Grafting dormant scions to bud-swelling apple trees?

Good End-of-January 2024, All –

We live in a north-facing foothill area of Los Angeles which is officially listed as Ag Zone(s) 10-A/10-B – but we have Chill Hours that allow us do grow many Zone 8 & -9 plants.

We have two commercially-grafted Multivar Apple trees between 3- & 5 years old that I’ve let mature to have numerous 'pencile-diameter branch suitable for home-grafting typical-dia scions for specialty apple varieties like Cox’s Orange Pippin.

Bought scions from established on-line orchardists, and have kept them moist in a 'fridge since they arrived mid-December, as I waited for our apple trees to go fully dormant.

But today — pre-matching right-sized scions to various stem-stock branches, I was shocked to see that the “Anna” branches on both trees were exhibiting Bud-Swell…indicating a ‘false dormancy’ preceding a second-flowering (as Anna’s are known to do).

What kind of luck should I have going ahead and grafting refrig’d scions to ‘Awakening Root/Stem Stock’? I figure its worth a try – otherwise the scions will go to waste.

And which methods would you use to graft sections of scion in place of existing ‘branchlet’ tips ? (I BRAIN-FARTED listing “‘Cleft’/Wedge” methods – I’m doing those on a peach tree). For the apples, I’m thinking whip- / whip-&'tongue, & bud shields.

Your thoughts/experiences with such cases?

Neil C. in SoCal

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I think you will have excelent “luck”

Grafting dormant scion onto an active rootstock is the best case scenario for grafting.

Because the rootstock is active, the graft will heal faster. And because the scion is dormant it has more time before it needs to be healed. Great combination.

Only exception would be species that can “bleed” like fig and grape for example. If there you graft to the rootstock/plant that is just coming out of dormancy, they can bleed and flood the graft. For your apple that’s not a problem.

You could also graft half your scion. Or do a few chip bud grafts (see video linked) and store the left over scion in the fridge. If grafts don’t take you can than graft again in a month or so.


THANK YOU- & ‘FWOFF!’ for your encouraging post ! – and thank you for that link to the clear, close-up Chip Shield video.

I Doofed in my original msg naming "Cleft’ as the techniques I’d use – I’m using that on a peach tree.

I wait until my apple leaves are “the size of a squirrel’s ear” for grafting. (Think that phrase first came to me by way of Ed Fackler’s book on raising apples.) The key is actually what we cannot see: active growth amidst the cambium layer, but indicated by green growth.

Cleft, wh-&-t, dormant chip bud, whatever you deem worth trying on your branches is worth the effort. I have tried several styles of grafts after a bit of reading & without benefit of someone coaching me, to good effect.
I’ve also had failures, which taught me something. Without it being the initial goal, all the apples in my yard are now from grafts I did.

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For peaches I do this in the Northeast, but here it is best to graft apples so the buds leaf out at about the same time as the rest of the tree, so if you do it when buds on mother trees are starting to swell it works very well here. If you use parafilm or something to reduce evaporation in the scion wood I expect even in dry S. CA earlier grafting will get you a lot more growth the first year than grafting later. Apple trees tend to get their largest growth burst in spring so you don’t want your scions to miss it.

If you really want to learn something, you can graft earlier and later and compare results. That is how I’ve gradually figured out what timing works best for various species here. For apples, pears and Asian plums, early is significantly better than later for max growth the first year and can lead to a full season sooner harvest. I bet best growth in spring is there as well as summers are too hot for ideal apple growing conditions and they probably spend much of the day with stomates closed.

My first orchard experience was where I was raised in Topanga Canyon in S. CA, but it was almost 50 years ago when I left it and I didn’t know then what I know now. The only apple trees I ever managed there were the Beverly Hills variety and I was aware of none other that would thrive in that climate.


I frequently graft in late June with leftover dormant scion.