A Day at the Orchard: Grafting

I love going to the orchard. Besides being the place I get wonderful fruit to craft hard cider, it’s located on a beautiful hill overlooking the valley. It’s an extremely peaceful place, and the flora and fauna in the area are always amazing. The owner and I have established a good relationship and he has been allowing me to plant some cider apples. This year, we are trying to propagate a seedling tree that we discovered last season. It produced a very interesting apple (a subject for a future post) that will be good for my hard cider recipes. I spent the recent weekend pruning it up to look more like a tree.

This allowed me to collect some rootings that were growing up around it and plant them so we now have 3 smaller trees growing as well as the original larger tree. It also allowed me to collect some scion wood for grafting. I’ve never grafted anything before this attempt. However, as I researched hard cider for my personal knowledge and then for my book, I ventured deeper into understanding the apple and ultimately, the tree. Finding a small orchard that was willing to work with me has only further fueled my interest in learning about the the orchard and how to care for and reproduce the trees.

Using the pruning as a source of scion wood, I set out grafting pieces onto several wild seedling trees at the orchard. This was mostly a means to practice grafting with low risk. If the grafts take, I get more trees producing this super apple for my hard cider. The grafts are probably not ideal but I selected good lateral branches and sought to match the diameter of the scion wood. For the middle leader, I attempted a cleft graft where I used two smaller pieces of scion wood. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping I didn’t totally botch the job. However, after this bit of practice, I was fully committed.

  • Grafting hard cider scion wood to an unproductive tree.
  • Grafting the large leader using a cleft graft.
  • Using the grafting tool on a lateral.

Last year, I collected rootstock samples, which I potted and began trying to grow in my backyard. I also sprouted apples seeds and planted those in pots. Ultimately, I want to grow these seedlings large enough that I can graft them onto a larger tree to see if the fruit is of interest. However, it will take years for these to grow larger. Therefore, I decided to use my current rootstocks to graft some new varieties for the orchard. I collected some scion wood from trees at the orchard that were diminishing. Since we are in the south, I also ordered some heirloom scion wood from a nursery with many southern favorites; Black Twig and Old Fashion Limbertwig. They also had classic cider apples like Dabinett, Foxwhelp, and Roxbury Russet.

Armed with this scion wood and my stash of rootstock, I proceeded with my true grafting test. Again, I used my new grafting tool to create mating cuts on scion and rootstock of similar size. I used the cellophane wrap that was included in the kit to secure the two pieces. Based on what I’ve seen in books, articles, and videos, I think they look pretty good. The important thing to remember with grafting is that you need the cambium layers to be in good contact. The cambium is the layer between the bark and the wood or center of the tree. My main goal for these is to get a good year of growth on the apple trees and plant them this fall or next spring in the orchard. (Actually, my main goal is that they live and grow!)

  • Grafting Tool Cuts: Similar diameters
  • Grafting: Wrapping the graft with cellophane tape.

I had a couple pieces of scion that were small. I did one cleft graft on a larger rootstock and I did a whip and tongue on another. The nursery sent me an extra scion that was just a small tip. Not wanting to let any Possible heirloom or cider apple go to waste, I paired it with a small root stock I had growing. Again, I’m no expert in this area but I was happy with my results. Time to cross my fingers and see if they start growing.

  • Grafts of Cider and Heirloom Apples
  • Propagating Rootstocks and Grafted Scion for plating.
  • Grafted Cider and heirloom apples.
  • Potted grafts and future rootstock

I’ll provide an update on whether they grow but I can already claim success for this adventure. I spent a beautiful day at the orchard with my wife and I grafted my first apple tree. That little piece of wood taken from the first tree to ever grow a Dabinett apple is still growing (hopefully) on a new rootstock in my backyard. How cool is that?

[UPADTE: I Didn’t kill them all. My Old Fashion Limbertwig grafts, Reinette Ontz, and Black Twig are starting to bud already!]

Did you find this post interesting? Follow me and get a couple new posts about making and experiencing hard cider every week. Check out pricklycider.com for all my posts, tips, and hard cider recipes.

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