whip and tongue graft

This is an improved version of a very basic graft, the whip graft, in which the stock and scion are simply cut at similar slanting angles and tied together so that the living cambium layers, the wet stuff under the bark, are close together so they can grow into each other. The basic whip graft is quick and easy and works OK, but can be fragile- I have bought trees grafted this way which snapped off very easily. Putting a little tongue in is better. As for all grafting techniques, you should have cut pencils (clean, straight wood of previous year's growth, about the size of a pencil) of scion wood before bud burst, ideally late January to early March, and wrapped in a polythene bag which you kept at the back of the fridge. (NB the scion is the clonal variety, e.g. Ribston Pippin, Yarlington Mill, Bramley or whatever, that you want to grow. Take it from a healthy tree that you are SURE is the variety you want!)

Grafting is best done once spring has sprung and some new growth is visible, probably late March/early April.
If you can do this, you can learn all the other grafts, including the essentially very similar saddle graft, which I tend to use more these days. These pictures are a couple of years old, the tree in question is growing away well and bearing fruit on the grafted-in branches. I don't have pictures of me doing the saddle graft but hope to get Julia to take some in winter 2007/8.
This was a rootstock being grafted over to Red Pippin in our Bunyards orchard about 2 years ago. This particular variety is protected by copyright as it was only quite recently (1986) raised in Kent, but I believe it's OK to propagate if you are not selling, otherwise you have to register and pay royalties. In any event, one of the 40 Red Pippins (originally known as Fiesta) we paid good money, including royalties, for had died, so we were grafting over a MM106 rootstock to replace it, which I hardly think amounts to copyright theft. Most trees are not covered so you can propagate to sell without restraint.

Note, this is a young tree which is being grafted over in several places to make a tree of a new variety as quickly as possible. This is called top grafting (regardless of the actual technique of the individual grafts) and is a handy technique, most useful when converting an existing tree from a poorly performing variety to one more desirable (such as I have done with Crimson King cider apples in our Filbarrel orchard).

Step 1, with the pencil of scion wood to hand, a slanting cut is made, using as always a number 6 Opinel stainless (inoxidable) penknife which has been recently honed to a razor edge and cleaned in the field with a 'rag and bottle' arrangement involving methylated spirits in  a miniature whisky bottle I keep for the purpose, which has a rag tied to it's neck with a 2 foot long piece of string, to soak and wipe the blade repeatedly during the grafting session to avoid introducing germs.

rootstock to start

Having made the major cut, make a little tongue as shown in the next 2 pictures. A tongue will be made in the corresponding scion surface, the two will lock together giving stability and an increased bonding surface to the graft.  NOTE WELL the right and left hand thumbs locked together as you cut with a levering/rocking motion. Try this, slowly. It greatly reduces the risk of cutting yourself. You cannot reduce this risk to zero, since the knife must be razor sharp and you have to cut towards yourself quite often, locking the thumbs together like this helps. I have cut myself often enough to know this is good advice. My left hand bears many scars, but most of them could have been avoided.



Having made 2 cuts ready for marrying together, try them out. If it does not fit, throw one or the other away and start again.


Take your time to get it right, the tree is worth it.


Here is a close up showing what you should be aiming for. A nice locking fit between stock and scion of equal diameter. Almost perfect. I learned a lot of what I know about grafting from Raymond Bush's book 'Tree Fruit Growing-volume 1, Apples and Pears' , in which he describes and illustrates several different ways to graft, and makes the point that before you start grafting real trees, you should practice a lot with bits of wood you do not intend to grow, until you get your hand and knife in. Very sensible, practice on pruned wood before you go for the real thing. Wood whittling skills are helpful, just playing with some spare wood and a sharp knife will show you the way.


Having got good alignment, whip it up with some polythene tape. You can buy rolls of special grafting tape, but not in every garden centre, and I get mine by folding polythene freezer bags and slicing them across on a wooden block with a very sharp cook's knife, or sharp scissors. Progressively tighten the tape, making sure to get full coverage and hold the pieces of wood firmly together with no air gaps, and tie off with several half hitches. you should remove the tape carefully around midsummer by which time the grafts shoudld be growing vigourously-if you leave it too late the tape will strangle and kill the graft so your work will have been in vain, but again don't release it too early, the graft must have takaen firmly.


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