Trying to achieve laterals on a maiden apple tree


Hi everyone,

I would imagine this is probably a fairly simple question but I can’t seem to find the answer to it, either on this forum, in books or elsewhere on the internet.

Last year was my first attempt at grafting and of about 20 grafts I have managed to keep around 13 alive and going strong. All of the tree I grafted are still “whips”, that is, they do not have any laterals at all. I am hoping that when I “head” these trees they will then develop laterals but all the books speak of buying “well-feathered maidens”. If my 2 year old tree produces laterals, it will no longer be a maiden so my question is, how do I get laterals on newly grafted whips?

I know their has been discussion of notching on the forum recently but I wouldn’t have thought this was the done thing on new grafts?

Thanks for any help,



The bench-grafts I’ve done: some grow just the whip but some, on their own, grow some laterals. Not sure what causes it, may be variety specific. I’d say the main goal the first year is to grow a straight, strong leader and anything else is just gravy, secondary.


Thank you hambone. Yes i am definitely pleased with what i have so far so i can’t really complain. Hoping when i head the trees soon they’ll put on some nice laterals over the spring and summer to come.



Yes, heading it back will encourage laterals. If the whip hasn’t yet reached the height you want your first laterals to start at, don’t head it back yet.


I have the same issue, I have three bench grafts from each of the last couple years. All of them are skinny (3/8"?) whips, about 2-3ft tall, but no laterals yet. I’m planning on planting them out within the next couple months.


That is what I am doing. I am on MM111 rootstock. I also have some serious deer browse. So I have to let it grow straight up all last year. Now I have pruned it back to to a tall whip 4-5 ft tall. At that height I am heading it. The first two bud will be future central leaders ( pick the strongest). Then the next set or two of bud below will be your laterals. You have to bite the bullet on some pruning cut early on to get the shaped you want down the road. The first two years should be about root establishment any ways. Folks get in a hurry to get fruit as soon as possible but sacrifice long term viability. Everyone has their own approach.


Hi John, thanks for the advice. Sounds like you are aiming for a central leader tree as opposed to a open centre bush? Just wondering if I am right there…

Thanks for the replies everyone, I am going to head them back soon because they are well above the height I want them at I think anyway…I’m hoping to save the scion I prune off and use it for more grafts :slight_smile: