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When to dig rootstocks

Posted by Shelah Horvitz 
When to dig rootstocks
October 20, 2015 02:54PM
I have a number of rootstocks in the ground right now, and expect to graft onto them next spring. I've never grafted before. I will probably try to bench graft. I live in a cold climate, and the ground will be frozen for a few months after the sap starts to run. Should I dig my rootstocks now or wait for the ground to thaw in the spring to dig them and graft? And if I should dig them now, how best to keep them alive over the winter?

Thanks,

Shelah Horvitz
Zone 4b
Weld, ME
Re: When to dig rootstocks
October 20, 2015 07:55PM
I would be interested in others' input, but personally I would not dig them at all. I would leave them undisturbed in the ground until they start to bud out in the spring, (ie. they have come back to life), and graft them right where they are. (Your scion wood has to be dormant, though.) Growing rootstock, dormant scion wood, rapid healing of graft and much better take and health than you will ever get with bench grafting, because you haven't disrupted the root system.

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: When to dig rootstocks
October 23, 2015 08:54AM
I second what David says. Rootstock left over from my spring grafting classes goes into a nursery bed where the roots get to develop for one growing season under a wood chip mulch. Often these are the smallish roots, as the class participants selected the more appropriate sized ones to match scion diameter. Girth will be gained that 'rootstock summer' as well. I do a single bark inlay graft once the bark is slipping early next spring ... this is a quicker union to make than a whip & tongue while bending down low on your knees on the ground. I typically see shoot growth on the order of three feet (provided I keep errant side shoots snipped off that first 'grafted summer') which isn't bad for northern reality.

The other option would be to bud graft in August of the 'rootstock summer' but I'm always flat out with other things then. Seth Yentes in Maine grafts for Fedco Trees and finds he gets a better feathered response from budding rootstock in the ground in late summer than from whip & tongue bench grafting in late winter. I'm content to grow out my bark grafted rootstock one additional (third) summer ... which is when laterals develop at the desired height on these trees-to-be. This is not an atypical timeline given our shorter northern growing season.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/24/2015 07:48AM by Michael Phillips.
Re: When to dig rootstocks
October 23, 2015 09:23AM
And, just to gild the lily, unlike Michael I generally do whip and tongue grafts, with excellent take and results. (But my success seems to be quite dependent on timing - ideal around the time of bud swell to bud break, but less successful as things leaf out. This is wholly my own experience, though, and may have depended on some other factors which I was unaware of. ) There is one minor benefit I find of grafting - the root stock, being firmly anchored, holds still while I slice my cuts, and I find I can do the grafts considerably faster than the more fiddly budding. (But again, this may reflect my own lack of skills at budding). Bottom line: grafting in situ works as well as budding in terms of take and successful growth. (And, just to be provocative, I think the graft union is mechanically stronger - grafts don't "blow-out" like buds.)

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: When to dig rootstocks
October 23, 2015 10:03AM
Thank you, Michael and David. These are fabulous answers. Also, I had been worrying because our rootstocks bulked up a little this past summer and now they're thicker than what I would expect the scion wood to be, and that might pose a problem for whip-and-tongue. Michael's solution of using the bark inlay graft would solve that problem. So great, now I have a viable plan. I hope these answers have been as useful to other people.

Shelah Horvitz
Weld, ME
Zone 4b
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