Tips for Grafting Apple Trees

Grafting apple trees is the best way to propagate your favorite varieties. How to graft an apple tree. Selecting an appropriate rootstock. Why grafted trees are superior to seedlings.

Grafted dwarf golden apple tree.
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Apple tree grafting is the only way to create a productive tree this small.

Grafting is the only reliable way to get an apple to reproduce after its kind.  (See The Problem with Growing Apple Trees from Seeds if you want to know why.)  Grafting consists of joining the desired rootstock to a scion or twig of the tree you mean to reproduce.

How to Graft Apple Trees

Rootstock cut at an angle, ready for grafting.

Apple tree rootstock cut at an angle, ready for grafting.

300 pages of  creatively frugal gardening ideas.
Prepared apple tree rootstock and scion, ready to be taped together.

Rootstock and scion ready to be taped together.

Good Grafting Tape:

  1. Grow or otherwise obtain a small tree of your desired rootstock.
  2. Obtain a cutting (about 2 feet long) from the type of apple tree you wish to grow.
  3. Using a sharp secateur, cut the top of the rootstock plant off at an angle, leaving a 6 inch tall trunk.
  4. Cut the bottom of the scion off at an angle as well. Place this cut end against the cut end of the rootstock and tape the two tightly together.

In time, the cut ends will knit together.  The genetic characteristics of the rootstock will govern the growth habits of the resulting tree, while the genetic characteristics of the scion will govern its fruiting habits.

Apple Rootstocks

Every tree in this commercial apple orchard is grafted onto M9 rootstock.

Every tree in this commercial apple orchard is grafted onto M9 rootstock.

M9 is the rootstock that made the commercial production of apples so profitable.

In the early 1900s, a British horticulturist named Ronald Hatton  selected the first 16 apple tree rootstocks--Malling 1-16, after the East Malling Research Station where he worked--and tested them to come up with rootstocks that would reliably produce trees of certain sizes.

Today, Hatton's dwarf M9 is the stock onto which apple trees are most often grafted.

When news of Malling IX's development got out, orchardists went wild.

East Malling generously sent the stock to any grower who requested it.  By 1933, more than 1,000,000 orders for M9 had been filled worldwide.

The reasons for M9's popularity: apple trees grafted onto Malling 9 will be predictably compact (6-8 feet), hardy, and will crop heavily, regularly and begin to bear large fruit at an early age.

You will want to look for these same qualities in whatever rootstock you decide to use for grafting apple trees.

Why Grafted Apple Trees are Superior to Seedling Trees

Graft union on a mature apple tree.

Graft union on a mature apple tree.

Because apple seeds are genetically diverse, it is impossible to predict the mature height and spread of a seedling tree.  Other characteristics such as the tree's bearing habits and adaptability are also unpredictable in apple trees grown from seed.

The rootstock controls all of the above. 

You can grow an apple tree pretty much to your exact specifications simply by choosing a rootstock which will confer the desired traits.

Grafting More than One Variety onto the Same Tree

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Apple, Delicious Red Dwf 1-3'
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Apple, Delicious Yellow Dwf 1-3'
McIntosh was my mother's favorite pie apple.  This dwarf tree will keep you baking all winter long!
Apple, McIntosh Dwf

My Mother's Favorite Pie Apple!

If you only have room for a single tree, graft 2-5 varieties onto the same rootstock.  Usually, these kinds of apple trees are grafted onto standard roots, so a mature multi-variety tree would be 35x45 feet. 

You could easily grow 2 or more single variety dwarf apple trees in the same space.

If you decide to graft several types of apples onto a single tree, choose the varieties carefully.  At least one should be a good pollinator, and it is best to use varieties that are equally vigorous.  Also, consider using at least one early-bearing type so that you can begin to enjoy at least a small harvest sooner.

Continue Your Apple Adventure:

Apple Tree Care Guide

How to Feed an Apple Tree

Pruning Apple Trees

Espalier Apple Trees

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