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:
From time to time, we recieve mail on our website with some questions about one thing or another. It often takes me a while to get to them, but I do try to respond to each one whenever I find a moment here or there. I recently got a real stumper, inspiring me to share it with everyone. The emailer asks:
A neighbor had an old apple tree that the wind blew down. It had good, fall- bearing, sour apples. I took a sprout from around the base and planted. That was probably five/six years ago. The tree is about 20 feet tall, leafs out nicely every year but has never bloomed. What is the problem? Thank you..
This is a case of close but no cigar. Let me explain.
Each apple tree grown at a commerical nursery is comprised of two crucial parts, the rootstock and scion. The rootstock controls a number of things including the size the tree will be at maturity, susceptibility to diseases and a number of other things. The scion is what makes a tree the desired variety. In other words, a Gala tree is made of a rootstock that could be used to grow any other compatible variety and a scion, "cutting", of Gala. These two parts are grafted together and the tree grows up to be the desired variety.
Old trees used rootstocks that, in addition to not controlling tree height, produced a lot of "suckers" as we call them. A "sucker", as it's called in the fruit business, is a vegetative growth that takes energy away from the fruit producing part of the tree. They are also called "rootsuckers" or "watersprouts". They are always the first thing to go when dormant pruning an apple tree.
When I read that this emailer had a large tree that didn't bloom and that the cutting was taken from the "base", it stands to reason that this cutting was part of the rootstock part of the tree - probably one of many "suckers" under the tree's canopy. As a result, the tree is very large but doesn't bloom. Because suckers are 100% vegetative and blossoms (and the subsequent fruit) is propagative growth, we can deduce that this trend is likely to continue. This emailer knew to propagate the tree by taking a cutting, he just took one at the wrong part of the tree.
Close, but no cigar.
For further "Ask A Grower" reading:
- "Ask A Grower" vol VI - Grafting Workshop
- "Ask A Grower" vol. V - Proper Apple Storage
- "Ask A Grower" vol. IV - All About Cider
- "Ask A Grower" vol. III - Clingstone Peaches vs. Freestone Peaches
- "Ask A Grower" vol. II - Granny Smith Fables
- "Ask A Grower" vol I - Roots & Scions