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A Guide to Grafting Apple Trees

Learn how to grow traditional American apple stocks in your own orchard or garden with this introduction to three grafting techniques: T-bud grafting, chip budding, and scion grafting.

| August/September 1992

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    Although making your own cider does require some patience and a little elbow grease (even if the little folks lend a hand), the results make all that effort seem well worth it.
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    Bud grafting: Wrapping. The cambrium, or layer of cells between the bark and the wood, must be joined to the cambrium of the new stock, and bound tightly.
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    Bud grafting: The first cut.
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    Bud grafting: The second and third cut.

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Sweetbough, Black Gilliflower, Sops of Wine, Adam's Pearain—these old apple varieties were introduced to our country by the first settlers from France and England. American farmers selected the most vigorous and disease-resistant of these seedlings to grow in their own orchards, and anxiously awaited their first autumn harvest.

After examining their bounty, farmers found that although the apples were small and rough-looking, they nevertheless held an aromatic smell and a tart, crisp taste. Then in the late 1700s, New York and New England farmers found that by experimenting with their farming methods, they could make all sorts of new varieties. And they did. Thanks to these inventive apple breeders, we were blessed with a dizzying variety of apples to choose from.

Only you won't find too many of the old-fashioned apples in supermarkets today. Sadly, these apples are getting harder and harder to find. They haven't vanished altogether, though—people who find modern apples as boring as boiled potatoes are on a mission to bring these old varieties back by grafting apple trees and replanting them in their own orchards and gardens.

Now if you're planning to grow old varieties of apples in your own orchard, understand that almost all of these are complex hybrids, which means their seeds won't grow up to be anything like the parent tree. So in order to reproduce a particular variety of apples, a nurseryperson must take a piece of that grafting stock and graft it onto another tree (the rootstock). Thanks to grafting techniques, it has been possible to keep old-time apple varieties true-to-parent for centuries.

Today there are retail nurseries which carry grafted trees of old apple varieties, particularly the Malling series. It's really quite simple to produce your own grafted trees, and you can do it for next to nothing (except, of course, for an expenditure of time and patience) if you grow your own seedling rootstock and collect grafting stock from your favorite wild or abandoned trees.

Most people do their actual grafting during the winter, but there's plenty of planning to do over the fall. First, you'll have to select which types of rootstocks you want to use. It's not a bad idea (and plenty of fun) to go around to different orchards and fruitstands this fall to do a little taste-testing.

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