Last weekend was good weather and a perfect chance to get trees pruned. Luckily at their small size not much pruning is required, mainly heading back central leaders to get more and better scaffold branching.  We also trimmed some scaffold branches back to get secondary branching on them.  It is amazing the different growth habits of different varieties.  Some are very stubborn with upright branches that need to come down more horizontal, some are reluctant to branch well. Some types had a profusion of good branches with no work on our part.  Having them in groups of 5 in one spot helps to see the differences in growth types. 

 This was also a good time to collect scion wood.  Scion wood is new growth from last year that is usually a terminal part of a branch. It is the name for the wood that is grafted onto rootstock.  Virtually all fruit trees varieties are grafted to a different type rootstock.  These rootstocks are types developed for different reasons.  Most are made to dwarf a tree’s ultimate size or are for disease resistance or possibly for different soil types.  We grafted about 25 apple trees on EMLA 7 rootstock this weekend.  EMLA 7 gives a tree about 60% of standard size, has good anchoring and is great for heavy or clay soils. 

The 2 basic graft styles we used were Whip and Tongue and Saddle graft. These 2 will work on most fruit trees although the commercial growers may use a different style. Both pieces of wood should match in diameter and be about pencil thickness. In this grafting the main points are to make even planes that will mate well with each other, to have the best contact with cambium wood (the layer just under the bark), to hold the pieces tight together and seal to prevent air getting into and drying the union. 

With the saddle graft the rootstock is cut at an angle on opposite sides so that it comes up to a point (an inverted “V”) and the scion wood is notched with a “V” shape cut at the same angle and length.  We found the hardest part was to get the cuts exactly 180 degrees opposite each other, also the “V” cut wants to just slide under the bark and give you a “U” shape cut.  Cutting the “V” takes practice and some skill.  It is best to wrap your fingers and thumbs with white medical tape first to prevent cutting yourself since you are cutting back towards you.  We used a box cutter razor knife and you will cut yourself if not protected!


The Whip and Tongue graft was much easier for us to accomplish.  You make 1 cut all the way through the rootstock at an angle with about a 1.5” cut, then halfway down make a cut in reverse to the start of the original cut.  Do the same on the scion wood and insert the pieces together.  If each cut is the same length and parallel it makes a very strong graft that holds together well.


 Always watch and make sure that your cuts will end up with the buds going upwards!  As soon as you have put the parts together you need to bind them tight with something that will give as the tree grows. We used grafting tape which is 5/8”wide clear polyethylene (non adhesive).  Just start wrapping in a spiral and tie off when you are past the graft.  Some people will use electrical or masking tape which will give or break when the tree grows.  Black tends to get too hot if the tree is grown in full sun before unwrapping.  After wrapping we then applied  Dr Farwell’s Seal and Heal  This is a paste that you brush on and it dries in 30 minutes to form a flexible long lasting, rot resistant coating impervious to water and air.

Many people just use the grafting paste or can get a good seal with just the tape.  Since we felt inexperienced we used both as a precaution.  We also kept the roots of the rootstock in a bucket of water except when we were actually working on them and the same for the cut ends of the scion wood.

Now all we have to do is wait for them to bud out and start growing, then we will see how good a job we did and how successful this was.  All in all not a bad way to spend part of a Saturday.