The years of effort, waiting, work, waiting, sweat, labour, waiting, inputs, waiting, are, if the weather cooperates, going to result in some reasonable quantity of fruit this harvest season. A survey of the main orchard found at least 51 apple trees with fruit blossoms. Several varieties and all three root stock types (bud9, m111 and antonovka) have fruit buds. Last year, for comparison, we could count on one hand the number of trees with fruit buds, and we harvested all of 6 apples. Some of the older trees in the nursery bed, aka the Strawberry Patch orchard, also have fruit buds, for the second year. Those trees produced a few hundred Hewe’s Virginia Crab apples.
Here’s a how-to for the folks who came to our 2023 grafting event at Benevolence Orchard:
Recent high-resolution genomic analysis by USDA shows that some of the apples previously thought to be Malus sieversii are hybrid (or in a few cases just plain domestic apples). As a result, we’re updating our own information. If you have a grafted apple from us, you can determine its idenity with the table below.
The upshot is that we don’t have as many pure wild trees as we had thought. However, most of those that aren’t wild are hybrids, and still have some wild apple genes unlikely to be found in North American domestic apples. We’re keeping them for that reason.
This is something you can easily do with a hose and sprinkler if the soil around your tree soaks water up fairly quickly, such as areas of mulch, lawn, or other growing groundcover. If you have bare soil that doesn’t like to soak up water and/or a slope that water would tend to run down, you may want to use an irrigation needle — view the video at the link below for more information about those.
I use a sprinkler that can be turned on low to cover an area about 5 feet wide, and adjust the spigot until I get the coverage I want. Then, I let it run for half an hour or an hour before moving it to the next spot around the dripline of the tree (see picture below). When you irrigate this way, place a number of open-topped plastic containers in the area covered by the sprinkler, and watch them to see how much water you’ve applied. This way, you can get a good idea for how long you need to run the particular sprinkler you are using. Aim to put down at least an inch of water.
You may need to water several times per winter. Water once a month if it doesn’t snow very much.
Trees that don’t have enough soil moisture can die of drought, but they can also be seriously weakened, making them more susceptible to disease or insect damage. Avoid these risks by keeping your trees irrigated.
Here are some additional resources on winter watering:
Winter watering video from Tagawa Gardens.
Fall & Winter Watering from CSU Cooperative Extension
Winter Watering from Colorado Springs Utilities
*NOTE, January 1, 2023: PI 657118 is now known to be a hybrid of Malus sieversii and Malus domestica, NOT pure Malus sieversii.
We do. That’s all of them, right there. PI 657118, obtained from USDA and grafted in 2016 on highly-dwarfing Budogovsky 9 rootstock, produced four apples this year, still living in a 3-gallon pot. Granted, it’s not much seed, but it’s the first from the trees we grafted ourselves (we’ve had a bit of seed already from a purchased Malus sieversii tree). It’s a start.
PI 657118 is from Kazakhstan, close to the Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan borders. The pollen parent for our small seed harvest is not known.
I was surprised we had any fruit at all this year, given the April plunge that pretty much ruined the local crop. We are poised to produce more seed than this; the trees at the orchard, which will be in their sixth growing season in 2021, should have a crop the next year we have favorable weather.
This post is mostly just a “Wheee! We did it!” item. Growing wild apples is a way to protect genetic diversity that may be especially important for breeding new apple cultivars in a time of climate change. It’s also fun.
If you happen to be interested in Malus sieversii, we do have a few seeds to share, but there are still better options at this point. Contact the people in charge of the national apple collection at Geneva, NY. Last time I checked they’d still send 100 seeds (25 from each of 4 mother trees) to any interested person, free. Instructions for germination and care are included. Google around to find them, or feel free to email, and I’ll send you the contact info.
I’m propagating a couple of interesting apricots.
One is/was the co-state champion tree for Colorado, with a trunk much larger than I can get my arms around, but it’s in severe decline. I grafted a copy in about 2014 that’s now reached bearing age. Apparently the original is well over a century old. It is also more reliable than any other apricot I’ve seen in the Boulder area, producing a few fruits during many years that other apricots are barren. In 2008 we made quite a bit of jam from groundfalls. (Visit this tree on the north side of the West Senior Center in downtown Boulder).
The other is from 8100′ in Garfield County, next to a dirt road, two thousand feet above the Colorado River. This had fruit when I first noticed it in the summer of about 2003. It bore a good crop a couple of years ago. This tree is in quite a xeric spot — dry hillside, south facing — but has been doing pretty well there. As with the other tree, fruits are small, but good-tasting.
I’d like to get both of these trees grafted onto rootstocks and distributed to several interested, experienced gardeners/fruit growers. For this next round of propagation, I want to ensure the continuation of these varieties, but in future years I think it would be great to see them more widely distributed.
If you are in the (general) Boulder/Denver area, and are interested in growing one or both of these, please contact me (Eric) and let me know a bit about you and your experience with fruit growing. It’s conceivable I’ll have some small trees in 2021, but due to a delay in receiving some rootstocks, it could be 2022.
Short of providing actual trees, I’m also happy to provide dormant scions/budwood or Summer budwood. Let me know if that’s of interest.
If you’re participating in the Guidestone Colorado AgriSummit virtual grafting workshop, here are some resources you might find useful. These are what I use for dormant grafting in my unheated garage — generally in March in Boulder, CO.
NOTE: I’ll be adding to the list of requested links & resources in BOLD TYPE, just below, the morning of Friday, 4/17:
ROOTSTOCK GUIDE — Feel free to email with any questions.
PROPAGATION TEXTBOOK — Plant Propagation: Principles and Practices, by Hartmann & Kester. There are many editions. Find a used one for a low price on ebay, perhaps?
GATHERING SUMMER BUDWOOD — this article is right here on the web site.
(Below is just a TOOLS & SUPPLIES list. Look elsewhere for archived instruction and safety information)
KNIVES: The knife I show in the grafting workshop is the Victorinox Floral/Grafting Knife. It is under $20, beveled only on one side, and has a straight blade. I have done hundreds of grafts with mine, so they seem to last well. GrowOrganic.com has a very similar one, also by Victorinox, that’s under $15. Cheapest option: use whatever very sharp knife you have on hand. I like using single-beveled knives, because it’s easier to make planar cuts with them, but there are plenty of people grafting successfully with utility knives.
Are you looking for a left-handed grafting knife (bevel on the other side from most grafting knives)? Try Due Buoi Agriculture — they have ’em (thanks to Reed Loefgren for the tip).
SHARPENING STONES: A very sharp knife is important, so be sure you have adequate sharpening equipment, unless you’re using disposable blades. I use diamond sharpening stones, but there are other options. NC State has a good video showing how to sharpen a new knife.
GRAFTING TAPE: I started out using 1″ Parafilm grafting tape, and still use it sometimes. A roll is only about $5 — which may be a consideration if you only need to graft a small number of trees. If you’re doing larger quantities, say for an orchard, consider Buddy Tape, which I absolutely love. Buddy Tape is more expensive, but there are many times more usable pieces per roll, so it’s probably roughly the same cost per tree as Parafilm. Cheapest option: cut strips of plastic from bread bags (you’ll need to remember to cut these off in mid-season so they don’t girdle the young tree).
HAND PRUNERS: I recommend bypass rather than anvil pruners. Be sure you get some that you can sharpen. I like Felco pruners, which can be disassembled to sharpen the blade. They’re a bit pricey, but spare parts are available, and they can last decades if maintained well. I use the Felco 8, but they have models for left-hand use as well as for smaller hands. Pruners don’t need as fine an edge as grafting knives. I use a small triangular file to sharpen mine. Cheaper option: any sharp pair of bypass pruners.
HAND PROTECTION: For cleft cuts, use an old CD or drill a hole in a board.
3-GALLON PLASTIC NURSERY POTS: I use these to hold my rootstocks in their bundles, and to hold finished grafts while they are healing. Nurseries and landscape contractors may have used ones that they’d give you. I block the drainage holes with small stones, so that water can drain but the moist sand I use to fill the pots won’t wash out.
NURSERY TAGS: If you’re just doing a few trees, these aren’t so important. You can tie pieces of string loosely around your finished grafts and tie different numbers of knots in the tail ends of the strings to designate the cultivar (make a written record of what means what). If you need more detail, embossable aluminum tags are nice because there’s no risk of ink fading in the sunlight.
Copenhaven Farms and Willamette Nurseries are good sources for larger quantities (bundles of 25 & up). Order in the Fall to ensure they have inventory. I suggest ordering smaller quantities from Fedco Trees or Cummins Nursery. Learn a whole bunch about different rootstocks before just buying some. I mostly use EMLA-111 and Antonovka for apples.
Masonville Orchards in Colorado has lots of cultivars.
Fedco Trees has a good selection.
And, you can cut your own scionwood in January from local trees. Read up on how to collect and store scionwood.
Moist sand for pots that hold rootstocks and finished grafts.
Isopropyl alcohol to sterilize blades between grafts.
Small candles if you’ll be sealing scion tips with candle wax (keep the candles away from the flammable alcohol).
I recorded a 4-part series on dormant (bench) grafting apples, and posted it on YouTube. The video quality is not great — I recorded it on Zoom after running a virtual workshop on Zoom for some interested folks around Colorado. But, a lot of the information is good. Worth a look if you’re wondering how to graft.
We are working with The Boulder Apple Tree Project, and have been for more than a year. This is a nice write up on the BATP.
Late January into mid-February is what I consider the best time to collect dormant apple scionwood in the Boulder area (note, after a few years of cutting scions here, I’m now of the opinion that waiting until February is suboptimal). Later, and a warm winter could mean buds already swelling — i.e. they are no longer dormant, but starting to grow. We want the wood to be dormant because when we graft it to a rootstock, the junction will need to heal before the rootstock can supply the scion with water and nutrients. If the scion starts to grow before the graft union heals, it is likely to die from lack of water for the emerging leaves.
Once the time has arrived for collecting wood, get a sharp pair of hand pruners and head out to the trees. Look for last year’s wood. Follow a relatively upright branch downward past each bud until you get to a spot where there’s a bit of a ringlike ridge around the branch. Small branches often grow out from a location just below here, and there are also usually a few buds crowded right above this spot. Higher up, the buds are farther apart.
(As an aside for those who read Selecting budwood for summer bud grafting, the wood we’re looking for now is the same that one would have selected last summer for bud grafting, only now it has matured and the leaves are long gone.)
Ideally I’d cut scionwood that’s about 6-7mm (1/4″) in diameter, which is easy to work with and is close to the diameter of typical rootstock. However, sometimes there is no scionwood as thick as that. No problem. Get what you can, because you’ll probably be able to graft it.
Once you’ve cut your scions, they might look like this:
Cut the wood to lengths that will fit in a gallon ziploc or similar plastic bag. Trim off the top inch or so, unless your scionwood is very short. Seal all cuts with a quick dip into a candle, to coat cut surfaces with wax. Of course, don’t leave the wood near the burning candle for more than a the fraction of a second it takes to coat the end with wax.
It’s hard to see the wax on the ends, but here is trimmed and sealed scionwood:
Lastly, mark your scions as to identity with some cloth medical tape or something similar. Store them in a refrigerator if possible, but do not put them into the fridge where you keep your food — gases given off by some foods may encourage the scions to break dormancy. I have a small ‘dorm fridge’ that I start up each year just for grafting season. If you don’t have a refrigerator, consider putting the scions on the shady side of a building (north side in our hemisphere), covering with enough leaves or other insulation to prevent freezing.
Finished scions, ready for storage until grafting begins in late March: