Apple Rootstock Advice


I found this site via someone’s recommendation over on gardenweb. That site used to be my go to place for fruit and herbaceous plant advice. Very thankful for this site!

Anway, my friend has plans to plant three dwarf apple trees in his front yard. These trees would be front and center, just in front of the front door. He wanted something edible but with interesting bark. He is looking at cultivars on EMLA 26.

An acquaintance has a high density orchard on M9. From what I’ve seen, I’m not a huge fan of this rootstock; they need a lot of TLC (staking, shallow roots don’t seem to tolerate very much grass competition). The apple orchard that I used to manage has some trees on Bud 9 (also need staking) and other (not super dwarfing) rootstocks that are no longer commercially available (trees were planted back in the 70s).

Does anyone have experience with EMLA 26 or other rootstocks that produce a similarly sized tree? . He is also looking at trees on MM106 rootstock.

Also–Does anyone have thoughts on the aesthetics of these trees? He’ll be planting in his front yard and wanted to achieve a gnarly barked look. I’m not sure that these trees are going to give him that look.

Any input would be much appreciated.
Thank you!

It depends a lot on where you are and how you plan to care for the trees. There is always a price to pay for more dwarfing rootstock but some of that has been reduced by more fire blight resistant ones bred by Cornell.

M26 has been a fine rootstock for me, and about as dwarf as I would want to go, but it still doesn’t compete with grass as well as more vigorous ones and may always need supplementary water to get a tree through droughts here if you want annual productivity. You should exclude grass from at least a 3 foot diameter circle at the base of establishing trees no matter what the rootsock. M 26 is said to be highly susceptible to fire blight, although that’s a bullet I have completely dodged so far with the trees on 26 I manage.

M 26 bears fruit quite young and doesn’t require a lot of pruning to keep in shape. It can runt out if it is allowed to over crop early in life or is stressed by drought, which is true of most dwarfing rootstocks.

106 is quite vigorous- except in poorly drained soil where it will likely drown. Its’ virtue is relatively early fruiting for having such vigor and supposedly its’ high production compared to the similarly sized 111. I have found 111 quite productive once it gets around to bearing fruit and consider that an issue mainly for commercial growers. For home orchards, I generally prefer 111 because of its toughness and versatility. Does well in wet or dry soils.

Thank you for the insight, Allan.

I think my friend’s primary aim is getting fruit production, and soonish, hence these would be appropriate. Having apprenticed on a farm, and worked for farmers, I have a lot of appreciation for a, well, less wimpy rootstock that needs less care and has greater longevity than the superdwarfs. I’m biased though after seeing how my pal’s M9 performed in MI. last year.

Did your M26 need staking? Are there any other EMLA rootstocks you would recommend?

Thank you!

mika…I have just one apple on M26 and for me it has not required staking and fruited extremely heavily in it’s 2nd year and was planted rather late in it’s first year. I strongly share your feelings on the wimpy rootstocks. For me, the choice was made due to spacial constaints and as I said, it has done well.
I also have M106 and feel it is a much better growing and more rugged rootstock. I don’t have enough trees on anything in particular to draw weighty conclusions, but my observations have been pretty much in line with what I’ve read.
If I had it to do over again I’d have chose M106 over the 26 for the reasons already mentioned and then some.

Another thing I’ve noticed on my M26 and in many, many posts from others is that M26 seems to be particularly attractive to mice, rabbits etc. We’ve had the discussion before here and I believe it was pretty much unanimous within the thread that this is indeed the case.
BTW…my M106 fruited it’s second year also and carried more fruit and seemed to size them up better as well.

M26 has also had a real desire to develop root suckers for me, a issue which 106 has not had at all. I say this only because it has been experienced by me, I don’t believe M26 is generally known for root sucker problems.

1 Like

Isn’t M7 somewhere between MM106 and M26?

Something else to consider is how climate might affect the size potential of any tree. Trees tend to be smaller in colder climates with shorter growing seasons. I think they recommend full size trees in zone 4 because they end up being somewhat dwarfed anyhow.

Some very good points made in last two submissions. Applenut’s suggestion about 26’s attraction to voles has been my experience and the statement about colder climates is something that I hadn’t thought about for years. In Canada the use of seedling rootstocks for apples is still common in the colder zones, The cold even makes them fruit sooner, I believe.

I still think that for a lot of home growers M26 or similar sizing rootstock is the ticket, even if I’m not that fond of it. If is so much easier to manage a vigorous variety on 26 than something larger.

M26 does sometimes need to be staked and it is usually recommended for the first few years. In most conditions with reasonably vigorous varieties it will become capable of standing on its own but it might take 6 or 7 years to develop adequate anchorage.

It really seems to me that a lot of members here who have farms / farmettes etc would maybe be better off planting on seedling stock. I understand the benefits of dwarfing stocks for sure, but for those with the space and deer pressure it seems seedling stock would have a lot of advantages.
Minimum input growers could (I think) benefit greatly from a larger, more robust tree where growing conditions are not abnormal.
At the very least, the opportunity to easily and conveniently propagate trees free of cost is an attractive attribute in and of itself.

Appleseed, I manage a lot of seedling apple trees and I think 111 has pretty much all the advantages with probably earlier fruiting (you never quite know what you are going to get with a seedling, even the level of vigor).

I do agree with you that seedling apple trees can be very useful trees, can be kept low and produce excellent fruit but they take a good deal of skilled labor to train and manage.

I have seen seedling grafted apple orchards continuing to survive on land that has been virtually turned into swamp by beavers. I’m not sure even 111 could accomplish that.

As far as deer pressure, even M26 can easily be trained above dear if the scion is at least moderately vigorous.

Appleseed70…those are good points. The farmers that I worked for have several trees on Bud9 and they’re not very happy with them. Personally, if we were planting more trees—I just wouldn’t go for the superdwarfing ones at least. I also see them as more appropriate for someone with limited space.


My brother has some hunting land and he wants to put some apples (mainly for deer)…i’m growing out seedlings for him and then i’ll graft them over with Cortland/Sweet 16/Mcintosh/etc etc… can’t beat free.

Unless your brother is in a hurry to see fruit.

I work for a man with a huge hunting preserve in CT (has one in CO too, but I’ve never been there). He’s had me graft over scores of naturalized seedling apple trees at my suggestion. My relationship with him started when I installed about 20 apple trees from my nursery there.

You might consider varieties that stand a chance to produce some decent fruit without spray. Here, that could include old strains of Yellow Delicious, Winesap and Arkansas Black. I’m sure there are others. It is important that they be varieties that drop their fruit when ripe which Macintosh and Cortlandt certainly do. But those two are pest magnets.

Deer especially love pears, which provide an even better possibility of unsprayed productivity.

I’ve lost a couple of trees on M7 to phytophthora root/collar rot. A very frustrating disease to deal with because treatment options are so limited. One of the trees suffered from poor drainage, but the other had great drainage. I’ve gone to using Geneva30 and so far very happy with it, though it’s too early in using it to give a complete evaluation. If you are interested in the geneva rootstocks this chart will be helpful.

Alan, no doubt 111 (and other rootstocks for that matter) have their advantages and I suppose seedling vigor could be a mixed bag. That said however it seems as though seedling stock pretty much outgrows all else. I am no expert, but seedlings are something I do have a bit of experience with. I’ve seen them grow in all sorts of weird ways with spindly short limbs and even some with oddly different sized leaves, but all have grown vigorously and all have developed fatter trunks much faster than their dwarfing counterparts.
I guess spacial constraints aside, the biggest negative to seedling stock for the home grower is the time to fruit as you pointed out.
I’m thinking about guys like Clark that have lots of space (I think he does) and less than ideal soil. I also guess somebody like Clark or others where tornados are sometimes known to roam about might also appreciate the deeper seeking tap rooted trees.
I am curious however as to the variability in disease resistance of seedling stock. Everything I’ve ever read indicated that seedling stock generally performs better in this regard than virtually anything else, but I wonder if they have wooly aphid resistance on par with stocks bred specifically to resist them?
The other thing in favor of seedling stock so far not mentioned is longevity. An abandoned apple orchard about 1 hour from here (Levels, WV) is full of trees on M111 and they are relatively old, perhaps 40 years. Most are still living and many are still producing, but judging by the looks of them, I doubt many will be around too much longer.
There are numerous seedling trees near here that I’d guess are at least 100 years old, though obviously I cannot be sure of that. Point is, they are still healthy and vibrant and when out in the open still have a nice form despite total neglect. I like things that stay around a long time.

Alan…has my above observations as to lifespan been in line with yours? What would you guess the time to fruiting would be one a 1 year seedling grafted over to something like Goldrush or something similar?

You mentioned pears. I never ceased being amazed at the sheer number of obviously very old pears there are around here. I get to wondering “Who planted them…and when?”, “Is the person still living who planted it?”. Often, for me at least, that turns to sorrow as I see all these nice pears rotting on the ground underneath. I guess the yellow jackets are still appreciating them.

Seedling apple trees will be affected by their parents but apples really shuffle the deck genetically, which means there is bound to be more variability in vigor than with a clone- there being such a wide range of vigor from the apple varieties in the genetic pool… But that is only theoretical-I don’t have your experience in actually starting trees from seed.

My experience is with either grafted trees to seedling rootstock as bare roots from the nursery or with very old trees. As far as longevity, I doubt there is much difference between 111 and seedling on decent orchard land. I manage 2 orchards on M7 that are about 75 years old and haven’t lost any productivity or vigor. Given 111’s extra vigor, I don’t think one needs to worry too much about their life span compared to seedling, unless you are thinking about legacy, perhaps.

In trees I have managed from bare roots, I have an alle of about 30 seedling apple trees I planted about 18 years ago. The spacing of about 20X20 is not adequate in that their vigor is so great that pruning is extremely time consuming to keep them fruitful and it is tricky, requiring me to pull down lots of secondary wood below horizontal to keep the trees fruitful in their space.

These trees really didn’t take much longer to come into productivity than would 111 and the soil is farm soil- deep clay loam that inspires a lot of vigor from all species of trees I’ve planted.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seedling apple trees- the more vigor the more beautiful the tree from about a quarter century on. And you are absolutely right about their assets.

Why not have your whole orchard on one tree? I manage single trees that reliably bare 100’s of pounds of fruit.

Alan or anyone else, do you have any experience with B118 rootstock ? It is highly touted by members of the QDMA & Habitat-talk boards as a large, cold hardy, early bearing rootstock. I have been planting apples grafted to Antonovka rootstock for a number of years, but as I’ve pasted 60 years of age am now trying some of the quicker bearing rootstock so I might see the “fruits” of my labor :grinning: . I planted trees grafted to B118 (for a wildlife orchard) and G202(for my home orchard) last year and am going to try some G969 rootstock this spring (M7-M106 sized trees). Hopefully in 4 or 5 years I’ll be able to report my experiences with these rootstocks.

greyphase…What has been your experience with Antonovka? Did you plant Antonovka seeds or did you purchase Antonovka clonal stock?
Have you not had any come into bearing yet? How long ago did you plant them, and what varieties were grafted onto them?

All this talk of seedling stock makes me wonder what the effects of having a tree on dwarf stock root-out above the graft after it has been allowed to fruit for a few years.

My family has a cabin in New England with a beautiful old Baldwin that was planted as a dwarf but the graft was quickly covered by soil washing down from nearby dirt road and before anyone realized it, we found we basically had a tree on its own roots instead of the dwarf rootstock below. That all happened in the first year it was in the ground, so well before it ever had any fruit. So we got a beautiful big tree, but of course had to wait many years for apples.

But if you planted a dwarf and let it fruit for a few years, then buried the graft union so it would root out above the graft, would the tree continue to fruit and just develop a better root system - and of course grow bigger? Or would it stop bearing for a while and go back into growth mode?

Has anyone tried that on purpose (or by accident)?

Just curious.

Grey, I have some in my nursery but because their sizing is similar to 111 I haven’t been keeping track of them.

Zen, once a tree is in fruiting mode it doesn’t usually stop fruiting when the tree sends out roots from the scion in my experience. Not all varieties even root out so easily when exposed to soil.


I have Ashmead Kernel, Tolman Sweet, Purdy, and Sherry on Antonovka rootstock. They are 15 years old and started bearing a couple of years ago. I also have some 5-8 year old seedlings that I bought from St. Lawrence Nursery & Fedco that I have started limb grafting over to Liberty, Enterprise, Goldrush and Galarina for disease resistant wildlife apples. I have left several ungrafted to see what fruit they might produce. Hopefully these trees will be producing 75-100 years from now for future generations to wonder who it was that planted these old magnificent trees :smile:.