Saturday, April 10, 2010

A is for Apple (Grafting Lesson!)


Another victim of the early spring heavy snow was one of our ancient apple trees. It still bears fruit and it was a variety nobody could identify - but the tree is at least 40 or 50 years old. The apple it produces is a kind of brownish gold when ripe, and the rough skin reminds me of a pear. The taste is also reminiscent of a pear; spicy and sweet. It is a pretty late producer, and hard fleshed - what people have suggested might be a "cider apple" - intentionally raised and created for tasty cider. We have included it in our fresh cider every year for the taste (we use a blend of apples and adjust for taste as we press).

I decided we needed to at least try to salvage something from this situation, so I decided to try and graft some branches to "re-invent" this variety in a sapling. My friend, Becky, has a lot of grafting experience and pretty good success, so she agreed to come over and give me a lesson.

First, I ordered root stock from Fedco Trees. They arrived and we wasted no time in getting started; the goal is to have root stock that is vibrant and ready to grow and top stock that is as close to dormant as possible.
Unfortunately, we had a bloom of very warm weather, and all the apple trees exploded into flower buds, so it was challenging to find branches that were concentrated on new growth rather than flower and fruit production. But we took branches from the wounded apple as well as from my favorite tree - another unidentified variety that gives juicy, yellow fruit that tastes better than Honeycrisp (IMHO). I wanted to have a copy of this tree as well.
Notice, most of these twigs have growth (leaf) buds vs. flowers. I could have harvested topstock when I pruned (ummm...yeah) up to two weeks ago and kept them in a jar of water in a cool, dark corner of the cellar (think dormant). Will keep that in mind for next year...

Next, we chose a root and top by trying to match as close as possible for size. It is recommended that you graft 8 inches or so above the planting line, but we had to fudge a little to get matches on all 10 plants. Using a very sharp knife, cut each stem at an angle, then notch about 2/3 of the width of the stem and make a notch about 1/2 inch deep. You will push the two pieces together, interlocking the notches, and trying to make the best match of the cambium (growth area) of each piece.
Then we tie the graft together; we used soft, wide pieces of rubber band that Becky brought, and applied grafting wax to seal the graft site from air bubbles. Not a pretty finished product perhaps (right now) but the idea is to give the tree a healable wound that will create the graft.

Finally, they were packed in wet mulch in a bucket, and retired to the cool, dark cellar for a week or so to start the healing process. After that, they will be planted in a protected corner of the garden and cared for till next Spring. Hopefully they will be ready for new growth (and a new home spot) next April. Keep your fingers crossed!

8 comments:

Melodie said...

This is a skill that is on my list of things to learn! I hope you get good takes on all your grafts!

Christine said...

Cool. I so wanted to save our old apple trees and had planned to do this, but the lighting storms wiped out one and my DH the other.

LindaCO said...

Thanks for posting this, I saw your blog from Jordan's. I still think it's weird and cool that plants will put up with these shennanigans, and look forward to hearing of your results.

Linda

Michelle said...

I have a question on a perhaps-related skill. Thanks to boy/dog damage, some of my Japanese maples have sprouted vigorous growth from their rootstock. I would like to prune all that back, and apply something to keep those spots from resprouting. What would work? Grafting wax?

melanie said...

Michelle-
Grafting wax would work. We painted it on the ends of the topstock to keep them from growing so the plant would concentrate on the graft site. Now as to where you GET grafting wax....hmmm...

thecrazysheeplady said...

COOL! Thanks for sharing - good luck with the "babies".

Michelle said...

We have a local business called Oregon Vineyard Supply; I'm going to check there for wax!

Spinners End said...

Could it be a Russet apple variety?

Thanks for the lesson!