Homemade Fruit Trees, How to Graft Your Own!

Amazing Apples

I love apples. They are the most amazing fruit. There are so many possible uses for them. In the beginning we made applesauce from the neighbor’s pasture apples. Each fall we would fight the cattle to pick 20 5-gallon buckets of various no name apples. They were as organic as they could be, worms and all. Some cooked down well for sauce, others not so well. It was a learning experience; all apples are not created equal. When the neighbors sold their farm, our apple supply disappeared. In addition to the applesauce we had become accustom to dried apples, canning sliced apples for pies and crisps, apple butter and fresh apples. I had planted a few trees of our own trees, and even after our source was gone we managed on what we were growing and the kindness of others (it is amazing how many people consider the apple tree in their yard a nuisance and are happy to have you haul off the apples.)

Cider Press

Then, last year, along came the cider press. I was very excited to see an ad on craigslist for a homemade cider press, and in my price range–cheap. They were moving and cleaning out the barn. We loaded it in the back of our car, cobwebs and all. Suddenly a whole new door opened, I needed more apple trees to feed the cider press. What about hard cider, hmmm, sounds interesting. Now, about those apple trees… I chose to make my own.

homemade cider press

Homemade Cider Press


Why Graft?

What is grafting and why is it a useful skill? Fruit trees are grafted for a couple of reasons. If you plant a seed, like Johnny Appleseed did, you never quite know what you will get. The fruit of one tree is pollinated with the pollen from another tree and the seeds will have qualities from both. It could be a great combination, or not so good. With fruit trees it takes several years to fruit and determine if it was a good combination; I don’t know about you, but I want can’t wait. From a time perspective it just makes sense to grow a tree that will produce a fruit that is useful rather than gambling on an unknown seed. By grafting, or joining, the roots your want to the variety of fruit tree you want you have a winning combination you can count on.

In addition to useful fruit, when grafting you can control the tree size or hardiness. There are different rootstocks that contribute size and hardiness of the tree.

apple tree blossom with sheep

Finally, Blossom Time


Definitions, What Does it All Mean?

Hey, wait minute, what is rootstock? Maybe this is a good time to add a few definitions. Rootstock: The root portion of the tree Scionwood: Last years branch that has 3-4 buds Cambium: Part of the tree that is under the bark, it is the growing portion Dormant: Time of year when tree is not growing, winter

Rootstock, at the Root of it All

So back to our rootstock, we live in Wisconsin so cold hardiness is one important consideration. The size of the mature tree is another. When thinking about tree size there are some things to consider. If you plant standard size trees they are large, produce more fruit, and live longer, BUT they are harder to prune and pick the fruit. Dwarf or Semi-dwarf trees are a good choice for smaller areas, but do not live as long. Standard and semi-dwarf trees also have a better anchor system of roots, so there is no need to stake them. They are also more drought tolerant. Most of the trees that I have planted are standard, with some semi-dwarf. The recent apple trees that I grafted I used a rootstock called Malus Antonovka, a standard hardy variety. 

fruit tree and sheep

Fruit Tree Just Waiting for Spring


Free Rootstock and Scionwood

In our area there are what we call “pasture” apples. They have spread on their own and are basically wild apples. In a neighbor’s pasture there are dozens of trees that all seem to have different types of apples. I have one apple tree that the rootstock came from one of those “pasture” apple seedlings that I dug up. Then I grafted on a branch (scionwood) of a very tasty green apple that was also “wild” along our neighbors driveway. In the end I have a nice apple tree at no cost. We call it Patty’s Apple, our neighbors daughter—Patty, used to arrive at the school bus stop with a handful that she had picked on her way.

Scionwood

Once you have decided on rootstock you need scionwood to graft onto it. The possibilities seem endless. I have cut scionwood from friend’s trees, wild tree, my own trees, and purchased heritage varieties from nurseries. Apples can be grafted to apples, cherry to cherry and so on. You cannot graft apple to plum. You can, however; grow several types of apples on one tree. If you have an older tree or a started tree with multiple branches you can graft other varieties on to its different branches. It is a good way to increase your varieties in a limited space.