A few months ago I went on a grafting course, run by Abundance. I’d not done anything like it before, and wasn’t entirely convinced it was going to work, but I was after an apple tree for the garden, and it’s always good to learn how to do new things, right?
The idea is that you have two halves of tree – the bottom half (the root stock), and the top half (er, the top bit, I’m sure there was a technical name). Fruit trees can be full size (pretty big), dwarf (small enough to grow in a pot) and plenty of other things in between. You’re trying to get the variety of apple you want (the top bit) onto the size of tree you want (the root stock).
So, you have what is essentially two sticks, one with some roots attached. You have to cut them in a special way, and tape them together, so they grow to be one stick. Sounds simple.
The top stick you have to cut at a diagonal, just below a bud. You’ve got to expose the sap (I think that’s what it was called – that ring you can see running round the outer edge) all the way around, and leave the bark intact too. This isn’t as easy as it looks, and took most of us several goes to get right.
On the bottom bit, you need a slightly different angle of cut.
They need to match up, so you need the same size of cut face on each bit, something like this (that nail varnish wasn’t as orange as it looks, honestly!)
Then you need to create two grooves, one in each stick, and slot them together.
Again, that took most of us several goes.. The angles have got to be right, the sap has got to line up, and you’re not meant to be able to see through the gaps.
Once you’re satisfied (or time is running out), you tape up your creation with special really-stretchy biodegradable tape, and put a blob of hot wax on top of the exposed bit on the bottom stick to prevent it from rotting.
Then you take it home (trying not to dislodge your beautifully crafted join in the process), unwrap the roots from their soggy newspaper, and plant the whole thing in a pot, with plenty of water.
If you’re lucky, after a week or two, this will start to happen…
You’ll need to knock off the leaves that are growing underneath the join (otherwise you’ll end up with an apple tree that is only ‘bottom stick’ and all that grafting to put the top stick on will have been pointless).
After a few short weeks, and plenty of rain, your little mini apple tree may well look something like this…
And after a whole summer of sunshine (and a good deal of rain too), it might look rather like this…