Late winter is a great time for grafting new varieties in the orchard. Most of the pruning is finished and the weather is usually milder; for grafting I need to be able to work without gloves on.
Apples do not grow “true to seed”, so if I plant a seed from a Baldwin apple I’ll get an apple tree to grow but because the seeds are a result of cross pollination, the apples my new seedling tree produces won’t be exactly like the original Baldwin I started with. There could be a family resemblance, but the new apples could also be completely different. So to get a new tree that will produce Baldwin apples we have to clone the tree. I take a cutting from the Baldwin tree and splice it into the cambium of another apple tree. The photos in this article will help you see the process.
The first step is collecting dormant “scion” wood. This year I’ll be taking some cuttings from trees I’ve grown at my home. James Grieve is the name of a Scottish apple from the late 1800’s and may be an offspring of Cox’s Orange Pippin. I’ll also take some cuttings of Blenheim Orange, a large English apple used for both cooking and eating out of hand.
After I’ve collected and labeled my scion wood, I’ll go to the trees in the orchard where I will graft these new varieties onto my “stock”. If the stock tree is young enough, I will cut the top of the tree right off at about the height of my waist, leaving a few nurse branches below the cut to continue to feed the tree while the grafts grow out.
If I am grafting in mid to late winter I take a blade and hammer and split the trunk a few inches as though I was splitting firewood. I hold that “split” open with a wedge while I slice the bottom of my scion into a long “V” shape. I insert the scion into the split taking great care to line up the cambium of the scion with the cambium of the stock. I can put two scions in the split I’ve made. I then take out the wedge and the trunk of the tree closes tight around the scions. I wax the cut surfaces to hold in moisture and the tree and scion begin to mend together.
In the spring, the buds on the scions begin to grow new shoots, I’ll use twine to bend and train these new branches to form a new top to the tree. The grafted tree will continue to produce McIntosh apples on the branches below the graft union and the branches and trunk that grow out from the grafted scions will produce James Grieve apples.