Please note, since January 2008 I have placed 2 dozen videos on YouTube concerning pruning and grafting, if you
go to YouTube and search on Fruitwise or apple tree grafting and pruning you will find them. My cousin and drinking
pal Ramblin' Steve Appleseed has put a few vids of his guitar playing up there too, best ignored. Over 400,000 views
so far and comment has been positive.
All commercial fruit trees are grafted. The process of grafting means to cut and combine 2 bits of
living tissue from different locations (but similar genetics) and bind them together until they grow into each other, 'the
two becoming one'. Skin grafting is used in the treatment of human burns and plastic surgery, donor hearts and
kidneys are grafted in to a recipient, and plant grafting is used to connect a genetically specific fruit variety
(otherwise known as scion or cultivar), selected for eating, juice or cider qualities, to a set of roots (rootstock) which
is itself selected for genetic health, stability, reliable cropping and size. This gives many benefits and has been
widely practiced since ancient times.
Grafting (of olive trees) is referred to by Saint Paul in the 11th chapter of his letter to the Romans as a metaphor for
Christian believers being 'grafted in' to the Jewish household of God's chosen people, so regardless of one's view of
the New Testament, this tells us that grafting was widely enough understood 1,900 years ago for it to be useful as a
metaphor to explain a point of theology. Of course, today most people haven't the faintest idea about it, we have
grown so much wiser!
An apple cultivar, or clonal variety, originates from a pip which is sown and grows. The pip is a seed, produced by a
male and female gamete coming together to make a new individual which will possess some of the characteristics of
both parents. Each one is different. Most will be of limited or no value, for example too acid, poor keeper, poor
cropper, poor flavour, poor disease resistance, etc, which is one reason why I don't attempt to raise new varieties
and nor should you-it nearly always leads to disappointment. Better to put the effort into preserving the great old
varieties we already have, many of which are threatened with extinction. I am often asked about growing an apple
tree from a pip-my advice is don't try. Of course, all the varieties we have originally came from a pip, and we could
certainly do with new apple varieties which are for example drought resistant, long keeping, disease resistant etc, so
don;t let me discourage anyone from carrying out a controlled breeding programme. Just don't plant a pip in a pot
and nurture it for 6 years only to find you have raised a dull, sharp little green apple that you defy people to say isn't
that bad really!
However, we must be thankful for past efforts and successes. Every now and then there is a happy coincidence of
apple genes (see varieties) which gives the gardener, and perhaps the world, a worthy new apple. Just as when Mr
Cox sowed some pips from a Ribston Pippin in his garden and one of them grew into the incomparable apple Mr Cox
named after himself. Every Cox's Orange Pippin in the world has been grafted from clones grafted from
descendants of that original seedling. Cox's Pomona came from the same sowing: as Lawrence Hills wrote 'A very
lucky chance to get 2 good apples from one sowing of pips'. But then Ribston Pippin is a genetically very potent
apple parent, more people should grow this important heritage apple, it is now getting rare.
Grafting can be done with a sharp penknife, some strips of polythene cut from a freezer bag (roll the bag up
lengthways and slice across into 1cm strips using a really sharp knife on a bread board), some rootstocks and some
scion wood, plus some information, which I am about to give you for free. Again, check my videos on YouTube.Any
small, very sharp knife with a thin but strong blade will do, but the stainless number 6 Opinel is perfect, inexpensive
and readily available, and I always use it.
Rootstocks determine the ultimate size of the tree. In Britain, the main apple rootstocks (developed by skilful plant
breeding over a century or more) are
(M is for Malling, MM is for Malling Merton, after the research stations where these clonal stocks were developed)
M27 (smallest-use for cordons, pot grown trees, large growing trees for a small garden)
M9 (small to medium, as for M27 in richer soil, pyramid, dwarf bush)
M106 (medium-fan or espalier, free standing pyramid or bush, half standard in good soil)
M26 (medium-large, as MM106 in poorer soil, half standard, large bush, standard tree in good sol)
M111 (larger, as M26 but bigger)
M25 (largest, large standard trees you expect to take 8-10 years before they start cropping but then crop for 100
Different rootstocks are available in the USA and Australia etc, I can't speak about them but the principles remain the
same. I use MM106 for almost everything, but it may be too vigorous for a small garden, especially with a large
growing variety such as Suntan, Ribston Pippin or Bramley..
Below are some links to pages where I illustrate with photographs some different grafting techniques. Recommended
books, Raymond Bush 'Tree Fruit Growing-volume 1, apples and pears ' (Penguin, long out of print), and
R.J.Garner 'The Grafter;'s Handbook' ISBN0-304-34274-2) available from specialist book stores. I taught myself to
graft from books and trial and error, it took a little while to get consistently good results-practice makes perfect. But if
you can make a clean, straight cut with a sharp knife and tie a knot, you can do it.
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