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)