Does your friend have an apple growing in their yard that is delicious, but you can’t find it for sale? Do you have an existing apple tree that you wish produced different kinds of apples? Are you an apple nerd that wants to grow as many different types of apples as you can?
Grafting might be a good option for you!
A few years ago I took a grafting/budding course at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden. Foreseeing attempts to grow many different types of apples for cider, I started learning about grafting so that I would be able to propagate and experiment with different types of apples.
I’ve been hearing about more and more people trying to graft their own trees, which is great! If you do have a chance to catch a hands on course, I highly recommend it. Unfortunately these are only available a handful of times a year. Luckily, there is still lots of information available, so I don’t need to try to explain all the ins and outs of grafting myself.
The Orchard Project has a good overview of how to graft fruit trees.
If you are looking for a bit more specifics on the process and types of cuts to make NC State Extension has a thorough discussion with helpful diagrams.
If you are a nerd like me and want to understand why and how grafting works, there is also interesting scientific information out there that explains the things that are good (although not essential) to know about.
There are countless resources online, including instructional videos on YouTube. I’d recommend checking out a few to see what options are available and what you think would be best for your situation.
Tips & Tricks for Grafting on the Prairies
Here are a few tips that I have heard and noticed in my grafting trials:
- Use sharp tools! I was lucky enough to get a nice grafting knife for Christmas last fall and I’ve found it much easier to make clean straight cuts. (But also be careful – I have definitely cut myself!)
- Try a few different types of grafting to see what is most comfortable/effective for you. I’ve actually found I’ve had most success with chip budding (explain on the NC Extension Site) – but different people find other techniques work better for them.
- Label all your grafts! If they grow, it will be easy to forget what you are growing, especially if you have multiple types of fruit on one tree.
- Practice & Patience. My first year grafting, only one out of 5 grafts I tried was successful but already by the second year I got much better. Maybe you will be lucky and have 100% success right away, but if some of your grafts fail, don’t take it personally!
- Pay attention to the weather/season. Most resources will suggest spring grafting in April, but that is usually a bit early if you are in Alberta. I like to graft after it is clear that the trees are growing, but before their leaves are fully formed and out. In Edmonton this is much more likely in May.
- Similarly, some types of grafting can also be done in the late summer – but again this means September in many parts of the world. In the prairies, I’d suggest doing this in August as ideally the graft would have enough time to form union with the tree before the tree begins to harden off for the winter.
For me, the most difficult part of grafting is waiting to see if it worked. It can take a few weeks before you really see any signs of growth. I still check on my grafts daily – just in case – but the fastest I’ve seen any signs of success has been about one week.
Where do I get Scionwood?
If you want to try grafting you will need some types of apples to graft! We like to get most of our hardy wood from the scion wood exchange hosted by the DBG Fruit Growers group. This happens in April every year slightly before the local grafting season. However, if you are looking for a specific variety, there are many orchards and apple growers around Canada that will mail scion wood for a small fee. You can also just use a branch clipped from a friend’s tree. If you are going to harvest your own scion wood, I suggest checking out this resource from Michigan State University.