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Top working established rootstock

Posted by Shane Patrick 
Top working established rootstock
November 10, 2021 03:41PM
Hi Gang,

We have an orchard with some trees in decline and maybe fifty where the grafted tree died years ago and the root stock is still alive. We were told that most of it is MM111 and M7. I'd like to top work those root stocks because they are a part of the whole network rather than yank the stumps and start over. Thoughts?

Shane Patrick
Pleasant Pond Orchard
Richmond, ME 5B

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/10/2021 03:50PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Top working apple trees
November 10, 2021 04:00PM
This is exactly what a local orchardist did 2 years ago. But he didn't just top work his trees; he sliced them off on the main trunk about 3 feet up with a chainsaw, and placed what I think are called "crown grafts" - a number of bark grafts all around the circumference of the stump. (Plate 23 in Garner, for those heavily into techniques)

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: Top working established rootstock
November 10, 2021 04:11PM
Established rootstocks have the advantage of being "transplanted in place" already and are likely plugged into the mycorrhizal network of the orchard plant community as a whole. Key here is vigorous growth, that these are healthy trees. Scions topworked onto such trees will take off and likely be bearing first fruit in as few as three years.

A counterpoint scenario is reworking weaker-growing stock where the graft is still in place. I have six Akane trees on MM.111 that have essentially gone nowhere in the five years these have been in the ground despite preferential care. (Whenever I water trees beyond that first year, this in drier times, that's preferential.) Anyhow this variety apparently is a "zone too far" north and simply not making it despite ramial and compost and organic fertility boosts. Topworking to the Akane structure essentially will create an interstem tree where the middle section of wood amounts to an entirely inappropriate choice for Zone 4 conditions. I'm going to replace these trees outright next spring unless someone convinces me different.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
Re: Top working established rootstock
November 12, 2021 05:10AM
+1 on the suggestions.

I top worked several of my Black Oxfords over to Kidds Orange Red and Breakwell Seedling back in the spring. one or two of them made 4' in the first year. I've found that grafting an established tree is so much better than grafting maiden rootstock.

USDA 5b, Blue Hill, ME
600+ trees on MM111/G890 (100+ UK cider varieties in 1st to 3rd leaf)
Re: Top working established rootstock
January 28, 2022 07:46PM
To Michael's point, I'm not quite sure about the interstem scenario. Seems if that first grafted variety doesn't do well, that which is grafted to it also wouldn't. Better scenario would be a vigorous interstem which has other problems. We've topworked a number of Williams Pride, which have never seemed to do all that well--as an apple. Quite vigorous as a tree.
Re: Top working established rootstock
January 29, 2022 11:55AM
My only problem with the handful of plums I’ve crown grafted has been overly vigorous growth, with the grafts outgrowing the weak union’s ability to support itself, or dropping over under its own weight to end up with a poor form to begin the next season. I’d want to be prepared to support the new grafts or possibly nip them back a bit if they get out of hand in the first season.
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