Grafting to resprouts from dead trees - potential for rot?

This spring I did my first ever grafts – all of which were apples, onto regrowth from trees that had been killed by wildfire five years ago. I did ten grafts, onto four trees, and all have been very successful – I know apple is the easiest thing to graft, but it’s certainly given me confidence to try some more ambitious things in the future.

But I have a nagging thought in my head that I wanted some opinions on. Since all of these grafts are onto dead trees, the stumps of which are of course rotting and have various kinds of fungi in them, my question is: will the “new” trees ultimately be infected? Is it inevitable? Or just possible? Is there a way to reduce the chance?

Here are a few pics:

“Family Apple” (4 varieties) at time of grafting (29th January):

… and now (after some pruning):

In this picture from June you can see the old stump with various fungi growing on it:

Here’s another one where I left the stump tall to use as a support for the grafts. Note the bracket fungi.
(photo from June, the main stem is now ~2m tall)


My first thought is the tree isn’t dead if it’s sending up shoots. But that aside trees are good at walling off rot. So while the stump is dead the root system isn’t and will probably be able to wall off the rot and support a new tree. Would I rather have a new rootstock, yes. But you’ll probably have at least some success from your grafted trees.

Nice looking country in your area. Great cold air drainage.


I supsect replanting an old orchard site
would have similar risks as grafting to root sprouts.
Go for it.


The dead tree is rotting because it is dead, and therefore incapable of walling off fungus, which living trees are in a constant process of doing. The only possible danger I can imagine is if the fungus on that wood was what killed the tree, which is unlikely.

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Alan makes a good point that probably addresses what the OP is concerned about. The fungus on the dead stump isn’t going to attack the new growth. The battle for the trees life is going on underground. The root “stump” is attempting to wall off the fungus underground.

The tree isn’t dead. The stump is dead. A dead tree doesn’t send up shoots. Trees have dead branches all the time. That doesn’t mean the tree is dead. If the tree has live roots and is sending up sprouts, it’s alive.

What the roots need to remain alive is a new top with abundant leaves. The leaves will supply carbohydrates to the roots so that the roots can wall off the fungus. The fungus is attacking the tree below ground. That would be my concern. Can the roots fight off any infection. Not will the fungus attack the new shoot and scion.

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Some good information in the replies.

The thing I disagree with is, I’d rather have a sucker from an established root system, than a new rootstock. It’s a big head start.


This is the answer I wanted to hear… Thanks! :smile:
And thanks to all of you for saying the same, which is reassuring!

I suppose that’s what I was worrying about, really. The fungus spreading through the roots (and perhaps later coming up into the new shoot one day). But hopefully it won’t…

Very true, and I thought that to myself as I typed my question… then I decided it was the clearest way to say it. But of course as you say, the root system never died, hence the new sprouts (and the vigorous growth of my grafted scions).

Nope, the trees were burnt to the ground by a wildfire in 2017. (There, I managed to not say they were killed :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:)


It’s certainly been a big head start for these trees, which after 7 months are well bigger than my two-year-old nursery-bought trees. Potential rot was the only thing that had worried me, so I’m relieved to see it’s not something folks here are worried about.

Another question I had was about pruning – I guess I need to cut these trees down to the level where I want the main crown to be, right? Probably in spring?

For this tree (below), where each limb is a different variety, I wondered if I should cut the big vigorous one back to encourage more growth in the others. Or maybe it’s too soon. What do you guys think?

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I would use a post to make the vigorous one the central leader, especially if your have squirrels and coons in dem dar hills. Beeeahutiful hills they are. Wait, that’s Portugal! I have no idea what your vermin are.

I still prefer a tree with a bit of trunk, even if its trained to open center. But you probably have grafted different varieties on the different shoots, so yeah, you can slow down the dominant one but it is best to do it earlier in the growing season. maybe wait until dormant pruning and then stay on it in spring and early summer with pinch pruning.


Yes it’s a beautiful area! As for vermin, I’ve seen a squirrel once nearby… but not on our land. Our main problem here is wild boar, which could easily destroy a small tree to take the fruit (but we haven’t had any problems yet…) and we do also have deer. Both will ultimately be solved by fencing… The main threat to fruit is birds, but not an issue for apples.

I tent to agree about wanting some trunk, but yes, the tree in that photo is a “family apple” with 4 varieties. That’s why I angled the shoots out like that. (The shoot I grafted onto was more of a bush than a tree, otherwise I could have grafted higher.) So ultimately I’d like them to grow into four roughly-equal limbs. The technique you suggest sounds sensible.

For the other trees, I will indeed keep a single trunk and prune the rest back.

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It reminds me of where I was raised in Topanga Canyon, between Malibu and Santa Monice in S. California, but our house was near the base of the canyon and sun was always a challenge, especially because the property had a lot of tall eucalyptus trees. Yours looks like an ideal location for an orchard- I’m glad your trees are small- otherwise I’d be green with envy. In just a few more years I’m sure your orchard will be enviable.

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I hope it will! The only real problem we face here is lack of water – the summers are very hot and dry. So far it hasn’t been an issue, we’ve always had enough water to irrigate. But I can see it becoming a problem in the future…
Being on a steep hillside we get a lot of exercise. Sometimes I see people’s flat orchards and I’m envious. But the scenery here is definitely worth it.

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You have no idea how much those clear days leading up to ripening elevate the brix of your fruit if you’ve never grown fruit in a humid region. And then there are all the pests that come with humidity.

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Very true – though we do have a lot of foggy days here, particularly in spring and autumn, so we get our share of mildew and rust…