How do I select apple rootstock, and can I use volunteer "crab apples"?

Hello all! I’m brand new here; I just followed a link over from GardenWeb, and this forum looks amazing.

I am looking for advice about apple rootstocks. There are two big, and presumably very old, apple trees in my parents’ back yard that are on their way out. I’d like to preserve their genetics, so I’m trying to learn how to propagate apples. I have some book knowledge but have never actually done anything. I’m reading books and watching youtube videos, but I have some questions:

  1. I need to select a rootstock and go about obtaining it, and I’m stuck. There are so many pros and cons with each variety. How do I pick one? Does anyone have any advice or recommendations? I’m in zone five in Ohio; my parents’ land has heavy, wet soil, and is hit hard by fire blight. I guess that size would be a secondary concern to tolerance for those conditions and disease resistance in general, but I’ve imagined planting some dwarf and some standard-sized trees.

  2. My parents’ property also has a ton of small statured volunteer “crab apple” trees, which vary quite a bit from tree to tree and might be crosses between eating and ornamental apples (that happens right?). Their genetic diversity is fascinating. Can I top work them with scion wood from the old apple trees? They’re covered in little spurs, and the old eating apples aren’t. Are they too different? There is one larger tree which produces delicious tiny orange apples, and more importantly, grows in nearly standing water. It amazes me. It appears to be unbothered by diseases, too. Is there any way that I could root cuttings from it and use those for rootstock in the future? Would apple production be very good on rootstock like that?

  3. Where does one take scion wood from a mature apple tree? None of the wood within reach looks like new growth to me.

Thanks everyone! I look forward to learning from this forum.

Hi Multiflora

I’m far from an expert but I’ll try to help with your questions.

1 I would google Geneva rootstock and read up on the new varieties they have developed. Many are fireblight resistant. It’s getting late in the season to buy but Cummins nursery may have some still available.

2 I have grafted to wild crabs and although it’s only been 2 years they seem to be growing fine on the crab rootstock.

3 for a successful graft you should use 1 year old wood. If you can’t find any suitable you may have to prune the old trees and gather waterspouts or new growth next year.

Hope my meager suggestions help.


Hi greyphase,

That’s not meager at all! It’s a big help to me.

I’m excited to hear that you’ve grafted onto wild crab apples. In that case, I guess it’s worth a try even if only for the practice. That’s a great idea to prune the old trees to encourage new water sprouts. I’ll have to get it underway. It’s a good thing I asked, because I might have tried to use older wood and doomed my grafting attempts from the start.

And I’ll go research Geneva rootstock. Thanks a bunch!

No reason not to graft to crabs. Just be aware that certain rootstocks and pruning practices can greatly affect precocity, and your crab roots may not cooperate with you there. Any seedling tree is likely to take some years to reach bearing age, and additionally will require care in pruning to control size if it wants to be a standard sized tree.

Another viable option for you is to graft a few scions of your parents’ tree to well-chosen branches on an established tree. And you may even find that in the right hands your family heirlooms have a good future and aren’t on the way out after all.

Good luck,


Sounds like a great idea taking scions from the old trees and grafting onto the crab. However depending on your location you need to take the scions when they are dormant. Water sprouts will work fine but use last year’s growth.

Hey, thank you all so much for your advice! I’m learning a lot already. I ordered some rootstock; G11 (thanks for the suggestion greyphase) and bud 118 for the sites with better drainage. With so many things to graft onto, I hope I’ll find success somewhere.

I’m not sure if I should start another thread for this, but can anyone suggest how I might prune the oldest, worst off apple tree to encourage new growth for scion wood? As you can see in the pictures, it’s huge, hollow, and leaning. In addition, a good portion of the left side is going to need to be removed this spring before the whole half of the tree falls over into the neighbors’ yard. Poor old tree! It’s in such a bad way already that I’m not really sure how to approach this.

You can either start a new thread or PM Alan Haigh (aka Harvestman). Pruning old apple trees is his specialty.

I’ll defer to Alan, but just to take a stab at it I see new growth coming up from the roots and I’d work to ensure the future of one of those, expecting to eventually remove much of the current tree and allowing the shoot to mature in the coming decade plus.

The thing is though that the tree as it exists now is marveous to see. It’s beautiful. Nevertheless the neighbor probably doesn’t want it and I wonder how long the rest of it can support itself. You’re prudent to look to alternatives. Maybe Alan can tell you how to keep some of the existing tree going.

Keep us posted.

Your old apple tree hasn’t leafed out yet but I bet the buds are swelling – that is the perfect time to collect scion wood. Once the buds leaf out it is very difficult to make a successful scion graft so you might want to collect some wood now and wrap it in slightly damp paper towel in the crisper of your fridge. As for what to collect… just get the tips of branches from some actively growing terminal branches. You should make sure the scion has two buds… well, you can get all that stuff from youtube grafting videos.

I had a bunch of apples fall off a September Ruby apple tree and when the seedlings sprouted it was clear they were going to be very different from their parent (red bark and red young leaves). I grafted on an applecrab onto one of them and it did fine. Actually I’m probably going to remove it this spring as it’s getting big and shedding the veggie garden. The apples it produced seemed the same as the variety I got the applecrab scion from (Rescue or Reknown, can’t recall which). I grafted onto one year old seedlings. Just make sure the two scions are of equal diameter (you can control that by where you cut off the rootstock you intend to graft onto.) Have fun!

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Yes it is a beautiful tree isn’t it? I have fond memories of when I was little and my mom would set me up on the big horizontal branch (it seemed very high up at the time) and tell me stories while I ate the tree’s small red apples. I grew up climbing in it, and so it was quite a shock when this winter it suddenly began to lean drastically. I’m worried that it will fall over soon. Unfortunately it has been years since the tree has produced fruit and I don’t remember what the apples were like. I hope if I’m successful in reproducing it I’ll be able to taste them again.

I’ll have to go ask this Alan fellow how to prune it, thank you very much for the recommendation. And thank you for your help, Don3a and marknmt! I’m glad to hear of your success with grafting onto crabs marknmt, and I’ve been trying it in the past few days. If the precocity turns out to be a problem, at least the crabs might keep wood from my tree around to try again with. I have been trying to encourage the suckers coming up from the roots of this tree, but unfortunately they seem to die back at the tops (potentially from fire blight) and aren’t doing well. I wonder if they’re from the rootstock, if this tree has a rootstock, as the tree itself doesn’t seem to be as bothered. I’ll let them keep trying though. Is this tree too large to have had a rootstock?

I’ll try gathering and storing some scion wood in the way you recommended tomorrow, Don3a. Thanks for the advice, and I am having fun! I have been practicing grafting with older wood from this tree before I lose the window, but I doubt there’ll be much success with older wood. Tomorrow I’ll try again with just the tips of the branches as you suggested. I’ll try storing some in the refrigerator too. Can you use stored scion wood after the trees outside have leafed out?

Hopefully I’m getting enough experience now that some of those grafts will stand a chance. If not I’ll hope that the tree is up for another try next spring onto the rootstock I ordered. I really appreciate everyone’s help!

Hi Rose- Just to be clear I haven’t grafted to crabs myself, but it’s often done and there’s no reason not to do it.

If you graft a scion or bud towards the top of an existing tree, close to the original trunk, and in a good position to get sun, you may very well be sampling from that graft in three years. Then you’ll know what your childhood apple tastes like to you now!

At any rate, welcome to your new addiction :slight_smile:



Was just wondering how everything turned out?

Hi Puggylover75. I should have updated or something! I think spring break ended back then and I had to buckle down with my classes again (way less fun than grafting apples :stuck_out_tongue: ) .

Well, I have definitely started a life-long addiction with grafting apples. I learned so much from the people on here and from reading other threads, and I can’t thank everybody enough. After everyone helped to point me in the right direction, and after watching a ton of youtube videos, I searched that old apple tree in the pictures high and low for some good scion wood and was able to find a few water spouts high up in the tree. I had to do some climbing and cut down a few branches to reach them. I topworked a young feral/volunteer crab apple out in the field with it. I also ordered a bunch of rootstock, which are all in pots until I can find a place for them to be planted (not the best, I know), and grafted one with scionwood from that tree. I also grafted some onto another old tree. I didn’t think I’d have much success on my first try, but most of the grafts actually made it! I was only using beeswax and vinyl tape, and just a box knife at first. I’m still excited about it. Apple trees are pretty cool. I hope to order a bunch of scionwood from different varieties next year.

Unfortunately, half of the old apple tree fell down early this spring. Right into the neighbors’ yard! It’s looking pretty sad right now, but there are suckers from the rootstock, so I have a plan :wink:

Let me see if I can find some pictures :slight_smile:

Here’s a picture of the tree after it fell, right before we cut it up. The half on the right is still standing, but completely hollow and about to come down on its own.

This is what I think is probably the graft on the half of that tree that is still standing. Who known how many decades old this graft is! I thought it was pretty cool.

Here’s the unsuspecting crab apple I top worked. It was a double leader, and I cut off the dominant leader. Then it was very crooked, so I pulled it as straight as I could. I grafted as high as I could because I want the branches to be able to grow out of the reach of the deer.

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Sweet! Glad to see it’s coming together for you, and in such timely fashion, too.

I agree that the graft is where you think it is. (You could count the rings in the tree and find out just how old it is … hint, hint.)

And here are some pictures of grafts taking, that all are all being displayed sideways for some reason.These were taken in late spring and the crab apple has really taken off since then.


It’s a humble start, but I’m having fun :slight_smile:

Thanks marknmt. You were such a big help. I’m glad I was reminded to update!

I wish I could count the rings, but all of the trunks are almost completely hollow. I wonder if I could count the rings on part of it and then make an estimate based on diameter. I’ll have to look into that. I still have the giant pile of firewood.

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I’m at my first place with deer pressure and I’ve similarly topworked trees high to get above browse height. One thing I learned to do differently is to graft at 3 or 4 feet high and put a simple temporary fence around them for a couple of years. That way the fruit will start around 6 feet or so, out of reach of the deer.

What I actually did on my first few trees was graft at 6 or 7 feet high and now my fruit is 8 or 9 feet up in the tree. There is a lot of wasted volume that could be in reach or just out of reach, but relatively safe from deer.


I was very surprised when my neighbors apparently succeeded keeping deer out of their garden with an extremely simple, inexpensive temporary fence made of black plastic netting and lightweight poles every several feet. I tried it the last two years and deer have left the garden alone for me, too! At the end of the season I roll the “fence” up and store it for next year.