Grafting apples

Rind Grafting at Liberty Orchards

When we planned and planted our orchards in 2010/11 we chose a wide range of apple varieties with a diversity of tastes to give us the greatest possible options when developing our unique apple products.

As our business and products developed, we found, inevitably, that we wanted more of some apple varieties (e.g. Porter’s Perfection), and that there were other varieties which we wished we had included in our original planting. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

However, the answer to this problem turned out to be easier than we expected.

Using the technique of rind grafting in the Spring, an established tree of one variety can be transformed into an entirely new variety of your choice,

‘Scion wood’  – branches of the previous year’s growth –  are cut from the tree you want to have more of when the tree is dormant over the winter months. These are stored in a plastic bag in the fridge until needed to prevent them drying out.

The following Spring, when the sap starts to rise, short lengths of the collected scion wood are prepared and grafted onto the trunks of the sawn-off existing trees, placing them just under the peeled-back bark. Providing that the cambium on the prepared scion makes contact with the cambium layer under the bark, the scions will fuse and grow, providing a new central leader for the tree. The tree growth above the graft will then be of the new variety.

If the grafts take, growth is very rapid as the tree already has an established root and trunk system.

We started our grafting programme in the Spring of 2018, grafting 50 of our ‘Helen’ trees with ‘Porter’s Perfection’ scions. We were very excited to find that all the grafts took, and we carried out further rind grafting in 2019 to produce the dessert apple variety ‘Sunset’ and additional trees of a seedling cider apple tree unique to our orchards.

The biggest challenge after grafting was to protect the trees from deer damage – the new fresh growth occurs at the perfect height for grazing. In 2019 we trialled the use of plastic spring water bottles which has proved very successful, appearing to promote the scion growth as well as acting as a deer protector.

Grafting is very addictive and satisfying! We plan to investigate other types of grafting for other purposes, e.g. grafting branches of a pollinator variety into a block planting of a single variety to improve pollination (rather than planting whole trees of the required pollinator).

Watch this space!