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Timing of planting vs grafting

Posted by Shelah Horvitz 
Timing of planting vs grafting
March 14, 2017 05:04PM
My question is about timing, and we've made a lot of newbie mistakes. Our orchard is a couple of years old. When we were starting it, we planted enough apple trees to fill most of our cleared area, and then my husband came home one fall day with 20 rootstocks (mixed B9 and Antonovka) that he planted closely together in a semicircle, each about 9 inches from its neighbor. I said, "We have no place to put them!" so he cleared a pine copse for a new orchard, but that took about a year, between the chainsaw work and the stripping and the burning. I had planned to graft the rootstocks in the spring but I work about five hours from this orchard. During the time window last spring when I needed to do the grafting, my boss told me explicitly he wanted me on site so I couldn't get to the orchard for weeks. So the spring grafting opportunity went by. By fall, our pencil-sized rootstocks were now the width of a man's thumb. I got my hands on some black oxford scion wood and bud grafted 3-4 of them. I had missed the order deadline to get other scion wood. So I ordered more, and it just arrived.

I had planned to graft this spring. But now we have what is essentially an apple shrubbery. A wall of nice-sized interlocking rootstocks. We finally have the pine trees burnt so we could theoretically plant the rootstocks there when the 4' of snow and ice melt. But they're not grafted yet. I want to get those interlocking rootstocks separated before we have a permanent hedge. So do I move the stocks when the ground can be worked, and try to keep the scion wood moist and alive for a few months, and then graft in the fall? What is the sane way of fixing what is a situation that has gotten completely out of control?

Savage Orchards
Weld, ME
Zone 4



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/14/2017 05:07PM by Shelah Horvitz.
Re: Timing of planting vs grafting
March 14, 2017 06:35PM
A couple of random comments, based entirely on experience over a number of years, (no science whatsoever, and entirely anecdotal)
1) I have grafted with dormant scion wood in the orchard onto dormant root stock, at bud swell, leaf production, and, last year, in September. (I found some forgotten pear scion wood in the back of the fridge, it looked OK, so I experimentally stuck it onto an overgrown pear tree. All 3 grafts took and leafed out before winter arrived and the leaves shrivelled up, (but did not actually fall off - I think their seasonal timing got screwed up). I think 2 out of the 3 have probably died over the winter, but the 3'rd one looks healthy, with early bud swell). Bottom line: It is possible to graft successfully just about any time.
2) But my own experience is that I get the best take once the sap has started to flow in spring, but before the buds have fully burst. (This has an interesting corollary - should one actually prod one's bare root bench graft roots into activity for a week or so before grafting?? Would this improve take? [My sense is that apples are so forgiving that they take no matter what you do. But perhaps this would improve take on more difficult fruits])
3) My best success has been with whip and tongue grafts, even when the root stock is quite a bit bigger than the scion wood. But there clearly comes a point when the root stock simply cannot be cut, at which point my success with cleft grafts and bark grafts is pretty much equal. (This may be relevant with your over-grown thicket...)
4) I have salvaged old root stocks simply by treating them as trees, pruning them to form a framework, and then top working my desired cultivar onto the various limbs of the root stock tree. This being the case, you could quite safely move your trees to their permanent locations now, give them a few weeks to settle in, (and grow new roots), and then hack off limbs with enthusiasm and graft into the stubs. (You could reverse the order, and graft in situ but my sense is that the trees are more tolerant of delayed grafting than of movement after they are actively growing.)

I have a minor distraction: I have just come from a talk by the fellow who runs Scionon. (They make rather slick grafting tools). He is adamant that it is essential to seal the top end of the scion. Failure to do so, he says, guarantees that the graft will dry out and fail. I have never done so. I generally get 90-95% take - are my failures the result of not sealing the cut ends? (I asked him whether he similarly sealed the ends of all his pruning cuts - he said, no, but didn't pick up on the parallel.)

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: Timing of planting vs grafting
March 14, 2017 06:50PM
Thank you, I appreciate your input. I thought of top working them and that might be what I'll have to do, or maybe I'll bud graft them, since I'm such a newbie that bud grafting is the only thing I've actually *done* and had success with — all the rest is theoretical book learning. We can't plant them now because there's two feet of snow and then two feet of ice between your feet and the earth, but I'm hoping that around the first week of April or soon thereafter the ground will thaw. But then we'll do as you suggest: move the rootstocks, then give them time to settle in, then graft.

Savage Orchards
Weld, ME
Zone 4
Re: Timing of planting vs grafting
March 15, 2017 04:09PM
I would coppice the rootstocks now and then transplant them when the ground is workable. They will sprout new shoots and then thin them to one good shoot and by late summer that shoot should be big enough to chip bud. JMHO.

good luck, Pat
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