Grafting: Bud Versus Scion

This is my second year learning to graft apple trees. Last year I learned the important lessons of making sure your rootstock is growing before you graft scion wood. I also learned not to unwrap your scion graft too soon or at least not without first having some staking in place. This year, I did better with my scion grafts. So far, I have only lost one and that was because I killed the rootstock. I accidentally overwatered it. However, I do have two scions that are not robustly growing. They have a couple small green leaves and have had them for a while but are not shooting up like the other scion grafts I did this year. However, I have had exceptional success with the bud grafts that I made last fall. I often put 2-3 buds on each rootstock hoping that at least one would take and if multiple grew, I could use the others for buds or scion wood. Based on the current results, it looks like I should have a few pieces of scion wood for trading or purchase this coming season. Below is a picture of my little rootstock garden. I grow them in the backyard and once they are large enough, I move them to the orchard. However, I have a few M27 rootstock trees that I am planning to plant in containers and keep them here. It will be a good experiment. I believe my elevation should give me the chill hours I need but it will take some water. June is our hottest month and I am already having multiple days around 100F (38C).

Apple Tree Grafts - Approximately 2 Months Growth
Apple Tree Grafts – Approximately 2 Months Growth

I have to say that I am amazed at how well my bud grafts have worked. I also did several bud grafts at the orchard and will be visiting them shortly to check how they are doing. In general, every tree variety that I bud grafted onto rootstock last year is growing. Most have all the buds sprouting or at least still looking alive, like they could grow in the future. For reference, the way I have done my bud grafts is to do a T-Bud. Here is a quick overview of how I have done my bud grafting.

Bud Prep

  • In the fall, cut a new branch with leaf growth.
  • Trim the leaves leaving a small stem (0.25” or 5-10mm). Wrap in moist paper towel and store in baggie in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • About 0.5” or 10-20mm below the leaf stem, make a deep downward cut.
  • Starting about 0.5” or 10-20mm above the bud and leaf stem, make an angled slicing cut that goes to the lower cut.
  • This will produce a small chip or bud to graft.

Rootstock Prep

  • Make a horizontal cut through the bark.
  • Next, from the middle of the horizontal cut, make another downward cut through the bark forming a “T”.
  • Insert your knife into the downward cut and peel the bark away. Actively growing trees should slip the bark allowing you to peel It back.
  • Slip in your bud, holding the small leaf stem.
  • Wrap this to keep it moist until it heals, usually late winter or early spring.
  • Bud Graft: T-Bud Style
  • Bud Graft - Freshly Wrapped T-Bud Graft with Stem Showing
  • Healed Bud Graft - Ready for Spring
  • Healed Bud Graft - Starting to Grow

Regardless of whether you bud graft or graft scion, I have noticed that some apple varieties are more vigorous. Or, at least they are here in the Southwestern United States. I thought I would highlight a few that seem to perform the best. For reference, these are all American heirloom varieties though you can find some in other countries.

Roxbury Russet

One of the earliest (if not the earliest) named American varieties, this Roxbury Russet is the same tree found growing in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in what is now Boston in the mid-1600s. If you are not sure what I mean by the same tree, check out my article on the age of apples trees. These were bud grafts from a tree growing in a high-plains desert location at around 4800 feet (1466m) of elevation. I placed 3 on each rootstock and 2 of them have sprouted and grown significantly. The remaining one still looks viable but it seems like the rootstock is holding it in reserve. It’s a beautiful tree with silvery branches and and has quickly started sprouting laterals. This was the main apple in my Heirloom cider recipe. Check out the bud growth progression over the last couple months.

  • Roxbury Russet Bud Graft: Initial Growth
  • Roxbury Russet Bud Grafts: ~1 Month Growth
  • Roxbury Russet Bud Grafts: ~2 Months Growth


Thought to be lost until rediscovered by Paul Gidez in New Jersey in 1976 and verified by Tom Burford, the Harrison apple is a true American cider apple. Grown for the purpose of making hard cider, this apple is said to have commanded the highest price of any cider in the 1800s. I planted three trees 3 years ago at the orchard and they are the best growing tree of those I planted. All three are still living and I am crossing my fingers that they might produce a couple apples this year. I ordered and grafted a scion on my M27 rootstock and hope to plant this in a container in my backyard. I also tried bud grafting a couple of the buds to see if they would take. Showing its vigor, this was the first scion to take off and one of the buds has started growing. I am finding this variety to be quite hardy.

  • Harrison - Early Scion Growth
  • Harrison - Scion Growth after ~1 Month
  • Harrison - Scion Growth after ~2 Months
  • Harrison - Bud Graft Starting to Sprout

There are other varieties that are doing well. For example, the Smokehouse was the first variety to start growing followed by Belle de Boskoop. Both have shot up and all the buds have sprouted. Other varieties are also showing promise and growing well. Here is my current list of bud grafts from local trees.

  • Pumpkin Sweet
  • Northern Spy
  • American Foxwhelp
  • Hidden Rose
  • Arkansas Black
  • Smokehouse
  • Reinette Ontz
  • Belle de Boskoop

From the scion wood I ordered this year, I have had good growth from the following. These I don’t know how well the will perform but I am hopeful. The Kola is a seedling apple targeted for cider that FedCo is offering while Black Oxford is an heirloom apple from Maine. I have two young Hewe’s trees at the orchard. They were small whips when I bought them and one was unfortunately chewed on by the orchard puppy so they have some growing to do but it’s another heirloom cider apple.

  • Black Oxford
  • Kola
  • Hewe’s

All I can say is that I have loved learning about grafting and knowing that my efforts might result in more heirloom apples being available for people to sample for eating or for drinking. It’s exciting to see these buds and scions sprout and grow. There is a sense of accomplishment when you look at this tall tree that has taken off and know it’s just because you attached this little piece of wood to a another tree. I love it.

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