Grafts not properly attaching to tree

I recently top worked a large, old apple tree. When I cut the old tree’s top off, I took it down to a point that was about 4 feet above the ground. Rather than cut it back to the one main trunk, I cut it off at a point where it had just separated into 3 major limbs, each one being about 6-10 inches in diameter, thereby leaving 3 main “stumps” that I could bark graft scion to.
I attached about 4-5 scion to each stump and almost all of them took. I have been thrilled over the last 3 months because of the extremely healthy looking, fast growing success of my grafts. HOWEVER, I am starting to worry and there does seem to be a problem. The problem is that even though the grafts look healthy and have put on incredible growth (many of them are 4 feet long or more!) many of them just don’t seem to be attaching themselves permanently to the tree itself.

I’m not sure of the terminology, but a few (maybe 4 out of 18) of the scion have created a big “calloused” area which, to my untrained eye, appears to be how all the grafts SHOULD look. These few have a big “knot” of wood at the point where it is attached to the tree. This “calloused” area is large enough that the bark over it has split a bit because of the large size of the growth knot. When you wiggle these few scion that have the big knots they feel very sold and there is no movement at the point where it is attached to the tree. In short, it seems to me that these few are behaving properly, formed strong bonds, etc. But the others- which is the vast majority of my grafts- appear to not be progressing well at all.

TO be clear, my concern is about their attachment to the tree and the fact that there seems to be very little growth or “callousing” (don’t know the right word) to attach the scion to the tree. But the scion itself is extremely healthy and long and looks good in all other aspects. But when you wiggle them, its easy to see that they have little - if any- permanent attachment to the tree. In fact, I have had 2 come completely off during windy periods, and when I looked at the scion where it was in contact with the tree, there was almost nothing to show that it had grown into the tree. No “knot” or calloused area or anything else to show that it had actually grown onto the tree- neither on the side that touched the tree or the side that touched the bark (remember, these were bark grafts that were originally placed between tree and bark of tree). I know I can (and should) brace the scion to prevent breakage due to wind, but I feel strongly that there is a problem with the scion attaching to the tree.

It has been 3 months and 1 week since I did the grafts, and from what I’ve read it seems like that should be long enough for a fairly strong connection o have ben made. Yet most of mine seem to have made none. I originally used a piece of rope to put around the top of the “stumps” and hold the scions tight under the bark (where most people use tape) and that rope is still in place and seems to be the only thing holding the scions in place! I’d like to remove it as I think it could be part of the problem, but if I do I am almost certain that most of my grafts would either fall off or come loose in the first breeze that comes by.

SO what say you all? Perhaps I’m just rushing things and everything is ok??? This is my first graft so I have no past experience to compare to. The fact that the scions are growing so fast and look so healthy would seem to be a very good thing and may well indicate that there is no problem. But seeing those few that have bonded so well and created big “knots” of growth and feeling how solidly they are attached leaves me feeling something must be wrong with the others. BUT WHAT??? Please offer any ideas or insights or suggestions about what’s going on and/or what I should do to encourage growth. One thing I am considering is cutting the tips off the scion so they won’t continued to grow into these 4-5 ft long, thin sticks but instead might focus their growth elsewhere- like at the graft point! It also might encourage a more bushy tree it the future instead of a tree with a few really long, straight limbs going straight up (like a pear). But I don’t know. WHEW! That’s more detail than you needed, but I wanted to be thorough. Thanks in advance for any insights or recommendations.

BTW, here is a link to my original post of this project, which includes photos of what I did originally…in case that helps you understand what’s going on.

I describe callous the same way you do, so I think you’re OK there.

Typically a tree deals with a wound by compartmentalizing it, and the callous is the growth that does that. The smaller the wound the smaller the callous, so it follows that a neat job with precision cuts is going to have tidier callous growth. I have a few that are absolute warts- curious cancerous looking things.

I suspect, from the way your scions are growing, that they are bonding, albeit slowly, and I think they would benefit from some support and perhaps some trimming, especially on the loose ones. But I am concerned about the looseness- that doesn’t sound at all good and it may set you up for failure. Time will tell.

Looking at your linked post I was struck by the amount of wax used around the insertion point, and it occurred to me that wax may have gotten in there and slowed the bonding process. I have never done a graft to stock that big, so I am guessing here. I really prefer it when the scion and stock are close to the same size, but that wasn’t an option for you with what you had.

I think you are probably better off leaving the rope in place. I don’t see the advantage to removing it if it’s holding things together. Given time those scions, if they really are growing, and I think they must be, will bond and live.

Just my thoughts, and others may have better.

Good luck,

If the grafts are growing well they must have a good connection. Don’t worry about it!

I also had some concerns about my pear grafts. I am not sure it is the same situation as what Cityman has but it is a very large rootstock pear I top worked. When I put the grafts on it I put two scions on each stump. Some of these stumps were pretty big, up to five inches maybe. The grafts did well and the tree formed a ring of callus clear around the cut edge of the limb under the wrapping I put on the graft. As the grafts got bigger I slowly cut back the tape and sealing to give them room to grow. After I removed the tape the callus around the edge dried out and died. I have the grafts all braced good but some of them look like they are just slightly attached. Others have a large knot and seem to be fine. I think Olpea ( forgive me if I am incorrect) said that with a stump that size I should have used more scions per limb to help keep the bark alive and help it heal. He suggested letting the pear sucker on main trunk that I did not graft onto which I did. I think maybe I should have let a sucker or two grow on the stumps I grafted also, ( I believe that is also how I understood part of Olpea’s sugestions) , which I did not.

Here are a couple photos of what I described above.

The first one looks good , the second looks weak and pushing away from the stump

The wood has died back from where you made the cut. Did you seal the cut face? The live connection is half and inch or more further down from there.

With some mechanical bracing you may be able to keep those from breaking off. You’ll want to do that anyway for all of them.

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Yes I sealed the surface when I grafted but I sealed it ontop of the electric tape and when I took the tape off I did not re-seal it. I have them supported you just can’t see it in the photo. I guess I should have put something back on to seal it?

Ah that is much worse than I was imagining, never seen anything quite that bad. Its unclear how it happened but next time keep all the tape and sealant on most of the summer, there is no rush to take it off. Also make sure you are not getting any wax in the graft as @marknmt suggested above.

For these guys just brace really well and they should be OK. You may want to use multiple poles to get a really solid brace.

I am sure you have nailed my problem Scott. I have done a lot of bracing to help support. Of the sixteen grafts I put on that was the worst. My ability to patiently wait to see what was going on under my grafting tape/sealant was limited by my impulse to pick at the tape and peak inside.

Did you, perhaps, make the big cut to the host tree a significant time before making the grafts?

Perhaps the tape was not pulling the scion tight to the host at the top. There is certainly a gap there now. I’d expect the original wrap and whatever bracing to pull the scion up flush to the tree with some pressure at the contact area.

I cut the Branch and grafted the same day. The scion did not look like that at first, it has just gradually happened as the surface wood of the stump has died. My bracing mostly supports the upper growth and doesn’t tightly hold the scion at the graft point. I just tried to help support it from moving too much in the wind. Should I try to wrap it in tape again or seal the stump back?

At this point I probably wouldn’t, I’d just try to keep it from breaking which it sounds like you’ve done.

I think the other scions that are better attached will callous over that side sooner than that graft.

It might help to approach graft that scion to one opposite it on the stump.

I just made a new thread before I read the above responses on this one. That thread is the world’s best (and worst!) examples of the importance of bracing. It just one more thing I just did not know about until the last few days. I’m embarrassed to admit that, but its no secret that I have a lot to learn. In all the photos and videos I watched about grafting, none of them showed people bracing their scions but I learned a very, very painful lesson about how important it is! I lost my 4 biggest and best grafts all at once. @Derby42 , please learn from my mistake…make sure yours are well braced!

In spite of my catastrophic failure, I still feel proud of how well my grafts were doing BEFORE they broke. I guess that is a little like bragging about your driving skills right after a car wreck, but I really think I had some world class growth going.
Please look at the photo below. This is one of my grafts. It broke off right where it was inserted under the bark of the rootstock tree. So yes, all of that whole thing was an 8-inch long piece of scion wood just 15 weeks ago. I feel like that is world class growth, but I have no comparison. Isn’t this a lot of growth for just over 3 months???

Below photo is a piece of Red Rome scion that I bark grafted onto a large apple tree I top-worked 3 months and 1 week ago. It was 8 inches long originally. I was so proud of all the growth I got from it, but I think its size cost me in the long run.

I feel for you, its painful to see. That is some serious first season growth. The good news is you know how to graft and can do it even better next time.


Can you post a closeup of the part of the scion that went into the graft proper? It might be illuminating.