When to plant grafted apples?

I’ve grafted all my apples (250…going nuts!) and am starting to see bud swell and signs of leaves (just a hint.) my plan is to plant them this weekend (2 days from now) but the forecast has a possibility of significant snow and frost is possible for another month. They’ve had a couple weeks to callous over and are presently heeled-in en-masse in pots.

The orchard has been free of snow for about a week, but wood chip piles have ice inside them. I just planted two non-grafted trees and had no trouble breaking ground.

Should I just go ahead and plant the graftlings? What are the risks of inclement weather?


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I usually wait to plant my new grafts until the last frost date for this area (May 22nd). No idea if that’s what I “should” do or not, but that’s what I do

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My concern with waiting is that I’ve read that they should be planted before they are leafed out. With that dastardly ‘job’ taking up my Monday’s-Friday’s, and having 250 to plant by myself, i’m Concerned with waiting too long (as well as jumping the gun)

Keeping them growing in pots until fall or next spring would make sense…that’s what I do.
Or, planting them out immediately if you can watch and protect them.
I wouldn’t disturb the roots in summer when new shoots are tender…risk of losing the plant
would be excessive if the dirt falls from the roots.

One forum member who does a lot of grafting on rootstocks and planted them out is Dax @Barkslip. Hopefully, Dax will chme in.

Blueberry… they are in fact heeled in, in pots, with soil that is likely making them more optimistic than is healthy. They’ll be headed to very sandy soil and are presently in well composted potting soil.

LT, you need to keep them heeled in until danger of frost has passed since they are active and just as BlueBerry said.

You also need to provide light for them for when the buds do unfurl into leaves and that’s now really.

Plant them when frosts are finished; mulch and water often. If the leaves wilt from taking a hit as it’s called in gardening you simply keep watering and they will bounce back.

You have to figure out a way to give them good sunlight/artificial light. It’s very important…


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Yep, it’s a fine line. Waiting until mid May to plant out is the main reason I wait until mid-late April to bench graft. I keep my grafts in my shed on the concrete floor and it seems they start waking up/showing growth right around planting time.

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I’m wondering just how much of a hit they can take from frost and still be okay. I’m tempted to get them outside in their pots out of direct light, and coverable in the event of frost. Maybe up against the north side of my house?

I’m guessing the issue is the graft union, as dormant, grafted-long-ago trees can be planted whenever the ground can be penetrated.

Currently they are on the floor of my garage which seems to be running 45-55 degrees. I can’t imagine going another 4-5 weeks without planting.


Yep, they should be hardened off, absolutely.

Here is the temperature at which stage causes damage at 10% and 90%.

That chart is for flower survival ,not leafs
I would think if they are basically dormant it would be OK to plant them.
I can not remember a freeze causing much trouble on Apple leaves here.
If they have been in a very warm area, and planted out in very cold 4b there may be a problem, have not Seen that here.
Don’t want to give bad advice.
So either plant them ,or keep cold and dormant until your weather breaks.is what I would do. ?
just my thoughts

I’m in northern Michigan. 4b-5a. There’s nothing crazy cold on the horizon (10 days) but, of course, that could change.

Flowers are clearly not my concern at this point. Getting them in the ground as soon as possible, before the sand has a chance to dry out is. I’ve mitigated this with about 4 inches of composted wood chips, but think that every extra day in their permenant position will help the trees’ future. (The moisture plan was to plant and run drip irrigation immediately thereafter. I’m thinking, now, of runningnirrigation first.)

All advice is welcome, even if conflicting. Hopefully it will converge to a ‘best solution!’

Thanks to all who respond!

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I’m not going to say I’m right and I’m not going to say I’m wrong either but I look at the bud stage alone in conjunction to the leaf color and size etc. just like this and say you’re going to get bud kill. Not just flower kill but complete bud kill & I might go as far as to say that’s what these people are saying in article after article. See how this is worded:

They only talk about bud kill. bud, bud, bud

More links:


This is a better version of that picture above of the development stages:

And as you’ll see all the articles are similar in nature if you were to spend the time to read/look at them.

Great information.

My next question, and please forgive my newbiness, is how much time generally elapses between silver tip, green tip, half inch green, etc.

I’m guessing this isn’t really a time thing as much as a matter of degree days, but a rule of thumb must be out there.

Thanks again for all responses!

Dax , they are referring to flower buds.
If those temps killed vegetative buds , all my apple trees would be dead, yet they live.
I often get a hard freeze here during bloom, the flowers fall off
The leaves / buds keep growing
Some times the leaves will crinkle a little, and or have a black edge, but they grow.


What does this all mean for planting this season’s grafted trees? If these were established whips, I’d have no worries. With the graft union, I have to wonder.


What is the stage of growth compared to a in ground apple tree in your area ?
If similar , I would plant.if much farther along then I’dont know.?
My trees are past bloom here, and the frost is almost past being a threat.
I don’t want to give bad advice for your zone.
Let’s here from some others from your area, to get more advice

The last average frost date is a good target . If I’m not ready to plant and the buds are swelling, I just put them in cold storage. This may not be practical for everyone. benchgrafts can tolerate a frost or even hard freeze without damage. It makes me nervous every time the benchgafts get hit by a frost and they don’t start to really push growth tell it starts to warm up.

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The issue is that you have trees leafing out based on unnatural temps, so they are ahead of where they would be if planted outside. You probably could have saved a lot of work by planting them last fall so they’d come out of dormancy at a practical time. The would even have some roots established in the soil. In your cold region, fall transplants need a thick layer of frothy mulch for insulation (and vole protection).

Now they will have tender leaves when outdoor temps are likely to kill them, and probably the entire tender trees.

If they are healed in, they can leaf out where they are, but will suffer from the shock of transplanting much more than if they were put in pots.

I would put trees in pots that I had time for- let the rest stay healed in and be set back with transplant shock. All will likely survive, but the potted trees may establish about a year sooner because they will keep their fine roots when you transplant them in a month.

On the other hand, the potting soil may fall away, and there will be little difference, but in that case you could plant them in the pots and replant them in the fall after removing the pots.


It’s feeling like I should move forward with the weekend plan. Some of the rootstock is a little further along than my 2 year whips, but most are showing less development. The grafts are definitely behind, showing the smallest silver tip. Many of the established whips are starting to push a little green. I’ll try to post some pics this afternoon. If the grafts can take a freeze, I feel like I should get them out.

I have no means of cold storage. The garage worked for awhile as it was around 35-40 degrees. Now, it has hit an occasional 60, but is normally at 50ish. I’m guessing the net garage-degree-day count is still below the outside accumulation simply because the temps are moderated on both ends.

Wish me luck!

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