Ask a Grower, vol VI - "Grafting - Part Historic, Part Horticultural Wizardry"
I try to answer every question I'm asked - from regular customers to random web wanderers. But if there is any query that is likely to stand out from the crowd, it's an intriguing question from a web lurker overseas. We received a comment matching this description (ref. "Ask" vol II) from Prasanjit this week, checking in from India:
4/30/2012 @ 3:23 am
We're located in the city of Mumbai, India. We have lawys loved growing our own veggies, and I decided to grow an apple seedling, from the seed of a Granny Smith apple. After it sprouted and began to leaf well, I tried the same with Gala and Red delicious apples too. Now I have 4-5 young saplings, 2 each of GS and Gala, and one of Red Delicious.
I have now begun to realise that I will likely not get a GS apple from a GS sapling. However, is it possible for me to graft between these saplings I've grown from seed, and obtain a GS/Gala/Red delicious apple? Do let me know. I would really love to be able to grow these on our farmland, and atleast receive one type of edible apple from these 5 saplings I'm growing.
Thank you, Prasanjit! It's actually a fairly difficult thing to rear an apple tree from a seed, so you're doing quite well for starters.
For the history buffs out there, grafting has been an agricultural practice for more than 4000 years by some accounts. Even today all fruit orchards depend on the skilled grafting hand of a nurseryman to provide the trees that feed people. The same is true for any number of nut trees, grape vines, and a whole slug of ornamental trees and plants.
To address your question, you can graft any variety on those those seedlings and produce apples of a variety you prefer. What you'll need is some scionwood (budwood) and a little education. Just to reemphasize for clarity, you'll need to have cuttings of a living, growing Red Delicious or Granny Smith tree to have the budwood to graft over the seedlings.
Without knowing the diameter of your seedling, it's hard to provide foolproof advice. Provided your seedling trees are at least 5/8 inches in diameter (that's about 16mm), you should have enough plant material to chip bud your seedlings. You'll want to leave the top of the tree grow and make leaves to feed the rest of the tree. Using the chip budding techniques in the videos below, you'll be able to attach several buds to each seedling and they should grow - provided your cuts were straight and sterile and your union (cambium to cambium for all my fellow botany nerds) is good.
What might be fun is to leave the top of the tree, the old variety, in long enough to try some fruit before you cut it out. Sure, it may be nothing like the Granny smith you hoped for, but it might be a good variety, you never know. Perhaps it will be a new discovery - the world's greatest apple! Just don't forget who suggested leaving that branch in when the budwood is distributed!
And if the apples aren't good, just cut that part out!
- Farmer Ben
Further "Ask A Grower" reading: