Apple tree graft

Apple tree graft.

*Unless you happen to be lucky. Erica’s great-grandfather (known as Grandpa Buxton) planted a pip from an apple he ate in the garden, and the resulting tree has produced many excellent cooking apples over the years. It was registered as a new variety and is now even available by mail order!

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Malc permalink
    September 30, 2013

    Is it possible to graft from one apple tree to a grown tree? I’m buying a house with three apple trees in the back garden (one with red apples, two with green). As the trees rather dominate the garden, we’re looking to cut down tbe two green ones but it seems rather a shame to lose the apples. Might it be possible to graft from the green apple tree to the red tree? I read in the paper today about someone having grafted a lot of varieties into one tree, but it didn’t give the method.

  2. Chris Vernon permalink*
    September 30, 2013

    Yes, you can graft your green apples onto the red tree. This would make it a family tree.
    Look up ‘topworking’ Good luck!

  3. Dave Simon permalink
    April 23, 2014

    If the rootstock starts growing other branches with leaves below the graft, is it best to leave it and allow the root to grow, or cut it off and force all the energy into the scion? Anybody know?

  4. Chris Vernon permalink*
    April 24, 2014

    You should remove any growth below the union. We don’t want any branches from the rootstock.

  5. Andy Griffin permalink
    February 10, 2016

    I have grown a ‘twig’ from the pip of a rare cooking apple. I have now cut this into three lengths and grafted them onto an established apple tree in my garden ….. what apples will be produced? the originals or crab apples?

  6. Chris Vernon permalink*
    February 10, 2016

    Conventional wisdom says apples don’t grow true from pips so mostly likely you’ll have something most would describe as a crab apple. However – you could be lucky!

  7. Michelle Merrell permalink
    April 4, 2016

    Hello, I have a young mango tree I planted in our back yard less than a year ago. It is about 4 feet tall with about 7 branches sticking out from the root stock with new leaves now growing in the Spring.
    My dilemma is that when I graft the tree (I’m leaning towards a veneer graft) do I need to cut off all 7 branches and the top of the tree? If so at what point do I cut the branches?
    or can I graft one of the strong branches and leave the other branches? or can I graft the lower part of the root stock and leave the branches above it? I just don’t want to butcher my tree if I don’t have too…..

    Please help.

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