I have two apple trees that are mealy boring varieties which I want to top work over to new varieties. I cut the fair share of limbs off while pruning, but wondered when the bark is slipping (in the very near future) can I remove all limbs, so there is nothing more than a stump to bark graft a new variety to, or should I leave a “nurse” limb?
want to do this to my apricot. watching.
I’m not any kind of expert but I topworked a tree all at once. A ten year old tree and I cut every branch off and topworked each limb to my favorite variety. I didn’t leave anything at all. It worked great- two years later I’ll be getting apples from every limb. In another two years I think it will be hard to tell I did it. My only problem was severe sunburn/sunscald on the top of the newly bare limbs. They lost a ton of bark on the top. Being apples, they don’t seem to care and they are busy healing over.
An old tree you can kill or damage taking off to much at once. A young tree its not problem to change it all over at once. Apple trees live around 40+ years but they are less Vigorous as they age. If the tree is still young and vigorous you can top work it like this all at once Top working Pears weather permitting
Agree with Clark, I would suggest studying your scaffold layout before cutting them too far back. If they make good use of your space then keep them. The more grafting sites you have, the more variety you can add, and the better you can control the direction of each scion’s growth. You will likely have a lot of suckers to remove if it’s a full size tree and rootstock. If you desire to limit the height of growth, keep that in mind before you cut too much off to prevent shading any scaffold.
I top worked an 8 year old apple tree over a few years ago. Did cleft grafts on the weekend of Easter. Buds just swelling nicely. I cut off almost all the main branches and cleft grafted 2 scions to each cut. The intention was to leave only the strongest if both took. I grafted 4 different varieties to the tree but I did leave a few lower limbs from the original tree as nurse branches so the tree would have some major leaf surface area until my grafts all grew out enough to support the tree as far as photosynthesis needs.
Most of the grafts took and the tree is doing well. I cut off the nurse branches this winter. Amazing how some grafts grew really fast and others less so. Tree is looking good. Can’t wait till all 4 varieties are ripe as the tree will really look nice with the different fruit colors and shapes.
I forgot to add my tree did produce a profuse amount of suckers after cleft grafting the next 2 years. I removed them during the summer. Way less produced last year (year 3 since grafting). So many produced the first two years they really shaded out the tree canopy.
I guess that people didn’t understand the question. I wasn’t asking about grafting individual limbs, but the main trunk rather. I have 4-5” girth at the trunk (knee to waist high), and want to place 4-5 bark grafts there after removing the entire top of the tree(s).
You can bark graft aka rind graft that tree I’ve done many of them that way. If you do make sure it’s a young tree with plenty of vigor to push new growth. Your risking killing the tree if its an old tree.
Yep, I learned that the hard way.
That’s a hard lesson to learn.
Yep. It was a wild crab, probably 20 years old or more. I should have gone at the limbs instead.
What do you consider old? The trees I have are about 7-8 years old.
Those trees are typically fine but I would leave a nurse branch. An apple is only intended to live 15- 40 years. It’s a big shock to Apple to lose 95% of its mass in a day. The more branches you leave the better your chances. Standard trees live 40 years which is longer than dwarfs that live 15-20 years. Seedlings on their own roots have been known to live extremely long or short lives.
I totally top-worked two semi-dwarf trees last year with good success. One was on M7 about 7 years old; the other on G30 about 10 years old. Both were very vigorous before grafting- full sun, huge wide wood chip mulch ring. It’s pretty easy to leave a nurse just in case. Agree- take many years to gradually re-do old tree.
Last year I did a total makeover of a 15 to 20 year old Anjou pear and it never missed a beat, although we’ll see how or if the trunk cut ever heals. A friend was going to cut the tree down so didn’t care if the one year makeover worked or not.
I’ve also killed an old apple tree with one year makeover. It was old, declining health in partial shade. Again owner was going to cut it down anyway.
Also spent six years incrementally grafting over an old standard apple just to watch it die. Again- partly shaded plus near marshland with rising water table, possible salt intrusion that’s taking out a lot of trees here in tidewater MD.
I think 3 inch or so diameter branch or trunk is the largest I’ll attempt a total makeover in one year from now on.
I just don’t like grafting to anything more than a few diameters bigger than my scion. I felt a little better about a changeover I did with a couple of bark grafts on a branch that was on the large size - probably 6 diameters - so maybe that’s a better route for me to take then the clefts I’ve done in the past. Some of those clefts seem to take forever to heal.
This is what you can expect 6 trees, differing soil conditions, what to plant where
Methods I use are similar to what i did here Che, mulberry, osage orange, fig grafting
I do very few clefts these days- much prefer w/t and bark, so much more cambium contact and less trauma to the stock. I just splint the bark grafts for a season (or two if pawpaw, much slower healing).
People have said enough but I too will add that I prefer a staggered approach.
Actually, I have better long term growth and strength by NOT bark/cleft grafting immediately but let suckers grow the first year then graft those suckers in year 2. I get HUGE growth on those grafts and the union is rock solid while I have lost many bark grafts to wind 3-4 years later.
The New York State Horticultural Society has an excellent guide to topworking apple trees: https://nyshs.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/2.Successful-Apple-Grafting-Techniques-for-New-York.pdf
I have a dozen or so apple seedlings that I’m planning to try this on this year. These are older trees that have been growing tall and spindly in the regrowth at the edge of an abandoned field. I removed the trees that had grown up around them to give them light last year. Each produced a few apples, but none worth keeping around. The rings are so tight in places that they are hard to count, but most are probably 60-75 years old. The largest are about 8" diameter.
I’m committed at this point, having topped them a couple weeks ago at about 4 ft. I’ll cut off another few inches of trunk more carefully and graft on the scions that are in the fridge when the other trees start leafing out, probably late April or early May. I’m OK if I lose them, but it would be nice if some of them grow. I’m putting backup scions on Antonovka rootstock in case they don’t make it.