Grafting Apple Trees: Will higher grafts starve lower tier grafts?

Will the top three grafts starve the bottom tier grafts? Or is this not a problem?
G 30 rootstock, Goldrush top tier, Keepsake bottom tier plus one nurse branch bottom.

I could fix it by sawing off the leader just above the four bottom limbs. I have high hopes for Keepsake on the bottom.



You’ll have to decide how you want the tree structured and pruned. The higher grafts aren’t any different than higher branches of the original variety, unless they are a more vigorous variety.

You can choose/train new limbs into their own volume. Unless you want some branches of the original variety, you’ll be pruning off the growth from 2ndary and adventitious buds from it too.


I’ve never top-worked where I had two different tiers of branches- one high and one low so have never seen how the tree responds… My question is: will this hat-rack tree funnel most of its resources to the top tier due to apical dominance? Pre-graft the lower tier had lots of leaves (now gone) to draw resources to that tier.

My bottom tier is the variety I really want to do well. Both top and bottom tier are moderate vigor varieties.

If you think the bottom grafts will grow just fine (assuming good technique) then all is well.

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I did a few of those a long time ago and the bottom ones starved. So I now always top work at the same height. If it is a “Y” trunk I will put all grafts at same height on both sides of the Y.

Note they should bud out, the problem is more the longer-term issue of getting vigor on the lower limbs.

I only did a few like this before I stopped doing it so I don’t have a whole lot of data: YMMV.


@scottfsmith Thanks Scott- just what I was worried about. I can cure that problem by sawing off the tree just above the bottom tier, case closed.

Man that’s a key principle that escaped me but it makes sense.

Or I could cut a big notch above each low branch annually. Hmmm.

Always something new!!

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Due to the large rootsystem. i think all grafts that heal will leaf out and grow a shoot.

However the top grafts will likely grow longer shoots, and outcompete the lower branches.

You can fix this with more prunning on the top branches. (not just pruning shorter in winter pruning. But pruning more often. IE summer pruning to)

You see this with espaliers. You want your bottom “tier” to be 2-3 years older than the next one. To keep it balanced.

If you prune the top of the tree often and heavy you should be able to reach the same effect. If it’s worth the extra effort is up to you :slight_smile:

If you can easily get the variety on top again. or already have it on another tree. Id prune the top off.


Thanks- Yes- I have lots of Goldrush on other trees so I’m going to prune off the leader just above the low tier. Learned something new but I should have known apical dominance would come into play. Will need to do this to three trees but glad y’all helped me figure it out now vs up the road.

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I’ll bet he’s already done so! Sounded like he’d made up his mind.

But there is another alternative that works at least sometimes: notch just above the grafts on the lower tier. That should help isolate them from the hormonal influence of the higher grafts, at least as I see it, and give them a better chance to compete.


i agree with you. Notching is a good way to avoid the apical dominance above from inhibiting the graft shoot growth.

Looking at the picture however. Since there are already strong and longer side branches. Im not sure where you could notch and notice a difference.

You would also have to notch quite often and repeatidly. Since we’r not just worried about the graft growing. But if it can compete with the top growth.


Thanks Mark- notching had crossed my mind to thwart the auxins or whoever they are. Am deliberating tonight, no action yet. As @oscar says I’d probably have to notch early and often (fireblight country here). Since the bottom varieties are the ones I have my heart set on growing, think I’ll sacrifice the top and simplify things with my saw. Or I could experiment as I’ve got three trees in the same boat.

I thought I’d made every apple mistake possible since 1974 but new ones keep cropping up. LOL. Thanks guys for strategy ideas- very much appreciated.


Before you decide to chop the top off and allow the lower level to grow, you may want to check Skilcult’s videos on a delayed open-center pruning style. You may be able to keep a few lower branch and a top branch for that style. (I have “re-designed” several of my pears and apples to be delayed open-center).

If you really want to chop off the top and keep all the lower branches, you are going to have an open-center apple tree (instead of a peach tree). That could be nice, too.


Thanks @mamuang. Yes I’ve done delayed open center training on a couple apples here. I’d eventually lose the top varieties going that route so might as well do the deed now. I should add I live in Fireblight Central so notching and frequent summer pruning of top would invite blight.

Scott posted a critical point I’d never heard before about topworking at roughly same level is key.

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What a great and timely topic Steve. I’ve begun top working a malpruned apple at the new place. I probably removed @ 50% of the growth and I am sweating it after reading not to remove more than 25% of canopy cover.

It has been painful to cut up a healthy if insipid tree. I watched most of the Stephen Hayes in the UK’s youtube videos and he removes the majority of canopy.


@Quill I was going to urge you to whitewash newly exposed trunk and scaffolds but I see you’re in PNW- is your sun strong enough to warrant this? If yes, please do- I learned this the very, very hard way.


I used to tell my apprentices that they had to expect to make mistakes, and that I thought they couldn’t make any mistakes I hadn’t already made! The hard part comes in fixing them.


Mark- I’d happily do the notching and summer pruning you mention to boost the low tier and keep the top branches in check if this wasn’t Blight Central here.

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On your open center trees do you whitewash every year or two or leave a few verticals to shade the trunk and scaffolds? Does bark ever get accustomed to sun and stay healthy? Maybe not.

Suppose I could leave a short stub of the central leader and bark graft a couple scions for shading trunk and scaffolds, then would have to manage that growth to limit it. What do you think of that, anyone.

As far as i understand it

The sun damage comes from a change in light intensity reaching the bark. Not necsesarely the total light intensity.

When framworking you cut away what normaly shades the bark. And thus that bark thats accustomed to shade. Suddenly gets burned by to much light.

If you where to slowly acclimatise the bark to more light. It can handle it.

An simple example would be an old espalier apple tree. on those you can usualy see the main scaffalds being hit by full sun. But still be fine.

I do not know how long it will take for older trunk to acclimatize.

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Yes, interesting how that works on espalier. Hmmm.

Sounds about like our skin. We Northerners have to be careful in the spring to gradually get back out in the sun. Seedlings grown inside are like that, too. It would make sense that trees could react similarly.

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