Pruning 1 year old grafts

Hi All, hope you are having a lovely january wherever you are.

Last April i grafted about 20 apple trees. My first ever go at it and i think so far around 12 have survived. Each of these 12 grew really well and have perhaps put on 3-4ft of new scion growth but now i have a few questions that im looking for some help with.

My trees currently look like 1 stem. So from what i gather this is referred to as a “maiden” or a “whip”, would that be correct?

I obviously want to get these trees “feathered” so they are going to need some lateral branches. My first main question is:

  1. should i now top these trees and prune them at about their 4ft height?

I have some reservations about this because im wondering if it then restricts the tree to being a bush and having a trunk of around 4ft? This wouldn’t necessarily be bad but i would like to experiment with central leaders as well as bushes to ensure i can learn about both. So if i want a central leader do i simply avoid topping the trees and let them grow as is?
Similarlyx if i want to espalier some then i may need laterals up to 6ft plus so i need the stem of the tree to reach that height or thereabouts, would topping ths stem make this impossible?

The second of my main questions is

  1. when i grafted them i left the rootstocks at around 30cm in length. So 30cm up from the ground the scion was attached, is this likely to cause a problem?

I ask this because most trees i see in nurseries and the like have a fairly short rootstock, perhaps 15cm max. I deliberately left them longer because i was expecting to have to take a second attempt at grafting and wanted to give myself enough rootstock to work with. Now i am thinking about where to plant them and potentially espalier them i don’t want to devote the space to them if they are inherently weak with the length of the rootstock…

I appreciate these thoughts are a little all over the place but i’m reading books and trawling the internet for answers and i’m not finding too much, plus it’s all new to me and im thinking of a lot of questions. Apologies if it is hard to follow.

Best wishes for the season ahead,



Hi Jamie, I would look at some pictures showing how apple trees grow and are pruned over a several year period. You will see in the pictures that they will grow back a huge amount, including growing a new leader from nothing. Here for example is a picture pulled from Time to prune fruit trees--but wait until the rain stops! - Napa Master Gardener Column - ANR Blogs


You can see how the tree grows a lot back from the previous years pruning. For example in the 2nd year a whole new leader is shown growing back. I would read several apple pruning guides like this one and learn a bit about the different approaches. You can see this guide recommends cutting the leader back to 28" to get the scaffolds at that height. I have deer problems, I used to cut back even lower but now I don’t cut back at all as I want the scaffolds high.

Re: the graft joint location, Cummins routinely puts the graft very high. It doesn’t really make a lot of difference, and on the plus side you will never need to worry about the tree scion rooting with the union too close to the ground.


If the trees have reached the height at which you would like your first set of scaffolds I would head the tree there. Making that cut will not turn your tree into a bush. It will give you a nice set of scaffolds to build from going forward, as well as a new leader.

I totally agree with Scott in that grafting height tends to be a non factor in your circumstance. Actually good planning for the very reason you stated!


Thanks Scott and turkeycreektrees, i very much appreciate you taking the time to gove me the detailed responses that you have. I did quite a bit of reading on the grafting process but as you say i need to do more on the pruning process.

I guess a good thing for me to do might be to top some of the trees and to leave some of the others and see how they do, having said that it is interesting to here that a new central leader will take over anyway so perhaps this is a pointless experiment…

That is a relief to here that the height of the graft union likely ok. Thanks for letting me know that.

I have renewed enthusiasm for getting back to the reading now that a few of these issues have been ironed out. Really looking forward to seeing them grow and grafting some more this coming spring.

Thanks again for your help,


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I would suggest not heading a few of them, and scoring right above the buds where you want a lateral to grow.

If you check the YouTube channel of SkillCult, I believe he has a couple videos explaining this process.


Thanks barndog. Quick question that relates to your suggestion…i have an apple tree that is probably going into it’s 4th year. It has 3 main branches in a nice open centred bush. But they 3 branches have very little spur development on their bottom half and none of them have any lateral shoot development. Would notching these branches encourage lateral shoot growth?

Thank you


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It should work on those branches the same way as the main trunk, although probably with less vigor.

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Thank you, i may give it a try!

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Hoping the above pics come out ok. The tree has 3 main branches at the moment and i am hoping thag is good. The lower half at least of they branches seems totally dormant. No scaffolding or even buds! I think perhaps it’s been sitting in a nursery too long and was potentially pot bound or in heavy shade from surrounding trees and so now doesn’t show any signs of life further down the branches?

I notched a couple of - what looks to me like- leaf buds so hopefully that stimulates something. Im sure i also red opening the tree up and stressing the wood can encourage them to develop new growth.

Thank you all again



So, you are just cutting buds out on branches to stimulate new growth? What are some others way to stress them to accomplish this and are than any links for different techniques? Great pics as well @finglas

type in “notching” in the search box above and do a search. That should get you a lot of nice threads worth reading on that topic.
I tried this technique last year and had somewhat good success getting branches where I wanted.

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I will point out that (in my view, anyway) a notch need not be all that deep to do the job. When I notch I remove a strip of bark and cambium to the wood, but don’t consider it necessary to cut into the wood itself much, if at all. If I understand correctly all you need to do is interrupt the flow of auxin from above the bud.

I like to take a strip that is long enough to overhang the bud or graft-stem. So if the bud or stem were 1/2 wide I’d overhang about 1/4 inch on each side. The strip itself is probably 1/8" to 3/16" wide.

It’s a really handy technique to encourage a bud, and it seems to help when grafting to an established tree if the graft heals over but stays dormant or sluggish.


Thank you both for these answers! I will start my search on this now :+1: