Follow this grafting checklist. Remember, grafting is like a soufflé. Skip a step, and it's a flop.
How to collect/store scion and rootstocks:
A) Collect your scion wood while it is dormant. It's best to collect well before the buds swell in the spring. The further south you are, the earlier you should collect your scion.
B) One year wood (last season's growth) is the easiest to use. Ideally sticks that are about 18"- 36" in length and about 5/16 in diameter. This type of wood will only be found on trees that were pruned the winter before. If you don't have this type of wood, don't panic. Older wood works it's just not as easy to work with.
C) Keep your scion cool and moist. Wrap it in a damp towel and put it in a plastic bag. A typical refrigerator is 37ºF and this is perfect. However, if you have any fruit in the fridge then the fridge won't work. Ethylene gas is a no-no. I would recommend purchasing a cheap dorm fridge on Craigslist or if you have a snow drift, just bury it.
D) Your rootstocks have finally arrived! How to store them. You want to keep the rootstock cool and the roots moist. If you have a room that's about 45 then that is perfect. Wrap the roots in a plastic bag with some moist sawdust and they will be fine. You could just leave them in the shipping plastic and they will be fine.
E) Time to graft. We recommend using the whip and tongue method for bench grafting. We have not yet produced our own grafting video. There are dozens on YouTube. This one is quite well done. https://www.youtube.com/watch?
How to bench graft:
A sharp knife is critical. This is the best on the market. http://ambergs.com/shop/tina-6
If you cannot match the scion to the rootstock then match one side. Do not split the difference. A one-sided graft works just fine.
- To seal and compress the graft. There are many options. The cheapest and most available is good old electrical tape. Get it warm in your pocket and stretch it tight over the cuts. Budding rubbers or parafilm also work.
- We use a 50/50 mix of paraffin and beeswax as our sealer. Don't use pure beeswax. The grafts will stick together and don't use pure paraffin. The bud won't push thru because the paraffin is too hard A ready made wax substance works as well from AM Leonard. Dip the top 1 inch of scion into the wax. This keeps it from drying out during the callousing process. A double boiler is the way to keep the wax blend from getting too hot. A coffee can within a larger coffee can works great. Alternately, you could use an old crock pot. The temperature is perfect in a crock pot set to low.
- Heel in the grafts into a moist medium. We use damp sawdust. However potting soil or perlite work fine. A damp towel around the roots and put into a plastic bag works fine as well.
- We store our grafts anywhere from 2-12 weeks before planting. A 45º room for 6 weeks works well. If the buds on your scion start to show any green at all and it is still too early to plant outside, then put them in the fridge to slow them down.
- We start grafting in January and finish up in mid April with a targeted planting date of May 15-20. This gives them enough time to form a callous. We like to plant after the threat of hard frost is past. (but a light frost, 28º, is o.k) About the time we plant chance tomatoes.
- Acclimate your grafts outside in the shade for a few days. The perfect planting stage is a graft that is just showing signs of green tip and has been hardened off for a few days. Plant on a cloudy day. (Planting in the rain is about perfect for small jobs.)
- Planting in ground vs. planting in pots vs. planting in permanent location.
- Planting in the ground in a garden situation is best. 1 ft apart in well prepared soil. Keep the weeks out and keep them watered. Mulch helps. Basically, they are tomato plants.
- Planting in pots works, but is more work. Use a 3-5 gallon pot in nice potting soil. Pots heat up in the summer and roots do not like to be hot so cover the pots in a pile of bark chips. Don't forget to get somebody to water them when you go away for a week!. (This is why the ground is better).
- Planting in permanent location only works if you are willing to take care of it. It's a lot easier to protect 20 trees in a single row than it is to take care of them in random locations. Deer, water, weeds etc. Dig them in the fall or spring after they have lost their leaves and transplant into permanent location.
- Put up tomato stakes for birds to land on. A black bird will always pick the highest point to perch on. If a graft is the highest point in your nursery, it will perch on your graft and snap it off. It will then move to the next and the next and so on. Goodbye grafts!
- Keep the weeds out, and water regularly.
- Keep the bugs out!! Tarnished plant bugs and leaf hoppers inject poison into the growing tip and may set your young graft back by several weeks.
- As your grafts grow, rub out any shoots that grow from the rootstock. The graft is very delicate so be careful. Typically, there will be anywhere from 1-3 shoots emerge from your scion. When they are about 3 inches long select the strongest to become your tree. The other two leave but pinch the growing tips. These are insurance policies. After the selected strong one is about a foot tall, it is safe to remove the insurance shoots. All of the energy is now being directed to the terminal tip of the scion shoot. As side shoots try to grow from the central leader remove them. They will be too low to form branches and the will divert growth away from the central leader.
- Visit your plants regularly. A nursery is just what its name implies. Your plants thrive with attention!
- Good Luck. If it doesn't work the first time, keep on trying. You can always chip bud your failed grafts in August.