Thursday, May 22, 2014


The garden at Roche Fleurie is in the middle of a field reverting to forest. Many of the trees that get established on their own and are reclaiming the field are apple trees. However, in most cases, the apples they produce are not very good. Every spring, I try to graft tastier varieties of apples on these volunteer trees. There are many techniques used for grafting. Here is how I proceed.

"Wild" apple tree

Grafting is done in spring, but actually the process starts the previous fall. Once the leaves have fallen off the trees, you gather small branches of the variety of apple you will be grafting on the trees that produce not very good apples. You take the ends of branches (about 30 cm - 1 foot long) of new wood, that is to say branches that grew during the summer that just ended. These you store during the winter in a damp and cool place that will not freeze.

Branches you cut off in the autumn which you will graft in the spring

In the following spring, when the leaf buds of the tree on which you want to graft are not yet open, you cut off a branch or a small stem of that tree and discard the branch you just cut off. This should be a low branch or stem because if your graft(s) take(s), you will eventually only keep that branch and cut off all the others. Ideally, you wipe the blade of any tool before you use it to do your cutting, with rubbing alcohol to make sure you get rid of pathogens.

Clean all the blades you use with rubbing alcohol to sterilize them

Then you split the branch or stem. A knife would do, but I use a very small axe and a hammer as you can see in the picture below.

Making a split to receive the grafts

 You then insert a wedge in the split to keep it open (I use an old screwdriver).

Wedge holding the split open

You take one of the small branches you saved the previous fall and with a very sharp knife, you cut the bottom part in a wedge. You should end up with a short branch that has about 3 buds (that branch, your graft, will be about 10-15 cm - 4-6 inches).

Trimming the graft before inserting it in the split

Then comes the most difficult and important part of the whole process. You insert the small branch you just prepared in the split. The cambium (the thin green layer between the bark and the wood) of the graft (the small branch you have prepared) and the cambium of the rootstock (the tree on which you are grafting) have to be perfectly aligned. If they do not touch, your graft will not take.

I put a graft on both ends of the split (to double my chances that at least one will take) and then remove the wedge that keeps the split open. As it closes, it usually keeps your two grafts securely in place.

Two grafts inserted in the split

You can then cover all places where the bark was opened with grafting wax which helps reduce dehydration and stops pathogens from getting in. The wax comes in a can and is rather hard.

Grafting wax
The best way to get it out and use it is to simply put the can in water in an old pot, heat up the water till the wax melts and apply the melted wax with a brush. You don't need a lot of wax. I have used the same old pot and brush for many years now.

Applying the grafting wax
You can then use some string to tie the rootstock around the grafts to make sure they stay in place. Sometimes this is not necessary, as the grafts will often hold quite well.

String to secure the grafts in place

Grafting is not very complex, but it requires a fair bit of skill not easily acquired when you just make a few grafts once a year. Professionals can do hundreds of perfect grafts in a very short time. Many of my grafts do not work, but enough do to make it worth my while. It is a long process as it takes a few years before your graft starts producing a new, better kind of apple, but it is very gratifying. After several years, you just see a swelling in the trunk where you made your graft.


  1. Do you wait until spring because of your climate or do you need to make the graft when the sap is rising?

    1. You need to make the graft when the sap is rising. Why they recommend getting the grafts the previous autumn I am not too sure. Perhaps the graft is more "thirsty" and connect more readily with the grafted tree?

  2. I'd love to see pictures of some grafts that have taken, see how they look. Very neat string wrap, by the way.

    1. Good suggestion Joanne. If any take, I will do an update and post pictures.

  3. I agree, I'd love to see the "takers".

  4. Alain I also am very curious about the "takers" .. this is quite a hobby to have especially when it does work and you have a tasty crop of apples to show for it !
    Joy : )

  5. This is really interesting. How successful has it been? My son once grew two apple trees from seeds he found germinated in an apple he was eating. They grew into trees but the next owners of our house cut them down. I don't have room for any fruit trees but am lucky enough to live in an area full of orchards. :o)


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