Bark or Cleft Graft?

I read all the grafting threads here but I still have a few questions. I would like to top work about 50 three or four year old dwarf apple trees. I have some experience with bench grafts, but none in this new area. Should I bark or cleft graft? Finding the time after the bark starts to slip may be a problem. Would that make the cleft graft the better choice and if so, when is the proper time of the year for that technique?

I prefer cleft or whip or whip and tongue over bark grafting. To be sure, I don’t do a whole lot of any of them, but of the four I like bark the least.

Alan uses Italian nippers that enable him to make a long slant cut on both the stock and scion, and then wraps it with 3M tape (discussed earlier here at length). This is so quick to do it’s scary. But if the pieces aren’t very close in size I go to cleft.

Some people here do this type of grafting in the summer, but this is the first year I’ve tried it and I don’t have sure results yet, although things look good so far. I’ve always done it in the spring. I also resort to chip budding sometimes -also very quick and with good success rates. Chipping can be done spring or fall.

I put a bark graft and a cleft graft both on the same young Apple tree this spring. The cleft has 3/4 of the stump covered. The bark graft has a a little less than half of its stump covered. It seems to grow out to the side more.

Most people bark graft once the understock reaches “x” diameter. Larger Diameter stock is easier to bark graft. You dont leave a large gaping split when bark gafting. Personally anything over 3" diameter I wouldnt cleft graft.

yeah…what Turkey said…what is the diameter?

Anything under 3" I personally would cleft graft without even a second thought, but I think I read most like them to be no more than 2".

The cleft has the positive attribute of being self supporting and quick healing.

The tree diameter knee high is 1.5 - 2 inches. Also, I don’t have a lateral on most of these trees below this point, so I may try the grafts on a portion of the trees with low laterals and bud notch the trees without the laterals next spring so that I can get some nurse branches. Are nurse branches strongly recommended?

When is the ideal time for the cleft graft?

In the Spring when the understock leaf out. That is when the saps are flowing. Probably early April.


They are for sure recommended, but I’m starting to question just how important they really are. If the graft failed then they’d be very important, but I dunno. Apple cleft grafts almost never fail with good wood and even if one did, it would still push out growth from beneath. They’re more important I think on maybe stone fruit like plums because of the outrageous suckering that occurs, but I suppose on some root stocks that could be a problem with apple too. It never has been for me though.
My experience with grafting to low laterals is that the growth isn’t anything like up higher and over the top, some just kinda sit there and grow at a snails pace. If this is on your B9, I’d think it would be even worse.

I’m no expert or anything, but I tell you…I’d be all in with going straight up over the top and cleft grafting all of them. I’d bet that in the end you’d be glad you did.

just my opinion

I use bark grafts aka rind when my scion wood is very small in diameter. Clefts I use when my scions are slightly larger. Neither of those methods are bad ways to go.


Sorry, I did not describe the situation very well.

I don’t plan to graft to the low laterals, I thought I needed them as a nurse branch.

If I don’t need the nurse branches then there is no reason to try to create the low laterals with the bud notching and delay the re-work of some of the trees another year

What is your preferred material to cover the grafts?

I only cover cleft grafts, not bark grafts, and I use parafilm, but I spray all grafts with pruning sealer. If I’m not top grafting the whole tree, I leave the top as the nurse branch and usually leave it on the tree, unless I absolutely hate that variety. I then graft all of the laterals. If your laterals are 1-2 inches, I’d cleft graft the 1 inch and bark graft the 2 inch laterals. That’s just my personal preference. If this is your first time, I’d practice both types of grafts, and find out which type you feel better doing. The grafting knife that I use has a bark lifting blade that makes lifting the bark extremely easy, no matter how thin it is.

Blueberry, I just spent a good deal of time looking for a video from
but I couldn’t find it. Too many to look through and I cannot remember which one it was in.
In the video he talked a bit about the importance of the nurse limb. I got to thinking your situation is different than just some schmuck like me doing it in his or her backyard. You have a bunch to do and I don’t want my opinions to influence your’s in a way that leads to negative consequences.
I’d suggest watching all his videos, they are very interesting and crazy as it sounds, spiritually uplifting (not from a religious standpoint).

I wrap everything in silicon insulating tape or “33”, sometimes both. The scions I half lap with parafilm. With 50 2" clefts to do the silicon tape is out of the question (too expensive). I think I’m becoming less of a fan of sealants.

Dave Wilson has some excellent videos on bark grafting,


Thanks for the suggestions. I found many of the video and watched them - very helpful. The apple trees he topworked are much larger than my trees, so I’m not sure how that factors in. Actually, I have a lot more in common with a serious back yard grower like yourself as opposed to a large commercial orchard. I noticed 63impalla used a black tar like substance to cover the trees after he taped them. I have a small concern about the potential toxicity of a product like that. What do you think?


The video was very helpful and I really liked the fact that followed up in a few months so you could see how the tree was doing. I was amazed at how quickly the new scions grew.

Stephen Hayes is in my opinion an excellent source for grafting method demonstrations on YouTube. He offers insight into many methods of grafting and orchard manipulation.

Nectarines really take off. I grafted a Red Gold onto a peach tree this year.
I only had two grafts take, but those two grafts are as big as a full tree.

You could also do side grafts. I usually put 2 on opposites pointing in opposite directions. That 1963Impala guy on youtube has a good video on side grafting.

I think this guy and his crew would have come across any issues with it if there were any. Many of his jobs are like 20,000 trees X multiple grafts per tree. AND, he’s been doing it for 30 years professionally.

I would have maybe thought it could be an issue, but it doesn’t seem so.