Bud Grafting Apple Trees

When apple season is winding down and the leaves are starting to change, it becomes time to think about next year. Specifically, it’s time to start thinking about apple tree propagation and I am not talking about making your scion list. I’m talking about bud grafting. Bud grafting has been the most effective grafting method that I have used to propagate apple trees. I’ve actually used this method successfully at various times over the season but that was usually when I had an emergency like a broken or damaged tree. The most effective time is at the end of the season before the trees go dormant for winter. The basic process is to cut off a branch, trim the leaves, shave the buds off the branch, and attach the buds to the rootstock. Some people use a chip technique for attaching the bud. I tend to try for T-budding.

A couple years ago, I purchased some M27 rootstocks, which are extremely dwarf. They can be used for container apple trees. I wanted to see if I could grow some for my backyard. I grafted a variety of them with either buds or from some scion wood that I purchased. The buds all took off. My scion grafts were about 50/50. Since these are going to be planter trees, I want to graft multiple varieties on each rootstock in order to facilitate pollination. I have a Harrison tree that is growing exceptionally well. I also had a Black Oxford tree that was growing well until I had an irrigation mishap. Luckily, I caught it before the tree died but it lost most of its leaves. My plan was to graft the Black Oxford onto the Harrison tree so I clipped about 6 inches from the weaker of my two Black Oxford branches that grew. Normally, the limbs would still have leaves but these look more like a spring grafting than a normal fall bud graft. The bud graft allows me to leave my main leader of the Harrison graft and T-bud a couple of the Black Oxford buds onto the rootstock. Let me walk you through my process.

Make a T-shaped cut through the cambium.

Start by making a T-shaped cut through the cambium layer of the rootsotck. Start with the top horizontal cut and then do the downward vertical cut.

Peel back the bark with the cambium layer to expose the core wood.

Peel the bark and cambium layer back to expose the core. you will have a V-shape slot.

Take the scion piece with the buds and make a vertical cut below the target bud.

Make a horizontal cut from the top of the bud down to the vertical cut.

Next, make a horizontal cut from the top of the bud down to the vertical cut. You should now have a chip or bud.

Insert the bud into the T and begin wrapping.

Insert the chip or bud into the V-slot with the top of the bud pointing up.

Begin wrapping the bud.  Use two tightly wound wraps at the bottom and wrap upwards.

Begin wrapping the bud. Use two tightly wound wraps at the bottom and wrap upwards.

Wrap twice at the top. Thread the wrap through the last wrap and pull tight.

I wrap tightly using one layer. At the top, wrap twice and thread the wrap through the last loop and pull tight.

Leave the bud wrapped until spring.  Remove the wrap and confirm the wound is healed and the bud is fuzzy and alive.

Leave the bud wrapped until spring. In the spring, remove the wrap and confirm the wound is healed and the bud is fuzzy and alive.

I usually place 2-3 buds on my rootstocks to give me options in case one doesn’t take. It also gives me scion wood for bud or scion grafting in the coming year. If you want this to be the main leader, cut the rootstock just above the top bud that is showing it is healed and alive. This will drive the tree to use this bud for its spring growth. Otherwise, it might neglect or shed this bud and put its energy into other limbs.


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