Multigraft pear tree puzzle

A neighbor has asked me what’s wrong with his pear tree. I’m embarrassed to mention it on this forum because I’m a relative newbie and many of y’all are serious orchardists. But compared to my neighbor, I’m an expert :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: and I find it fun to try to help solve such problems. I might get a free curry dinner out of it. Anyway, he bought a multi graft pear tree, stuck it in the ground (I think so deep that the root graft is underground), watered it, and expected pears. He has the predictable problem with a multi graft: one graft has outstripped the others by a longshot. The Kieffer graft is stone-cold dead, the Blake’s and Harrow are short but living and currently have quite a few flowers on their minimal growth (maybe a 14 inch branch each). Conversely, the Warren has grown vigorously, far outstripping any of the others, but with straight-up, “blind” (no spur) branches, and hasn’t even flowered after a couple of years. It’s about 6-7 feet tall. I’ll add a picture if I can figure out how. Here’s the puzzle: Warrens are notoriously iffy here in Santa Cruz–some of them never even flower, much less fruit, but when they do, they are delicious. As I see it, here are some choices: <1> try to prune to encourage the Blake’s and Harrow to grow (and I’ll need help on technique) while cutting the Warren back to weaker wood <2> give up on the two weaker ones and just grow a Warren, or <3> pull the whole thing out (losing two years of root growth) and start over with good pruning and evening out. What do you experts (or anybody else for that matter) suggest? How would I go about pruning the Blake’s and Harrow to encourage growth–any growth, even just vegetative? Thanks!

Okay, now that I look at the picture I took last week, there are spurs on the Warren growth. The Blake’s and Harrow are the two branches at the lower left, and they are a little longer than I’d remembered.

Here you can see the dead Keiffer in the foreground, the Warren growth on the right, and the two weaker varieties on the left: And here’s a closer-up of the two non-Warren branches. It looks like only one of them has flowers. How would these two be pruned to encourage growth?

Think of them as independent trees stuck on the same trunk. The two stunted trees need to be pruned enough to eliminate the fruiting spur wood so they can return to more vegetative growth, get size and produce fruit in 3-5 years. The Warren pear is growing the way a pear tree should and should be trained so it is not blocking light from the two struggling trees. That means branch spreading and keeping the height down.

Many pear varieties take at least 8 years to fruit. If the tree was planted below the graft union it may have self rooted so the Warren may be “benefiting” from a much more vigorous and less precocious than intended rootstock.

Once grafts get stunted it can be very difficult to make them grow with any vigor. You can also try cutting a small scoring cut into the trunk just above the grafts ASAP. Cut past the bark and slightly into the wood not more than a third away around the trunk immediately above the point where the grafted branch emerges from the trunk.

In order to not shade the others, you may want to prune out some of the Warren from the upper left (top middle of tree) and pull most of the warren branches on the right (outer part) down to close to horizontal. That will dampen their growth and help push fruiting. They could send up vertical shoots, which you can also bend horizontal or prune.

This will be the hardest advice for someone to take, but I think it is spot on. Nobody wants to get rid of the flowers or fruit, after all, the whole point is to make flowers and fruit. But, if you keep putting the tree’s energy into fruit it won’t get any bigger (especially if you don’t thin the fruit). And it seems like the owner wants the other two to get more in line with Warren, so the fruit needs to be sacrificed for now.

My question on this is if the spurs themselves need to be removed, or is it enough to remove the flowers? That way, assuming growth commences, you’ve got the spurs for next year’s fruit.

Bob and Alan, thanks. I feel very lucky to have you guys’ help on this. Considering how iffy Warren is locally, it does make sense to encourage the two grafts. Since my neighbor’s not getting ANY fruit, I don’t think he’ll mind this approach. Bob, I hope we can get Alan’s attention on your question of whether to completely remove the spurs or just the flowers. I would guess to leave the spurs in areas where we would want branches to grow. I just learned something new, tell me what you think. I went to our local (Monterey Bay Area) CRFG event on pruning at the Grange Hall’s little orchard, and the leader said that if you cut just about two thirds of the swollen FLOWER BUD off, as in, cut right through the flower, a branch will grow there. That just boggles my mind–but if it would work, would I want to cut the stunted grafts off above a spur that I have cut into the flower on? Hmm. I will definitely do the scoring, get rid of the flowers, and cut back the Warren as you both suggested.

In contrast, my own pear tree, this Seckel I put in two years ago, may suffer from too much attention, rather than too little! I have it in a rigorous training program :yum: as you can see. I suppose if I weren’t struggling so hard against its apical dominance, it would be a lot bigger by now! I’m doing open center, needless to say, and I cut and branched it VERY low when I put it in.

Lizzy, once a branch is stunted and spurred up the spurs can create such an energy sink that removing flowers is insufficient. It requires a lot of energy to manufacture flower buds and spurs often don’t generate enough vegetative growth, mainly leaves, to support more than next years blooms.

If you don’t remove the blooms from spur bound wood you get small poor quality fruit one year and often no fruit the next. If you only remove them the spurs often invest everything in flower buds for the next season. Thus removing the entire spur and cutting back to a vegetative bud is generally your best bet with “branches” (more like twigs) like the ones on the photo of the grafted varieties.

Now that I see you are determined and interested enough to begin to understand how to graft, maybe you should not deform the Warren to nourish the grafts and simply graft new varieties on the Warren, keeping it in the shape of a balanced tree. Pears are the perfect candidate for a grafting project and I bet most of your grafts would take at the first attempt.

Thanks Alan, I now understand why those spurs have to go. They’re history!

By a stroke of luck, the Warren happens to be on the north side of the tree, and the Blake’s and Harrow get enough sun already. So whatever I do to the Warren will be to try to slow it down a little and get it fruiting, we don’t have to worry about shade.

At the moment, alas, I lack the confidence to try a graft on someone else’s tree. I don’t know these particular neighbors very well, and if the grafts failed I’d feel pretty bad. I did my VERY FIRST grafts yesterday (and the experience didn’t exactly fill me with confidence)! I started on my old Gravenstein (here when we moved in) in low-stakes parts of the tree. I did seven: 1 whip, 1 saddle (V), 3 whip & tongue, and 2 Konrad’s modified bark (from his post on the GW site). Each one just left me with more questions. The whip & tongue, despite its popularity, seems the most geometrically irrational to me, as it leaves a large portion of both the scion and the stock overhanging with no contact. It seems to me that one would need to do two more slanting cuts to both the scion and the stock to make a good fit. What do you think of the whip & tongue? I’m going to try more bark grafts today, but my problem with them is that even with a pretty small scion, the added volume to the circumference that the bark has to cover is too much, and the bark doesn’t cover much of the scion. If I shave the scion down any thinner, I guess it becomes a veneer graft. I also think I may be neurotically over-swaddling my scions—can growth burst through 2 or 3 layers of parafilm M? :grimacing: But really, the hardest part is making a smooth cut. I must lack either the hand strength or control, but I can’t do the cuts in that one-shot way that I see experienced grafters do on You Tube vids—what I end up doing is more like whittling! I’m mostly using a box knife with a fresh blade, but also a grafting knife someone lent me. It’s beveled on the side that makes it so all my cuts have to be done towards me, which is awkward when cutting weirdly angled stock on the tree. These are probably common newbie issues, but any help is appreciated.

Now it’s time to head back out there! I’m going to do a few more on the apple, and then hope that I’m steady enough to start work on our old Winter Nelis pear–I really want those grafts to take.

Careful about cutting toward yourself, as the knife can keep going through flesh. A few weeks after I had done my first graft, I was showing my father how to do it. I remember saying “now, you have to be real careful about this part” less than 10 seconds before cutting myself. Ever since then, I don’t even pretend that I can be careful enough with the knife. Instead, I wear a think leather glove on my non-knife hand.

My first year I also wrapped them very well in parafilm. I’m not sure if that was the problem, but I did have some issues, including (I think) the buds not breaking through. Since then, I’ve still wrapped them well, but I pre-stretch the parafilm, so that it is thinner and easier to break through.

I also have the same problem with cutting in one clean swipe. I just try to get nice even surfaces, however many cuts it takes. If I screw up too much, move further down the stick…It is better than having the graft fail, as I usually have more scionwood than places to graft it.

I think the Whip and Tongue graft can look very neat- just not when I do them. The easiest graft for me is the cleft graft. I make the scion into the V, then shove it into the rootstock, after splitting it (the rootstock) with the knife. No need to make a corresponding V in the rootstock- the lack of space just makes it a snug fit. I tie it securely with green garden tape, then apply pre-stretched parafilm.

Bob, my experience with the whip and tongue frustrated me until I realized that this particular graft wants a couple of conditions to be met that the cleft doesn’t require. One, it does much better if the two pieces are very close in size, and two, it requires supple wood if the tongue is to be cut well.

Lou Pezzutti sent me a disc (which I no longer have, I’m sorry to say) that showed a guy making this graft very neatly. He held the knife in his right fist firmly braced against his chest and he pulled the wood into the blade with his left hand, aiming to make one smooth swipe and never moving his right fist -or the blade, of course. When I do it it requires a little whittling to tidy it up, but it does work. Once the two bevels are cut it’s pretty simple to make the cut for the tongue- at least it is if the wood cooperates. If the wood is brittle then it just doesn’t happen for me and I go to a cleft graft instead.

If you get the bevels and the tongues cut right then it’s straightforward to marry them and wrap them. The tongues serve to hold the pieces together nicely. I like to practice with a few trimmed-off water sprouts before I try the real thing.

I like your approach of prestretching the parafilm. That’s a good idea.

While it seems like whip and tongue grafts “disappear” better than cleft I will admit that I’ve done a few badly enough that my most successful cleft grafts are better than those poor w&t’s, and a few clefts look to be just as good as any of my w&t’s. So any of 'em done well and appropriately will be just fine, I think!


Thanks for the W&T tips. I’ll give it another try- at least with test wood. Cleft has worked very well with apple and pear, but maybe W&T can help with stone-fruit.

If you want a graft that requires no threat to the digits look up a splice graft. It is my go to because it is as quick and simple as grafting comes and provides optimum proximity to the cambium (where ever the hell that is).

I used to use my regular pruning shear to perform the cuts but now use an Italian AM Leonard double bladed one that allows me to have very good control in producing long straight cuts.

The only shortcoming is that it must be performed on small straight pieces of wood, preferably water sprouts. When the scion is about the same diameter as the mother side it is quick and extremely reliable.

I’m tempted by that double bladed pruner but I don’t feel that I do enough grafts to justify the outlay- I may try Alan’s approach with my Felcos though.

Worth noting that using adhesive tape (as I think Alan does) makes wrapping a splice graft a lot simpler. I might try it that way; how cleanly does the tape come off?

Actually I use vinyl electric tape which I cut with a box cutter once the graft is strong enough, The rubber electric tape that stretches more requires no such effort or minor injury of the graft…

The Felco will work fine.

I’ve got two safety measures in place, because I DON’T trust myself with a super sharp knife when I’m trying to do something new, and I am very attached to my fingers! One, I took a small sturdy board and drilled a hole in it with a 3/4 inch drill bit, and sanded it lightly. When I’m cutting the scion, I sit with my left hand behind the board with the scion sticking through the hole to the front, and I cut towards the board with my right hand. If the knife slips through the scion (and it has done so several times), it just hits the board. I saw mention of such boards somewhere online, but can’t remember where. I don’t find it a hassle, but if you’re used to cutting your scions standing up then you couldn’t rest the edge of the board on your lap, so it would be awkward. Second, I researched cut-preventative gloves online, and it turns out that there are new knit fibers that stop blades very well. I got a pair for about fifteen bucks. The yarn is made of a combination of fiberglass and kevlar (!!) so it’s strong, and has a tendency to roll when a blade hits it, so the blade glances off a little. Thus far I have not cut my hands at all, which is amazing to me after struggling with slipping knives and deceptively tough branches. However, I managed to cut my pants twice WHILE WALKING WITH THE BOX KNIFE, poked myself in the chin with the grafting blade, and also got superglue on my hands trying to deal with an unrelated tree issue. Sigh. I suppose the superglue will add an extra layer of protection from cuts :persevere:

Oh, and thanks for the info, all! The suggestion to pre-stretch the parafilm M is working for me, bingo. I’ve also switched from the green plastic garden tie to electrical tape as you folks mentioned, and it’s much easier to tape it tightly than trying to tie a good knot in the garden tie while holding the graft firmly in place. I don’t know what’s in the adhesive (it’s old electrical tape) and don’t want to take any chances hurting the scions so I put one layer of parafilm under it first. I’m going to get some tree sealer tomorrow morning because my hot wax system is not working–It’s a mixture of paraffin and soy wax, and it seems to either be boiling hot and watery (and I may have scalded some of the scion tissue with it), or grainy and cold, no in-between. Plus I keep having to run into the house and re-heat it, then run back out again with hot wax. Not a good recipe! I’m trying some alterations in the whip and tongue–one of which is a THREE-tongued graft, thanks to an out-of-place slip of the knife, which I decided to go ahead with and cut three slots in the stock, we’ll see how that one turns out! Onward!

Alan, Do you just leave the electrical tape on until it falls off or do you remove it once the graft takes? Does it pull off the soft bark when removing? I always felt electrical tape, while stretchy, would girdle a branch.

The rubber tape can simply be allowed to break down, I’ve never known it to girdle a graft, it is the vinyl stuff that can do this.

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