Cleft grafting issues

hello all, I’m new to the forum and hoping that someone can shed light on my lack of consistent grafting success. I live in Massachusetts and here’s my problem. I’m only about 30% successful in cleft grafting apples and pears. Of course apples to apples and pears to pears.
In using the cleft graft I slice into a one to two inch freshly cut branch right in the middle of the stub. I then whittle down the scion and carefully insert it to line up the two cambium layers. I have even tried to offset or angle the scion just slightly to try to ensure a cambium to cambium connection. I then apply grafting wax to the open wood and wrap with either parafilm or plastic wrap. I have never tried wrapping the scion with the parafilm but maybe the scion is drying out? I am at a loss why I am so inconsistent with my grafts. As an aging baby boomer my tired eyes still sometimes cooperate and I do try to line the cambium layers up so i’m stumped. Any suggestions or recommendations would be very much appreciated.

Hi roberto,

When are you trying to do the grafting? Also, how sure are you that the cambiums are lining up? Here is a good picture from applenut showing it:


I can’t say what you’re doing wrong from here but clefts (although one dislike them and prefer whip-and-tongue or modified bark grafts) should be pretty straightforward.

Here’s what I do:

Split the rootstock or acceptor branch. I tend to split at least 2x as deep as the scion’s bevel will go.

Cut the bevel, I try to cut the scionwood in a fairly long narrow bevel so it makes better contact than a “stubby” one would. Make sure the cuts are smooth; I am not one of the folks who believe whittling is the end of the world, but if the cuts are really crappy, they will not match up well.

Slide the scion into the rootstock. Make sure cambium layers match up, if uncertain angle the scion slightly so it “has to make contact somewhere in there.” Slide down the full cut or as near as possible, so entire bevel is tucked into your rootstock cleft.

Wrap graft with parafilm. Wrap it again. Parafilm holds the graft tight, the biggest reason an otherwise sound cleft fails is if it keeps moving from wind, birds, etc…wrap it. The parafilm will rot in the sun anyway within a few months. Also, the parafilm seals in the graft area to prevent drying. I tend to do at least about 6 or 8 full wraps around the graft.

Now take another piece of parafilm and wrap the scion, once or twice-thick AT MOST. Too thick can hamper buds, but a single layer they will pop right through.


if the cleft fails usually it is either moving a lot, or you took fully dormant rootstock and grafted and the scion died off before the 2 pieces were able to callus, in my experience, but that’s not universal, just the most common stuff I’ve seen…

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wow, what a great picture. Well you are correct, I do not know if I am properly lining up the cambium layers. I’ll pull out the old 10x magnifier this next round. I never read about the scion bumping out as shown on that photo.
I completed my grafts before bud break on my trees but not too early to expose the scions to our winter winds and weather. What is the optimum grafting time?
thanks for your reply, i’m eager to be more successful this year.

thank you markalbob, great explanation of the grafting technique. I already picked up a few pointers, I appreciate that. I’ll aim to create a nice long, smooth bevel on the scion and follow your parafilm advice. I have to wonder if my timing is off. Is it possible that i’m grafting too early onto dormant trees? The research continues, thanks.

you can graft, theoretically, almost anytime.

in reality, your primary concern is tissue drying out/dying before it can heal.

that means there are some things that are “best practice”, like ideally using dormant scions and rootstock that is just beginning to swell/open buds–you want the rootstock and its nutrient reserves to be pushing healing before the scion leafs out and starts losing its own energy and water reserves.

You can bench graft anytime, but I would stick the rootstocks in post of soil, sawdust, etc. at least a couple weeks before I grafted, and if in-ground I would wait for the leaves to open somewhat (like mouse-ear size); if you cleft onto a leafed-out rootstock you’re still far better off than one that is nowhere near awake.

all this is my experience, btw…others may also chime in.

I do mostly cleft grafts too, easier for my eyes! Split them 2x, start them when you see green buds on the stock, use dormant scion wood, I wrap with a rubber band first for strength then parafilm, and cover mine with a window screen balloon. I also will zip tie a sturdy stick to the stock wood and scion for support from wind breakage. I lost all my first year grafts to the wind.
Introduce yourself to Scott’s forum so we can all say hi and welcome aboard.

btw where you at Roberto? you may be close to a member who can show you in real-time or work with you a bit…

Hello Roberto, and welcome to the group.

I think you’ve gotten great suggestions. Just to belabor the point above a bit I’ll outline my approach.

It matters whether you are using wood that grew the previous season or older wood. It can be hard to find suitable scions from last year’s wood sometimes, but it’s definitely preferable to second-year wood. Cut it when it is dormant, remembering that you have to keep it from drying out until it is successfully grafted; you might not want to cut it any sooner than you have to. But don’t wait until buds start to swell, as wood taken too late gets progressively harder to graft well. (I take my freshly cut scions into the house and wrap the long sticks thoroughly with parafilm, pulling it as tight to the wood as I can without pulling it to pieces.) Wrap in a barely damp paper towel, place in a clean plastic bread bag and seal it up tight. Keep refrigerated away from vegetables. When I go to use the scions I’ll cut them with nippers with the parafilm on them; the parafilm even stays on while shaping the scion- just pretend it’s not there when you make your cuts. This way you don’t have to wrap the whole scion after grafting it, so you don’t risk wiggling it out of place as much.And, it helps keep the scion from drying out in storage.

When grafting a nice cut helps, but you can make fairly clumsy cuts work. I’m not good at shaping scions but I mostly get away with it because I use grafting rubbers or even ordinary large rubber bands to pull the pieces into firm contact. After I’m reasonably confident at that point I wrap it with parafilm once, overlapping as I go so that the entire graft is covered with two layers of parafilm. _I would not put wax on it before wrapping it with parafilm because I wouldn’t want wax to get into the graft._I think that if you’ve done the parafilm well you do not need wax, but sometimes I use Johnny wax for reassurance.

When I’m topworking to my well-established apple and pear I like to place scions pretty high up on the tree so that they don’t have as much competition for light when they develop, and because I reason that the tree inhibits lower growth more. I also often find it useful to cut a nock immediately above the fresh graft, to interfere with the tree’s transport of auxin, which inhibits new growth. That little trick can even help bring out grafts that healed over but never developed.

I empathize with babyboomerism. I suffer from it myself. But we find ways, ay? Ay!



Where are you in MA. I am in Worcester County.

Your technique seems fine. I would not use grafting seal on the open cut esp. If it is liquid. I don’t want to risk having the liquid seep into the opening of the cleft and interfering with graft callousing.

I wonder when did you collect your scionwood? too early or too late could lessen your chance of success. Did you collect older wood, newer wood?

Your graft sooner than I do. I graft apples and pears when leaves start to leaf out.

Where to graft on the existing trees also plays a role in it.

Have you seen grafting videos by Applenut of Kuffle Creek nursery or by an Enflishman, Stephen Hayes. Seeing how it is done is easier than reading about it, at least to me.

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Thanks, I’m in eastern Hampshire county, gladly out of the Worcester hills snow belt. Last year I purchased scionwood from a gent on ebay. He had two dozen apple varieties and lesser amounts of pear and plum. I contacted him this past fall to ask for advice and he pretty much reinforced what i’m hearing here including directing me to the videos of Stephen Hayes. As an uninformed consumer I assume I purchased viable scions but they also did sit in the fridge for a few months, wrapped in a slightly moist paper towel and in a sealed plastic bag. Thanks I appreciate your comments and advice.

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Mark, thanks for taking the time to share so much information. As I’ve been telling everyone here, i’m learning fast about some of the more intricate tricks of the trade that maybe I’ve been overlooking. I think a big take away for me is the issue of the scionwood drying out both in the fridge and once grafted but I will definitely be more astute on that issue. I also never gave consideration to scion placement onto my trees. I typically go for a place at an easy working height where I can prune back competing branches but maybe I need to set a chair up in my micro orchard to visualize placement. Of course, a nap might occur but I can suffer that consequence. Thanks again, I have taken your advice to heart.

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Roberto ,
I think there is a new member, Jamie whose handle name is @JinMA lives in Hampshire County near you.

After you study grafting video of Steven Hayes and Applenut of Kuffle Creek, you will definitely feel like you can do it.

If you want, PM me, I will send you scionwood of a few apples I have.

After joining this group I learned 4 things that increased my grafting and budding success to a high level
1- start grafting when the leaves are the size of a mouses ear. All my earlier grafts died and I attribute it to the cold nights we still can get up here at that time of the year.
2- wrap the scions as marknmt suggests, before you go out and graft this greatly increases success.
3-wrap the graft union tightly with whatever works, electrical tape, rubber bands, or other tapes. I did this with bud grafting this summer, and for the first time Ever, I managed to get some takes.
4- ( I can’t remember who on this forum suggested it), but the advice to “hold your tongue just at the right angle” seems to work.:relaxed:


I’m glad to see the points about the leaves and the wraps, and especially the part about the tongue.


Is this like leaning into the Nintendo controller to get your car/plane/character to get out of the way of the oncoming bad guy just a little faster? :wink:

But joking aside, folks here give good advice, so welcome! If you have rootstocks or are top-working bigger diameter grafts and think you are having trouble seeing cambium matches, you could also try “rind” (aka bark) grafting. You can increase your chances by exposing cambium on the scion on both sides of where it meets the rootstock or tree. Or that is at least how I rationalize it.

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I think this thread on top working pears I did last spring will help Top working Pears weather permitting

When you topwork high in a tree, is the resulting graft and branch sturdy? I had a horticulture friend, who has a small orchard (but does not graft) tell me that my scion branches would snap off with the weight of fruit if I placed them higher in the tree. Ever since I try to keep all my grafts lower down and I am quickly running out of space. I think the reasoning was that the higher branches don’t get a large enough diameter.

I’m not aware of that being a problem, but with just a couple of trees I can thin pretty thoroughly. I think grafts usually heal well enough to be as strong as natural branches, or at least nearly so. “Frameworking” has been done for a long time.

I do make a point of grafting close to a branch’s origin- If my graft is just a few inches from where the branch is attached I’m happy. In practice it’s usually a little further out because I figure I might mess up the first attempt and have to cut further back!

That said, I think I’d like to try another approach to building a frankentree. Say you buy a whip of something you like, on a good rootstock. At about the four foot height cut the whip and graft a new variety. Train three branches of the original variety as usual, but graft one or two of them over to other varieties. When the second tier develops repeat the process, adding another variety to the top at about the six foot level. Graft over one or two of the young scaffolds to other varieties. Repeat for a third tier, stopping the tree at about eight feet. That would you give you maybe nine varieties on one tree, with the opportunity to stick on an occasional new find here and there.

I hope that helps.


Your frankentree idea sounds pretty good. I have a few young trees that are about 3 feet high with lovely well spaced branches. They are less than ideal apple varieties, working the branches over now while young is a great idea. I find the offerings locally of the multi grafted trees, less than ideal. Most have been bud grafted and without a proper scaffold built first, as you suggest, these trees have been growing skittywompus ( my aunt’s term for unsightly lopsided trees).

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