Grafting fruit trees to extend the fruiting season

Why bother with grafting your fruit trees?

Well last year we had a bumper crop of apples (35kg) from 2 of our trees and we enjoyed the fresh fruit over a couple of months.  It was great while the harvest lasted, but given that our family manages to consume up to 4kg of apples each week, the apples ran out quickly.  

I noticed that later on in the season, well past when all our apples were gone, my friends and family were still picking fresh apples from their trees.  The apples were different varieties to what I am growing (golden delicious and pink lady).  This got me thinking about how I could extend the season of fresh apples at our place to enjoy them for a few more months in the season.

We don’t have much space left for any more fruit trees, so the next best option was to consider grafting some different (later season) varieties onto our trees. 

Fortunately my friend who lives close by (thanks Brad) gave me plenty of cuttings off his tree.  They were a mix of different heritage varieties along with the golden delicious, which has turned out to be one of my favourite apples fresh from the tree.  Brad told me stories of when he was young and the memories he had of biting into the huge juicy apples off their golden delicious tree whilst watching the cricket.   I hope my children will look back to their younger years with fond memories of the fresh fruit and vegetables they enjoyed.

Anyway, back to the task at hand – I kept the cuttings in a vase of water over a few days until I had time to buy some grafting tape.  With tape in hand and an old stanley knife I went to work on our 3 apple trees adding as many grafts as possible in the hope that at least 50% or more would take and continue to grow.

I used the whip and tongue method (thanks again Brad for the brief run down).  This method is recommended for apple trees, and seemed to work well holding the 2 sides together when I tried to line up the outer layer of the branch known as the cambium layer.  This layer produces the growth rings inside the tree adding new layers each season.  The trick to obtaining a good graft is to make sure this layer lines up perfectly between the graft wood (known as the scion wood) and the tree itself.  The tree then works to fuse both sides together as the tree comes out of dormancy and begins to grow for the new season.  

Below is a picture of what a whip and tongue graft looks like.

tongue and whip graft

With a little practice, the best method I found was to do the following:

Measure the branch size and make sure the width is the same as the cutting.  Pick a section on the branch and cutting that is about 1 inch long and straight so it is easier to line up later on.

Here are the steps I followed…

Graft instructions part 1

Graft instructions part 2

Graft instructions part 3

If the forecast is for warmer weather in the coming days, then it is recommended to bag the end cutting to protect the new shoots from drying out. I didn’t get around to doing this, and we have had some days in the mid 20’s so it will be interesting to see how many of the grafts survive.  I have noticed some new growth on some of the grafts which is a good sign.

Here are some pics of the completed grafts.

IMAG1444 IMAG1447

I also did some experimenting by grafting some pear cuttings onto the apple trees.  In future years I plan to add some plum varieties to the apricot tree and also some different peach varieties to the nectarine trees.  Grafting has definately opened up a new world of possibilities for my small garden!

If you are limited by space and only have a few trees, why not try to combine some varieties by grafting onto the one tree and enjoying a mix of different fruit for a longer time over the growing season.