Growing apple rootstocks, then grafting?

I am in Zone 3 or 4, short-season Montana, and growing multiple apple tree varieties from grafted rootstock. I have 20 varieties on B-118, and 10 on Antonovka. So far, in the first growing season, the B-118 has performed best, but perhaps it is because the Antonovka rootstocks began with smaller root systems(?), or perhaps because I sprayed them too heavily with pesticide trying to keep the grasshoppers away? The spray didn’t seem to affect the B-118 nearly as badly though.

I am sure the Antonovka rootstocks had smaller root systems, but I have been reading recently they are mostly all grown from seed, and not cloned in rooting beds? Maybe these I purchased were cloned, and that is why they had inferior root systems resulting in poor performance?

Anyway, I am wondering if, next year, when starting another batch of rootstocks, perhaps I should just grow them without grafting scions onto them and see how well or how tall they grow? Why not just wait and graft them the following year, when they are 3 or 4 ft high? Maybe wait two years, when they are feathered and 6 to 8 ft high?

Or, rather than grafting a scion onto a rootstock near its base and planting it so the graft union is only 2 inches above ground, why not leave the rootstock taller instead of cutting it back so low? Why not have that union a foot above ground level? It seems like, the taller they are to begin with, the faster they should grow. NO??

I sure would appreciate your thoughts and opinions, and I thank you in advance.


I routinely graft on rootstocks that have been in the ground for a year. However, I don’t think waiting for more than one year is beneficial unless some unique situations when rootstocks grow very slow.

All the options you are seemingly undecided about are viable options. But, putting a new bench graft straight into an orchard row is probably not the better choice.

Either grow the rootstock as you suggest a year and graft or bud it the following year, or graft immediately to the rootstocks in spring, but plant them in a bed (or in containers) to gain a year growth, then put in orchard.


I have begun to grow out OHxF97 for at least two years before grafting. It seems my success rate is much higher that way. In two years they are certainly not 6-8’ high and feathered though. Most all clonal rootstocks I’ve received (pear and apple) have very few roots. Seedling rootstocks have consistently had great root systems.


Some great questions that I have wondered about myself…


I grew G969 rootstocks all Summer, and I plan to graft them this Winter. It is my hope that by whip & tongue grafting a single bud after they have well-developed roots, the first-year wood will grow thicker and longer. I plan to buy more rootstock if Cummins is selling G969 this year, so I can maybe do a side-by-side of a couple grafts. It may be fun to see if there is any advantage to it. I am guessing there would be an overall loss in size of the tree, but perhaps with better form. I want the wood to be as strong as possible when they start bearing fruit.

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So, when you graft onto these 2 year old rootstocks, the graft is 3 or 4 feet above ground level…and when planting at the final location that union remains at the same height, right? It seems like a dumb question, but all the book reading I’ve done–or planting instructions–say the union should be only inches above ground level. And in the St. Lawrence Nursery planting guide, they recommend planting their seedling rootstocks with the graft union a couple inches below ground, to encourage “own rooting” of the trees. Honestly, it’s like no one who writes books or gives instructions on grafting ever grows seedling trees or cloned rootstocks a few feet tall before grafting.:sweat_smile:

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Well, first of all…I have no research to back up what I’m doing. I just mess around with stuff :crazy_face:

No, when I grow out OHxF 97s for 2 years, I don’t end up with the caliper trees I’d need to graft at 3 or 4’ above ground. Probably closer to 18". I do not fertilize any of my fruit trees or rootstocks.

I have grafted a number of wild crab seedlings at 3-6’ above ground. So far, those grafts have done well. It’s only been a few years, so time will tell what happens long term. I have a Frostbite that I cleft grafted at around 4’ above ground 5/2018. It produced a few apples this year.

I guess there’s a fine line between top working and grafting a tree at 3-6’ above ground.


I had two Franklin apple trees on B-118 that were a little over 3 ft high last spring, and I decided to graft a Reine des Reinette scion onto one of them. By the end of the year, the Franklin was almost 6 ft, and the “King of the Pippins” only 6 inches behind. It seemed as if there was practically no slowing of growth overall.

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So when you graft onto the OHxF 97s, you end up with a graft union about 18 inches above ground then, right? I would bet some of those guys and gals who write the instructions and books about planting and grafting would consider what your are doing as top working. These apple tree book writers seem the same to me as those who write books on fly-fishing, if you know what I mean!:rofl:

I like the YouTuber in our group here from “SkillCult.” I can’t remember his name off hand, but, among a lot of other things, he does a lot of “frankentree” stuff. You might call that top-working to an extreme. And I have noticed when grafting scions onto my own 50 y/o trees, they grow excedingling fast. These are the reasons I am considering just growing some seedling rootstocks and top-working them, rather than grafting onto new rootstocks.

I suppose I will do some of both, as it is only a hobby for me also.

My daughter and her husband just bought a new house, however, and they want me to help them grow some apple trees to feed their five youngins. (And I think I’ve convinced the husband he needs cider apples too, fer makin’ cider!):joy: So I’m trying to figure out how to get them trees producing apples sooner rather than later. I told them that, rather than buying rootstocks and waiting, and grafting, and waiting, they might want to buy some $30 to $40 trees (on either Antonovka, or B-118) from St. Lawrence or some other nursery, in order to save a couple years of waiting. And they can do some rootstock grafting and waiting too at the same time for the larger orchard, and at a lower cost.


Yes, the graft unions on the OHxF97s end up around 18" above ground. I call it “field grafting”. As long as it works…I’m okay with it.

I have a couple Frankentrees that I’ve been working on. I’ve got one with about 15 varieties right now, but only one has produced fruit so far. A couple others have 3-10 varieties grafted with none fruiting yet.

This is JMO…but I wouldn’t waste the money on a tree from SLN to then graft over to something else. The last few years the reviews I’ve read of SLN haven’t been great. Lots of awfully small grafts getting sold by the new owner. Maybe he’ll get things figured out soon, I don’t know. Instead of buying a tree from there, I’d go looking for a Dolgo or an ornamental crab grafted to a large rootstock. Or maybe just buy the largest Dolgo seedling you can get your hands on. Like I said…JMO

In my first year, I grafted rootstocks and put them in containers. And to make a long story short, I decided last year–my second year–to plant them in a garden bed. The bed was a better choice for me, and the trees were a great deal more successful.

I may not have been clear in asking, but I was wondering more about “top-working” Antonovka seedling or B-118 rootstocks that I grow in a bed for a year or two? (If that makes any sense.) And grafting the scions onto the rootstocks that are 4 ft high or taller–when feathered even?

Just wanted to add an experience. I went in on 50 Dolgo rootstocks with a couple local guys in 2015. I had two where my grafts didn’t take and I just planted them out “as is”. One was just loaded with small (nickel size) crabs this year. In bloom it was a sight to see. Just loaded with huge pinkish buds opening to large white flowers. It is right around 7’ tall. The other is barely a branched whip.

The one that bore fruit this year will become a Frankentree. While it is a beautiful tree in bloom, the fruit is of no use for humans and doesn’t hang long enough into the fall to be of much use to deer. I will let the other one go until it produces fruit and decide it’s fate at that time.

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Hmmm, yes, thanks for that advice! The guy at my local nursery is kind of a jerk (and I don’t mean the lovable Steve Martin type), but he is rather a know-it-all arrogant type and not so likeable. Anyway, he says he grows and sells all his trees on Kerr crab rootstock, or some other Siberian/Russian crabapple stock–I forget the names. The thing with those, though, is that they don’t get that big, do they? I want trees with branches the deer can’t reach without climbing.:wink:

I believe Kerr is a natural semi-dwarf but I’m not 100% sure. I have a buddy who has one that’s been producing fruit for a few years and it’s a smallish tree. He’s not on great soil though.

If he’s using baccata or ranetka crab rootstock, those will generally give you a full sized tree. Of course, as with any seedling there will be variations. I have seen internet people call Dolgo a “small statured tree” as well as a “25-30’ tree at maturity”. My guess is this range of descriptions is due to seedlings being discussed. If you graft a true Dolgo crab to a full sized rootstock you will end up with a big tree at maturity. If you graft a Dolgo seedling to a full sized rootstock, God only knows what that tree will look like at maturity. Every Dolgo rootstock I’ve ever seen has been a seedling.

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I will have to do some research into those Baccata and Ranetka rootstocks and see where I can buy some. (Those are the ones the nurseryman recommended.) You think these would do better in zone 3 Montana than Antonovka or B-118??? If so, that would mean going to a “Plan C” for me.:rofl:

Yes, our daughter has a Dolgo which had fruit the size of a thumb or so, and not all ripened at once–so harvesting would be difficult. I have heard of single variety cider made from Dolgo, but with such small apples and not ripening all at once, it may be too much trouble. The Kerr apples are supposedly larger and slightly less acidic, but there may be better apples for cider I would prefer instead(?)

Our daughter did use her Dolgo apples to make apple butter and it was very, very good.

Obviously for multi-graft trees with several cultivars being added…topworking a taller tree is best.
Generally speaking grafting in general is done closer to the ground.
I don’t have any experience with a side-by-side test of that sort. Maybe someone else does…

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This link says grafting higher than 3 inches may reduce vigor. May also increase risk of burrknot formation, which can be entry points for pests or fireblight. I would also suspect it could also lead to more suckering and growth you have to remove coming from the rootstock. But not sure if these concerns are as bad with antonovka as they may be with other popular rootstocks.

Don’t remember where I saw it, but I’ve seen some discussion with orchardists that actually prefer letting the rootstock grow a year or more in its permanent location and then graft in the field. They do really well with a more established root system and the scion variety quickly catches up and may even fruit sooner. May not work this way for everyone though, lots of variables when you consider location, rootstocks, cultural practices like spraying and fertilizing, etc.


Did you ever get any Ranetka, JohnnyRoger?