Grafting is a basic homestead skill that’s easy to learn. If you don’t already know, most modern apple and other fruit trees; as well as some grapes, are grown from two parts: a “root stock” and a “scion”. For the purpose of this discussion we’ll refer to all hand-grafted plants as “trees”.
The root stock is the part of the tree that is planted in the ground. The root stock determines the size of the tree and its growth habit. Root stocks are often chosen for particular soil types or growing conditions.
Scions form the part of the tree that grows above ground. Scions make the leaves and fruit of a tree and are taken as cuttings from a parent tree. The variety of the fruit; the disease resistance; and photosynthetic activity of a tree are determined by the scion.
When the scion and root stock are joined together they form a new plant or tree.
A few different methods of grafting are used to join a root stock and a scion. Each method of grafting has an advantage and disadvantage. The method that I think is the easiest for the beginner to learn and master is the “omega-graft”. It’s the method presented here.
With an omega-graft, a “U” or “Omega” shaped cut is first made on either the scion or the root stock. Next a corresponding wedge cut is made on the other stock. The two pieces will interlock together and connect the cambium layers of both the scion and the root stock. The two pieces fit together like a living puzzle.
The graft is then temporarily secured with wax, tape, or by other means for a few weeks, while the tissues of the scion and root stock grow together to form a union. Newly grafted trees or vines are planted into nursery beds or into individual pots so that they can be carefully managed. Once the trees are a year or two old and thriving, they are moved from pots or nursery bed and planted in their permanent location.
Omega-grafting is an easy and affordable way to start a small home orchard. Grafting can be done with a sharp knife. But I have found that beginners have the most success with a grafting tool.
A grafting tool, is a hand-held vice-like cutting tool. It helps to make tight fitting and interlocking wedge cuts in stock up to about a 1/2″ in diameter. Grafting tools usually come with different and changeable blades that can perform a least 2 different types of grafts: an “Omega-graft and a “V” graft. A professional commercial quality grafting tool is an expensive item costing upwards of about $250. It’s not really practical for most people.
Cheaper versions of grafting tools are available to home gardeners for a fraction of the cost. Usually costing between $15 – $80.
The cheaper grafting tool doesn’t make as clean of a cut or last near as long, but most garden farmers aren’t going to graft thousands of trees.
A $20 grafting tool will pay for itself by grafting one apple tree. The cost of the $20 grafting tool; a $3 root stock, a little electrical tape, and free apple scions (from spring pruning), will produce an apple tree costing less than $24. Every tree after the first is only the cost of the root stock.
Here’s How To Graft More Apple Trees Than You’ll Ever Know What To Do With
Here’s what you’ll need:
Grafting wax or electrical tape
In the early spring, choose an apple scion that has at least three or four well-spaced, plump buds. A scion cut from the previous years growth is ideal. Choose the variety of root stock that you desire for the tree’s growth habit; disease resistance and for your location. Semi-dwarf and dwarf root stocks are good for most backyard orchards.
Make sure both the scion and the root stock can be cut to an equal or similar diameter. Not more than a 1/2″ around.
Cut the root stock or the scion with the grafting tool so that it forms an “Omega” or “U” shaped groove or notch. The root stock stem should remain about 12″-18” tall. It will form the beginnings of a tree trunk.
Flip the grafting tool around, and cut a wedge into the scion or the root stock to the same diameter as the as the previous cut. The wedge will fit into the “U” shaped notch. I don’t think it matters much whether the scion or the root stock becomes the the wedge or the notch. The point is to make good clean cuts that will ft together tightly.
Insert the wedge into the “U” shaped notch and firmly join the two. Take care to gently and carefully match or line up the cambium layers of both the scion and the root stock.
Secure the new graft with wax, tape or a rubber band. I use electrical tape because that’s what I always have on hand. But grafting wax works well too. The point of the tape or wax is to secure both sections and slow moisture loss at the graft site while the two parts grow together.
Plant the newly grafted trees in individual pots or directly into a nursery bed for about a year. Keep them well watered for at least 4 – 6 weeks after planting or until new leafy growth is noticed above the graft area. New growth above the graft area indicates that graft is successful. Growth below the scion with no top growth indicates that the graft has failed. Click the image for an up-close look at a growing graft.
Grafts are most successful when performed during the moon’s 1st and 2nd quarter and when the moon is in the sign of Cancer. Scorpio and Pisces moon days are also used for grafting. Any good current almanac will have that information.
Grafting is an affordable way to produce lots of trees, vines or other plants. Often apple scions can be free for the asking in the springtime. Both root stock and scions can be ordered by mail or online .