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Grafting old apple trees - choosing scion wood

 
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Hello permies folks. I live on a farm in central Vermont with a number of old apple trees, which I'd like to clone and propagate. I've been researching grafting, trying to prepare for an attempt this spring. One particular tree with delicious apples is definitely losing vigor, and is completely hollow, so I'd like to preserve the genetics as soon as possible. I just went out to try and collect some new growth, and found that while there are some fairly long new shoots (2 ft plus), the tips have died back. I've read that people sometimes trim the terminal buds of scion wood - is the die-back something I could trim off, or is this a sign that this shoot isn't viable?

I'd be very grateful if anyone had insight on this question, or experience grafting from very old apple trees in general that might not have growth as vigorous as a younger tree - for example, on a different tree the biggest new growth I can find is maybe 3/16" diameter, 8" long. Is this worth attempting to graft, or is it too small and would be a waste of a rootstock?

Thank you in advance for anyone who can offer advice.
 
pollinator
Posts: 987
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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Cutting the tips back is not a problem. Why they need cutting back could be. Do they have Fireblight? Even if they do, I’d still try it, but I’d cut them back as much as possible.

If you have a young, healthy apple or crab apple tree, you could graft some or even many scions to it. That way you wouldn’t waste a rootstock on scions not as likely to survive. Also, it’s very good practice. I have not had as high of a success rate grafting onto trees as onto rootstocks. Either way, if you’ve never grafted before, don’t expect a very high success rate, so do as many as you can. The tree with delicious apples could be a one of kind variety and worth a lot of effort to graft from. Also, if it’s in danger of falling or losing main branches, some wood supports could help a lot.

Don’t give up on the old trees at least surviving to give you more chances to graft. They could respond to some care. Maybe pruning and mulching.  Also clearing plants and trees that might be competing with them could help. When I was a kid, we had an old pear tree that was laying on its side. This was about 1974. With absolutely no care, it lived until about 4 years ago when my brother’s renter bulldozed it. It was still alive but not producing. Wish I’d have taken some scion wood. I didn’t know he was gowing to push it down.

Disclaimer: I am far from an expert. You will probably get some more experienced commenters.
 
steward
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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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I've grafted a little bit.  When we get scion wood to graft with, we only use about three buds.  So a two foot piece with a dead tip would still give you several new trees.  I wouldn't worry much about it.
 
Ethan Frome
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Thanks for the advice! I will definitely try to great onto an existing tree. The dead tips look to me like winter kill, and having looked around more I'm seeing it on a lot of trees.
 
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Location: Sukhbaatar,Selenge, Mongolia
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Hi Ethan, not sure where you are at at this moment with your grafting but I thought that I would just add a few bits from my experience over the past 5 years. Most of what I have learned about grafting has come from a friend that worked for more than 40 years in The University of Saskatchewan's fruit breeding programs. For spring grafting, early May in my area, it is important that the root stock is actively growing and that the scion is still dormant. I have had almost zero success grafting already active buds onto active root stocks. This may mean collecting your scion wood while it is still dormant and storing it in a fridge, preferably at about 0 - 2C. I collect my scion wood already in early November and store it until I graft in May. That way I know that none of the buds have suffered any frost damage and all the buds are fully developed.
 
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