First time apple grafter with some questions

Hey guys, first time grafter here in zone 3-4. Researched enough til i felt comfortable enough. Orderd myself a bundle of 25 bud 118 rootstock. Took all my scion cuttings at begining of april and stored in ziplock in the fridge.

Got my rootstock may 1 and grafted immediately , wrapped with parafilm and then a rubber band , my cuts were all whip and tounge and 2 cleft grafts, all cuts seemed to match very nicely. All in all i did23 and kept 2 for a stool bed. Planted them in 4 gal pots right away and stored in my garage til they started to push out.

From the 23 i did
4 crab apple
5 unknown local
3 harcourt
5 prairie magic

They all pushed out at different times, as early as 2 weeks for crabs and up to 6 weeks for the others from point of grafting. The 6 goodlands seemed the most promissing and all died within the same 2-3 days a few weeks ago which is strange , they are all together outside with filtered sun under a tree.
As for the others i am left with
3 out of 4 crabs
4 of 5 prairie magic
3 of 3 harcourt
4 of 5 unknown
14 of 23(so far )
Both clef grafts are still aliveand some of the nicest
The ones that died so far died at different times along the way.

Feels weird to lose all 6goodland ? Sxion were taken from a few different goodland trees.

A few pics of them just wilted all of a sudden too ? When would you suggest to snip them down to just one leader? Any tips/comments or suggestions would be appreciated


Very far from being an expert, but here are a few thoughts:

First, your rate of success was very similar to what we saw our first year grafting (two years ago now). So, I would feel pretty good about the 14 you got to take and chalk the rest up to learning experience. You’ll likely do better with practice though it seems like there can be a certain amount of randomness as you get the hang of things (at least that’s what I’ve observed).

About the Goodlands, I don’t think it’s super surprising that one particular variety would be problematic. Based on your description, I’m guessing (and this is just a guess) that the scion tried to make its move before the graft was calloused enough to support the growth. So, they looked good early on, but then they kind of burned themselves out. We saw this with some pear grafts our first year. (I don’t know that much about the Goodlands, but it looks like they’re an early apple so they may wake up from dormancy early, too. And some varieties just seem a bit harder to graft for whatever reason.)

About your last question: personally I generally don’t prune down to a single leader until after the first year. Maybe I could get a little more growth the first year by doing it earlier, but (1) I’m not in a super big hurry, (2) the trees frequently seem to sort it out for themselves, and (3) I feel like there’s some value in having a little redundancy early on. (In your region, having a bit of a hedge against winter kill on new growth might be one reason to consider point 3.)

Hope this is helpful, and best of luck.


Thank you! I think for the goodlands it was all watersprouts, used watersprouts for the unknown kind and all nice still, maybe goodlands don’t like it hah.

Do you ever remove the parafilm? When does it come off naturally/unnaturally ?

No problem! I don’t have a set routine with the parafilm, just whenever I get around to it. Around here it’s generally falling off by the end of the winter if not before. (I use electrical tape around the graft, and try to take that off either late in the fall or early the next spring, but I see you’re using rubber bands, so that’s probably a little different.)

Electrical tape has to be cut off to avoid girdling the graft, but with the rubber band-parafilm combination it’ll all fall off on its own. But the electrical tape sure has strength, and makes it easier to pull the graft tight.

Still, I’ve choked grafts with very, very tightly pulled grafting rubbers, so they do the job for sure. Anymore I wrap first with parafilm (it’s easier because it holds things together and sticks to itself) and then add the rubber at the end. Dab a bit of johnny wax over the tip if necessary, and any other sketchy places, label and leave.

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Thanks for info, when do you prune down to a single leader ? When do u put them in full sun ? Also not sure yet what i will do with them this winter, we get rough winters here in zone 3-4. I want to try my best so they all make it. My plan is sometime next spring or fall is to plant them in their final spot but not sure what to do til then. Unheated shed or Garage? Bury them all in the ground still in the pot ? But worried snow and wind will do damage

Since almost all of the grafting Ive done has been to established trees I’m not a good source to answer your question. There are several others who do a lot of it, and @Barkslip comes to mind. He will see this and most likely contribute, or suggest somebody else.

They should have a stake. Your rootstock and scion will be attached to it beginning the moment the scion begins to grow (next time around.) If more than one bud breaks and grows, wait until the most vigorous one of the two (or more) takes off and select it as the one you’re going to tie to the stake to make your first year tree from. The other bud or bud (let’s say you have three that grew) save one and pinch it back to an inch or two inches so you have a back-up should become necessary. You want all the vigor to go into one branch during year one. Three buds to a scion to me is excessive. I use one most of the time but sometimes two.

That stake will help during winter when you put the apples in-ground. You be the judge as to how well your rootstocks rooted in those but it appears to me that attempting to remove any tree from those pots (except the plastic ones) and with the heavy media that you used (looks like topsoil) vs. potting soil may end up falling apart and leaving you standing with what looks like a bare-root tree. Of course the plastic, couple containers you can be careful with while sliding the rootball out and seeing if it’s rooted-well, or not.

Zone 3-4 and a garage or shed will result in killed plants I believe. I toss that answer to @moose71.

Plants don’t feel windchill but actual temperature. The size of the plant does not have any bearing whatsoever of hardiness.

Get them in the sun or leave them as is. Most people would go for as much growth as possible which = sunlight.

Hope this helps.


Great advice, Dax. Always admire your attention to detail.

Would it be accurate to say that wind could have a desiccating effect that might contribute to winterkill?

Thanks for the advice! Even noticed what kind of soil i used hah. I will stake them right away next time. Maybe i should justbury them in the ground for this winter and hope for the best, staked. I Also started 30 seedlings from gala apples i got, they are doing well, for rootstock next year. Who knows!

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I haven’t researched Jim, but I do believe two things. A root system that was great from the beginning put a lot of reserves into the wood. That’s why we can cut wood, toss it in the refrigerator for months or a very long time with attention to detail… it’s the energy reserves in the wood that give it more strength.

The second thing I believe that Tony in Omaha mentions frequently is that a tree with more bark/age has a much better chance of surviving than a young plant or that years growth. The problem Tony runs in to is he is able to keep a zone 6a/6b tree alive on a very bad winter year, but, he loses the more tender growth the tree put out that year and possibly 2-3 and maybe even four year old wood if that wood hasn’t thickened up becoming a natural barrier for health and even extra cold hardiness/tolerance.

My advice is to pile something over the trees when they’re sunk in-ground. Most of the time I’ve used mulch but straw works too, however, mice and voles like straw very much.

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Good thoughts, Dax.

I feel like I remember one forum member from up in the far north saying that snow cover could be an important factor in how well apple trees came through the winter. Essentially, in colder years, the trees would sometimes winter kill down to the snow line. If I recall correctly, there was some discussion of how one might make use of that observation (pile snow higher? train trees or at any rate some branches lower?). Don’t remember who it was or where it came up, unfortunately.

Sounds like a plan, I will bury them and add mulch or sawdust, seems like a good way for sure, just a bit of work ! Hah but i have it all and definately worth it to assure their survival:) im hoping to do 50 next year, with better success rates, might just hope for the best with just snow as insulation with that many

When I read your post I thought of this piece by Thean Pheh in the DGB Newsletter about scion collecting timing. Don’t know where you are located but this is a possibility re the failed Goodlands. It did make me think about getting self cut scions earlier than I sometimes do. Hope the rest of your grafts grew well through the summer… Sue