I’m hoping to do my first ever grafting this spring. . .mostly or maybe all cleft if I can get away with it (I have an established apple that has pretty big branches but I am thinking I can avoid bark/rind grafting if I leave the big branches and just cut back their main secondary branches and graft there. . .) I have the scionwood and (I think) all the supplies I need will be here next week. (Have grafting knife – ordered parafilm, tanglefoot pruning sealer, toilet ring wax, and aluminum branch tags.) My established apple is only at silver tip and the little pear trees’ buds don’t even seem to have swelled at all yet, but this established ornamental pear that I want to topwork is very close to bloom. At what point should I aim to graft to it? I am going to cut it down to about 1/2 -1/3 of its size and try to cleft graft to some of the existing small scaffold branches, while leaving a few nurse branches down really low. Here’s the bottom half of the tree:
And more of the top. It is surrounded by assorted other trees that will be cut down (not fruit trees). It is growing volunteer on a big dirt mound on our property and rather than completely cut it down so it wouldn’t be a potential harbor for fireblight I wanted to try to transform it into a fruit-bearer!
I wondered also if it would do any good to cut off part of the top (yet not quite to where I’d graft) at this time and then spray it with copper/oil. (Would that hurt? or if we shouldn’t cut it can we just spray the bottom part? I don’t want to waste spray or time on what we won’t keep…) I didn’t notice any fireblight on it last year but I didn’t get up really close to the tree to check.
I’m going to throw out a radical approach and wait for it to be shot down. I am not at all sure it’s a good idea- but the fact is I don’t think your tree is a really good candidate for the kind of work you are planning for it and I’m taking a “cure it or kill it” approach.
I can’t really tell from your pictures just how tall it is but I gather it’s all of 16 or so feet anyway, and I think that’s way too tall; you indicate too that you’d like to take it way down. So I propose taking it down right away to about waist high, more or less, depending on where that cluster of branches in you next-to-last picture is. Leave that cluster, choosing the best six or seven branches, and clip off everything else- all that little stuff below it and any extra branches. You’re looking for the branches that have the best locations relative to one another so that they aren’t competing, and which have good attachment angle -although all of those look to be at good angles.
Then, since this is your first grafting attempt, cut three or four of those six or seven off about a foot from the trunk. Cleft graft to the stubs. For practice, put a few cleft, or for that matter whip, grafts on a few of the lateral branches that come off of the remaining three or four uncut branches. The uncut branches can serve as nurses and you can graft them over next year to replace failures if you have any, or remove them if you don’t.
I think you will have built a nice vase. I don’t know if that’s your best choice, and in fact I prefer a central leader in some ways, but vases make pretty trees and you should be able to manage it nicely from the ground or short ladder, making it easy to prune, spray, and harvest.
If it lives, that is.
Comments anticipated! Don’t be shy folks- step right up and take your best shots!
And about the saw- Corona saws cut well but I don’t like the plastic handles. Silky uses plastic but it has a much better feel, maybe because it’s solid on the Silky and hollow on the Corona. As for cutting where a graft is to be made I don’t think it has to be perfect, but I bet that on the smaller wood (inch or about that in diameter) you’d be just as happy with a small hand saw.
Thank you very much for your input! I really am anticipating doing pretty much what you said. I can’t keep up with a tall tree (I think it is about 15-20 feet tall right) so I was thinking of reducing it to 10 or 8 feet or so. I know a vase shape is very unusual for pears but it’s worth a try as otherwise I’d cut the tree down completely. I’m also really hoping that we might get fruit within a few years from it this way, since our young pear trees were only planted last spring and while 2 are on Quince, I still don’t expect fruit for a while. Are you thinking that the radical pruning might cause the tree to die? I guess I’ve been under the impression that usually cutting an established tree radically just meant there would be lots of fast new growth and that would be a challenge to control.
What I was thinking is aiming at the second/higher round of branches in the first pic, for grafting. That is about at 4-5 feet off the ground I think. The branches below that are only 1-2 feet off the ground. It was hard to show in my pic but the end of the pic is pretty much the base of the tree. I couldn’t get too close today because my husband still needs to blaze me a path through some of the brambles near the tree.
I thought maybe I was supposed to leave the lower branches or at least a couple of them for “nurse” branches?
Actually, I don’t think you can kill it that easily, but it may become so ungainly that you’ll decide to take it out anyway! I realized after posting that I probably suggested doing pretty much what you were thinking, so we may both be wrong … (I’ve gotten used to it.)
Another approach would be to cut it back to one of the more vertical laterals low down on the tree, and then train that lateral to become a new central leader by pulling it up by binding it to the tree trunk. That might work pretty well.
But that wasn’t your original question as to when to graft. I always wait until the leaves on the tree are “the size of a squirrels ears”. The point is that you want to catch the tree in a good flush of growth, with lots of sap flowing, early in the season in this case. Think seventh graders.
I hope you have a ton of fun- and even if it fails completely you’ll only be the wiser for trying.
I think that for a vase you might start at 1-2 feet with no problem, but 4-5 feet is pretty high. If you have a half dozen thumb-size branches at 18 inches that would work nicely. BUT: at the higher level you might have less problem with deer.
I think having nurse branches matters, and that’s part of why I suggested starting with six or seven laterals and being prepared to remove them as your grafts take.
Let me mention again that we need more comments on this- my experience is too limited to give you definitive guidance, and even if my ideas work there are others here who can contribute much more.
I top worked a pear larger than this three springs ago. Here are some things to think about. When you cut off large branches it is hard to keep the wood alive with a few small scions. The nurse branch helps but you h a a huge wound to heal and you may lose an entire limb at some point. When you cut this off it is going to sprout out all over the trunk, these need to be removed constantly. At the time Olpea suggested that instead of cutting it down and grafting to just cut it off and let it branch out then pick the best branches to graft to the following spring. I kind of did both. I cut the tree down to about six feet and rind grafted all of the stumps. I mid summer after the grafts had taken I allowed some of the sprouts on the trunks to live and grow out. The next spring I backed up the rind grafts with whip grafts on the smaller shoots I had saved. I picked a hand full of Asian pears off of it last summer. I have several different varieties on it but it does look like I have some dead wood on some of the big branches. There is a thread on here about it. Grafted pear
With our young trees we are starting at 1-2 feet to do a vase shape and keep the trees small. I just wondered if I should compromise in this case so as to leave a little more trunk to the tree. I have to admit I feel like a tree murderer to cut it so bad anyway!
I’ll be waiting then until the blossoms are pretty much done and the leaves are clearly showing. That’s what I thought but it unnerved me that it is blooming this early when our fruit pears, planted last spring, are barely even showing bud swell.
Deer. . .we have been on our property now for a year and a half and have only seen one deer, and droppings a time or two. We have a railroad embankment along the back of our property (with a nice lush cattle pasture on the other side, and a river) that I think discourages them, and a trailer park and lots of residential on the front border. BUT we did have a little damage last year to our young fruit trees. This particular pear tree is located a good distance from our orchard, sort of in the middle of no where as far as the rest of our cultivation goes, so it might be a good idea to keep it higher. I expect more deer will show up in the future if they figure out we’re going to be growing yummy things!
For top working I use two different methods, mostly on plums but also on pears.
Cut tree waist high when dormant then cut to 18" tall in spring, graft to top of trunk with either bark, cleft, wedge or side grafts. If the grafts fail for whatever reason use the trunk water sprouts to graft a second time.
Second method is cut the tree all the way down to ground level when dormant or early spring. Sprouts will rapidly appear around base. Select the three most vigorous shoots to graft. The sprouts will be very soft but they can usually be easily grafted a few inches above the ground after a couple months growth (see the first picture of pear stump shown 12 months after grafting). As an alternative you can leave them to grow for a year and thin and graft the following season (second picture of a feral plum stump). I frequently install several different varieties on each root system. This method produces a multi-trunk tree with a different variety on each trunk which all share the same root system.