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Grafting apple trees

This is the first year I am grafting apple trees. I have one tree that is very old but has excellent apples and I have a younger one which has nice flowers but not so good apples. I wanted to graft twigs from the good tree to the not so good one. I used two techniques and you can google those terms if you want to find other resources.
  1. Chip budding
  2. Cleft grafting

Selecting the right twigs from the "good apple tree"

From all the documents I found it was not quite clear which kinds of branches or twigs to use for grafting. Let me therefore explain this: You need a fresh shoot that came just recently. Old apple trees have even on small branches moss or lichens growing. Those branches may carry good fruits but they can NOT be used for grafting:
twigs and buds not usable for grafting


What you need is a fresh shoot that came out just recently. They grow usually straight up and don't really carry fuit. They are called scions and this is what you need for grafting:
twigs/scions usable for grafting

twigs/scions usable for grafting

Chip budding

This is supposed to be the easiest technique but it is a bit of fiddling. Both the scions (twigs from the good tree) and the root stock (the tree to which you transplant) have to have similar diameters for this method to work well. During chip budding the cambium (the soft growing part of the tree located between the wood and bark) between the pice from the good apple tree and the root stock needs to be aligned.

Tools that you need

Sharp knife. A opinel No.8 or No.9 carbon steel pocket knife works very well.
very sharp knife, opinel carbon steel knife


Pruning scissors to cut scions form the good tree.
clean pruning scissors


Electrical tape. To hold and protect the chip bud once it has been inserted into the wood stock.
electrical tape


Clean the blades of the pruning scissors and the knife with a bit of alcohol before you start and let the blades dry.

How to graft using the chip budding method


chip budding, steps 1 to 4

  1. Cut a single bud together with a bit of wood out of a scion from "the good tree". To do this you make two cuts with the knife as shown in figure 1). First a short cut below the bud and then a long cut from above the bud behind it and down to meet the first cut. Take the bud off (you can hold it with your thumb between thumb and knife blade after the second cut).
  2. Put the bud aside but don't touch the fresh cut. Make a similar cut on the wood stock and discard the piece you cut out.
  3. Insert the bud into the cut on the root stock.
  4. Wrap it with electrical tape but do not cover the actual bud. Wrap it such that the glue side of the tape is outside. That is: no glue touches the bark and you just glue the tape layers to them selfs.

chip budding, the result

Time to do the chip budding

Just before start of spring. The very cold nights should be over but there might still be a bit of snow on the ground. The trees should be dry (not a rainy day).
The electrical tape must be removed in summer.

Cleft graft

I like this method because it allows you to use a bigger branch from the root stock (the tree to which you transplant) and you use two scions (twigs from the good tree). The graft is successful even if only one scion starts to grow properly. The scions are well secured in a v-cut on a branch from the root stock.

Tools that you need

Sharp knife. A opinel No.8 or No.9 carbon steel pocket knife works very well.
very sharp knife, opinel carbon steel knife


Pruning scissors to cut scions form the good tree and to cut the top off a suitable branch on the root stock.
clean pruning scissors


Cotton butcher cord and grafting compound. I made my own compound and I explain below how to make the compound.
clean cotton butcher cord


Grafting compound: a mixture of warm bee's wax and oil (see further down).

Clean the blades of the pruning scissors and the knife with a bit of alcohol before you start and let the blades dry.

How to graft using the cleft grafting method


cleft grafting, the steps

  1. On the root stock you cut off the top of a branch. That is: use a branch at least twice as thick as the scions and snip the top off with pruning scissors. A branch that has about 1cm diameter is perfect.
  2. It's a clean horizontal cut on the root stock
  3. Take the knife and cut from the top down right through the middle (about 2cm deep). We will insert two scions into this v-cut. You don't need to make a real v-cut. One single cut is enough and it will split open when we push the scions in.
  4. Take a scion and sharpen it into a v-arrow shape. Two clean cuts, one on each side. The v-shape should be as long and flat as possible. Take a second scion and apply the same cut.
  5. On the wood stock you pry the v-cut open with the knife blade and you insert one of the "sharpened scion" such that outer bark of the scion and the wood stock align. The cambium of the wood stock and the cambium (the soft growing part of the tree located between the wood and bark) of one side of the scion needs to align. Insert the second scion on the other side.
  6. Wrap the grafted area with butcher cord and apply grafting compound as shown below. Don't worry if a bit of compound gets into gap between the branches. You want to seal this to prevent rain water from getting in.

    wrap the graft with butcher cord, not too tight


    cleft graft with with grafting compound


    cleft graft with with grafting compound


    cleft graft with with grafting compound


    cleft graft with with grafting compound

    Time to do the cleft graft

    Just before start of spring. The very cold nights should be over but there might still be a bit of snow on the ground. The trees should be dry (not a rainy day).
    The butcher cord must be removed during the summer. Cut it carefully off with a knife.

    Make your own grafting compound

    You need:
    Melt everything in a small pot on the stove and let it cool down a bit. Apply the warm liquid with a small brush. It should not be too hot. You don't want to cause any burns on the tree. You should just about be able to hold the metal pot in your hands without getting burned yourself. That's the right temperature. The compound will harden immediately on the tree as the wood is cold (we do the grafting in early spring).

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