First time grafters: what's working, what isn't?

I thought maybe some of us newbies could use a thread where we can report our early experiences with grafting and share tips, etc. When I discover a way of doing something that works better than another way, I’m a little shy to post it as a general topic since there are many people with tons more experience on the larger forum. I’ve also made some embarrassing mistakes that I can warn other first-timers about. Further, I think maybe it’s hard to get the experts to say exactly what works because they know that there are so many variables at work. In fact, I took copious notes on all of my (almost 100) grafts, so that I could then sort out what worked, and what didn’t, and in some cases, it still seems to be magic–or random. Two very similar grafts, one takes and one doesn’t. But in the interests of building a body of knowledge, I hope people will chime in! And of course, it would be great if some of the more experienced folks checked in on us occasionally :smiley: to keep us on the right track!

Here are a few things I’ve discovered, please add more!

I dutifully put paper bags over my apple, pear, and persimmon grafts–nice little white paper bags left over from a party–to keep intense heat off the grafts. But I discovered that as the grafts leaf out, the paper bags should be removed, because anywhere the leaves grew out to the point where they were touching the bags, they seemed to burn and shrivel up! Nothing too lethal, and I caught it in time, but it seems to be important to remove the bags once the leaves get going.

I started by using parafilm to seal the scion and then stretchy green plastic garden tie stuff to tie the graft firmly. I don’t think the garden tie stuff was strong enough or supported a large enough area of the graft so I switched to electrical tape after five grafts. And when we had very high winds this week, I lost one of the ones on which I used the green tie, so I guess it isn’t supportive enough overall.

We don’t have hot enough weather here for peach grafts to callus, so I bought some reflective insulating material and put it under my peach tree, and about 90% of my grafts have taken–and the ones that had already pushed out a little really took off when they got more heat. I can’t be sure the heat is what did it, but it sure didn’t hurt!

I thought that the bark grafts on thick trunks that I’d cut down low would take the fastest because all of the energy that had formerly gone into a large section of tree would be going into those grafts. Seems not to be true–the whip grafts seem to have taken much faster.

I didn’t think much about which direction the buds on my scions were pointing, and I wish I had. On some branches, I did two bark grafts on a 1" diameter branch, and on some, the buds were pointing inwards, or towards the other scion. They’ve grown out and crashed right into the other, and it’s a waste of growth. I’ve had to cut some of that inward growth out, leaving only the outward facing buds.

I’m sure I’ll think of more, especially as my grafts continue to develop, hope to hear from others.


I top worked an old rome to baldwin last year. Watched Stephen Hayes vids so many times that I used all our data allowance in the first 2-3 days of a months’ plan. Grafts took but the family wasn’t impressed. This year I got 15 rootstock from Cummins and a bunch of scion wood and started whittling. Most of my grafts this year are going. Tried w+t, hard to get the tongue cut right, tried saddle grafts, very size dependent, ended up with mostly cleft grafts because of the size difference between scions and stock. A couple of things that worked well for me, newspaper rubberbands cut in half for the first wrap, if I pull too tight they break and for a sealing wax, toilet gasket wax. The wax is quite weather resistant here in Ia. and it seals real well. Over wrapped everything with grafting buddy tape from Not the best stuff but I’m too cheap to pitch it and it was easy to knot. Some varieties seem to be slower to take and some rootstock seems to be slower also. So much to learn yet, glad to have all the experience that we have for backup. Great thread idea, Thnx

Oh yeah, the Opinal #6 is a fine grafting and thumb knife. Ouch

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You’re welcome, Chikn, and thanks for posting. Yeah, I may try the toilet gasket wax. I used a mixture of soy and paraffin at first on my apple grafts, and it would only melt at very high heat, and even though I let it cool a bit, the heat may have been detrimental to the scions-- I think I killed a couple of buds with the wax, though all of them grew out on at least one bud. And I WAY over-covered them with wax (some I dipped in wax, I don’t recommend it!) and later had to scrape it off the scions because I didn’t think the buds could push through so much of it. I realized that I didn’t need to use both it AND the parafilm to cover the scions for moisture retention.

Then I got some pruning sealer, but I didn’t want to deal with the asphalt stuff so I got a latex one. It’s okay, and I’ll use it all up, but I won’t get it again. When it dries, it shrinks a LOT, so I had to apply several coats. And I think it may actually eat through the parafilm, or at least make it more brittle. I was also worried it would be bad for the plant tissues, and when I put it on the scion and in the cleft of the graft, it tended to get all over, so I tried an experiment: on one scion with too many buds, I painted the bottom buds thickly with the tree seal and then wrapped in parafilm to see what it would do to them, then grafted the scions. The buds eventually pushed right through it and were fine, even some flowers. So no worries on that score. Anyway, I’ll be moving to gasket wax or asphalt next year!

I found it can as simple or as complicated as you want. Don’t overthink it!

My experience with an Opinel #6 is that it’s a fantastically simple knife with a price thats dirt cheap. It can be sharpened easily to scalpel sharpness. But it’s not the perfect “grafting” knife… It mows right through scions with ease but since both sides of the blade is ground it does not make laser straight cuts. It makes concave cuts on the scion. As much as I love that little #6 I am going to purchase the Victorinox grafting knife because it has a single bevel.

The biggest difference I’ve seen from when first starting grafting,is making the diagonal cut longer,when using the whip and tongue.I can accomplish this fairly easily,using a carpet/utility type anvil cutter.
Also,using the same tool and cutting in half lengthways,the 3M 2155 tape,that Olpea suggested doing,has made the job easier to bind the union together. Brady

Speed, I sharpened mine on one side and it is an excellent, straight cutting, grafting knife that is scalpel sharp. Enjoy the Victorinox, they’re excellent also. LOVE my Victorinox chef’s knife.

Lizzy, One of the neat things about the t-wax is just a thin layer seals nicely and stays flexible. I use an old butter knife. Cover the buddy tape and all the gaps and anything I’ve cut too. Even doing 30 grafts this year,I’ll have enough for 20 yrs.

Brady, How do you judge where to make the tongue and how to match, experience or a neat little trick? W+T have nice support and fit well, but I use half a scion pencil just trying to match the tongue.

I usually start about halfway down the diagonal cut or just a little bit closer to the tip and stop when the knife’s blade width is about 3/4 of the way in. Brady

So the cut isn’t straight but angled?

I try to make it straight,with the flat side of the knife facing in.
By pushing at an angle inwards,when first starting the cut and then turning the blade after the cut is started,helps prevent too shallow of a cut.I gently rock the wood and or the blade as pressure is being applied.
It can also depend on the sharpness of the knife and hardness or softness of the wood. Brady

Lizzy, if you are getting peach grafts to work, you’re a pro already! They are in the advanced category.

I wouldn’t do that to cool grafts, the bags can create a greenhouse effect trapping heat. If you want to cool grafts wrap in aluminum foil shiny side out until they bud out. Also, when bags are removed the humidity level can greatly decrease which can shock any existing growth.

I have about 30 bench grafts in the ground and they appear to be mostly taking. They spent 2 weeks at about 50 degrees in an unheated crawlspace after grafting to let them start to callous and then they’ve been in the ground for about 2 weeks. The regular grafts began popping about 7-10 days after planting and the interstems seem to be starting to open buds now. Seems like a pretty good rate of success, even with the interstems, but I won’t count my trees until they survive and hopefully thrive for a few months.

One issue I’m not sure how to handle is some scions seemed to have a lot of flower buds. I’ve mostly grafted crabs (edible, plus a few ornamental) and the ones I see obvious flower buds in are Centennial, Liset, Dolgo and maybe Wickson, although the Wickson grafts aren’t open enough for me to tell for sure. I’m wondering what to do. Obviously I can’t let them set fruit and they would probably just drop if they did, but I don’t see an easy way to cut the flower buds yet and I don’t want them wasting energy on buds instead of leaves. Should I clip the buds out as soon as I can get a tiny clipper on their stems or let them flower and pinch them out afterwards. Here’s a picture of one of the Dolgo grafts. Sorry about the hand in the picture, but otherwise my phone would focus on the dirt instead.

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@zendog - I’m having the same problem with my apple grafts, they all want to flower, and even a couple of my peach and nectarine grafts are mostly flower, hardly any leaf. I’d like to hear what others are doing, but with mine, if there are a few flowers but plenty of leaves, I cut the flowers off. With the ones that are mostly flowers, I’m letting them bloom, and waiting for some leaves to show up before I cut the flowers off, on the (possibly faulty) logic that the flowers will keep the sap flowing until the leaves come out. Some of the apple flowers that I left on, waiting for leaves, were setting fruit by the time I cut them off! Nice photo btw.

@scottfsmith - thanks for the positives! I’m blown away and feeling very lucky about the percentage of grafts that have taken. I put about fifty grafts on my peach, top worked the whole thing, thinking that only one in ten might take. Now that about 9 out of 10 have taken, I’m faced with deciding which ones to get RID of, which is painful! But still so much better than graft failures. I definitely owe it to the folks on this forum because I was able to ask questions and study up both before AND during the process! Thanks so much for the info on the bags. I will switch methods next year. All the bags are off already, and not much harm done, thankfully, probably because it doesn’t get all that hot here!

@Bradybb and @Chikn I also struggled with W&T. Most of mine were so messy. Judging from what you guys are saying, I was probably cutting the tongue too deep, and jamming the scion too far down. I’ve been using just a box knife (although I used a friend’s victorinox bark knife just for the bark cutting and peeling), and I think I really need to switch next year to a knife that’s not beveled on both sides, because my cuts were just NEVER flat and smooth.

Weirdly, though, my simple V/cleft grafts on skinny whips seemed to take just as well as the W&Ts, with less lumpiness–and so much easier to do.

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Just came in from looking at grafts. Most are taking!! I did have one that I have a question on. On Calville Blanc all I had was a short piece with the tip bud.It has swollen but nothing more so I put a qt. ziplock on it. The other scions with ziplocks have done better than the ones without. Will the cb graft go with just a tip bud? I think some one answered this not to long ago but I can’t find the post.

Good question. Anyone? I wonder if I should put a plastic baggie on some of my grafts that are also swollen but not leafing out…I guess it heats them up? Anyway, congrats on the grafts taking! Don’t know about you, but I get SO elated about mine. I just like to stand there and stare at them :smiley:


I also do the stare thing. The neighbors must think something is wrong with me. Bill


Tip bud grafts are always much slower to bud out. There is more mass of bud so it takes more tree juice to push it out.

Putting a baggie could speed things up by increasing sap flow. But I would take any baggie off by at about 1/2" leaves or there is a risk of shocking the leaves by the sudden decrease in humidity.

Baggies here would catch lots of wind. I did 60 bench grafts on tart cherries. 90% survived so far but I don’t have them in the ground outside yet. I used a grafting tool. Wrapped with parafilm then electrical tape. Then I covered the whole scion with melted wax. I planted them in bulk in 2 large pots. Left them inside for about a month and just moved them into the greenhouse.


Jagchaser, do you mind if I ask what you will do with 60 tart cherry trees?