Resources for grafting apples

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:

— Feel free to email with any questions.

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. 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).

Selecting budwood for summer bud grafting

If you’re attempting T-budding, or cutting budwood for others to graft, now’s the time. I usually think of July 15 – Aug 1 as the best time. Earlier, and the buds may not be mature. Later, and the bark on the rootstock may not be slipping. Here’s a brief guide to selecting and preparing budwood.

First, find this year’s growth on a relatively upright, vigorous branch. You’re looking for the portion of the branch that has individual leaves attached directly to the branch … that’ll be the topmost section of the branch, right out to the tip. If you start at a branch tip and work your way down, make note of the spacing between the leaves. At the very tip they may be close together, but just a little ways down the branch they’ll be further apart. All of this is the current year’s growth.

The tree grows buds this summer at the junction between leaf and branch (the axil). They’re dormant for now, but each of these axillary buds has the potential to turn into a new branch next summer. The goal of T-budding is to remove these buds, get them onto the host rootstocks, and let the two parts knit together while the tree is still actively growing for the summer. If successful, next summer the bud will start growing and become the trunk of the new tree.

This is good budwood in the middle of the current year’s growth. Note that individual leaves attach directly to the apple branch. Axillary buds appropriate for grafting may be found where each leaf attaches to the branch.

As you continue down the branch, eventually you’ll reach a point where the leaves, or the scars where leaves could have been, get quite close together, and there is often a ringlike structure around the branch here. This is the bottom of the current year’s growth. Below, leaves don’t attach individually and directly to the branch, but rather to side branches of the branch you’re examining.

Note the close spacing of leaves on the branch in the top half of the image. That area is the bottom of this year’s growth. Below is older wood.

In the next several photos, you can see how I prepared budwood from an apple branch.

1. Here’s the branch as cut from the tree

Here is a branch from an apple tree in my yard. The bottom half-centimeter is last year’s wood, and everything above is this year’s growth.

2. With hand pruners or scissors, remove each leaf blade, but leave the petiole (‘leaf stem’) to use as a bud handle later.

Leaf blades have been removed. Petioles (‘leaf stems’) are left on the branch.

3. Close up of prepared branch.

The petiole attaches the leaf blade (now removed) to the branch, and makes a fine bud handle.

4. Finished budwood. The middle section provides the best budwood.

Finished budwood. Select only the middle section if your branch is long enough, as these are the best-quality buds. Upper and lower portions will be discarded.

Budwood is perishable and should be used as soon as possible. That said, it is frequently shipped through the mail successfully. Put the budwood in a plastic bag with a zip seal, and mail it in a padded envelope.

(I hope eventually to post how-tos for T-budding … but for now just wanted to get budwood selection information out to some people with heirloom apple trees that they want to propagate)