Monday, 20 March 2017



As the world moves on into an age of high technology, change and progress are happening at all levels. There is no excuse now not to buy an apple tree as I don’t have a big garden. Breeders and scientists have produced trees to suit both commercial orchards as well as the enthusiastic gardener with small gardens. The step over apple tree grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock grows only a few feet tall but is kept small with summer pruning. Another dwarf tree is the single stemmed Starline apple (Firedance is a great variety) kept narrow and columnar also by summer pruning all side shoots to a couple of buds. Other apples for small gardens come as cordons, espaliers, fans or dwarf bushes all grown on dwarfing rootstocks.
John picks Red Devil apples
However you still have to sort out a good variety that is disease resistant, easy to grow and has good flavour, but to complicate matters you want an early variety to start picking ripe fruit at the end of August, continue for a few more months on the tree then in store for a few more months.
Cutting a scion for grafting
Over the years I have grown many varieties so now I can pick from end of August with those in storage taking me through winter. My first apple of the season started with the heritage variety the Oslin also known as the Arbroath Pippin, then my early Discovery takes over for a few more weeks. Maincrop Red Devil, and Red Falstaff keep me in apples into winter then finally it was the end of February before my last Fiesta reached the plate though the cooker Bramley lasted till March.
My garden my be bigger than your average, and I have four trees, but to get my wide range of varieties one large tree is a family
Scion inserted into prepared branch
tree with at least six different varieties grown on it, and every time some-one shows me a must have variety, I get some young shoots and graft it onto my tree.
My pear tree has undergone the same treatment and now has Comice, Conference, The Christie, Beurre Hardy and soon Concorde will be added to it.
In my early youth I was shown how to graft while working at the Scottish Crop Research Institute which had a museum collection of apples from all over the world to try and find varieties suited to Scottish conditions so grafting was a common practise. It sounded very technical and difficult, but is surprisingly easy and it is a wonderful feeling when you check up in early summer and find all the grafts
Grafted shoot tied and sealed with grafting wax
have taken and are pushing up strong growth.
Today the technique is shown on many Youtube videos, and you do not need many tools other than a very sharp knife, a pair of loppers or a saw and a wee tub of wound sealer or grafting wax which can be applied cold.
In winter I collect strong one year old shoots of a good variety which I want to add onto my tree and heel them into a shaded cool spot in the garden. In spring once trees begin to grow the sap starts rising and acts like a lubricant helping the bark to separate from the stem to allow our graft to be easily inserted and the sap will bring the two together. The tree is prepared by selecting a branch to be grafted and cutting it down to allow space for a new shoot to grow. If this branch cut is about one inch across it will take one graft, but if you are doing a larger branch say four inches across it will take three grafts. Take the graftwood (also known as scions) and clean any soil from it. Now make a two inch long cut going right through the stem near the bottom of the shoot
Grafts begin to grow
between two dormant buds with one bud opposite the sloping cut. Trim this scion to about three or four buds. It is now ready. Make a downward cut about two inches long at the top of the prepared branch and gently flick open the bark slightly. This will allow the short scion to be inserted with the flat cut against the inside. Commercially this is now tied tight with grafting tape, but I don’t have any so I cut up strips from some polythene bags and they do the same job just fine. Now seal up any exposed cut surfaces with some wound sealant or grafting wax. If you are doing a few varieties tie a label on them so you know what they are, then await warmer weather for the new shoots to grow.
Paul Barnett from Sussex has grafted over 250 varieties on one tree over the last 24 years.

Wee jobs to do this week
Mixed pansies

Check over pots, tubs and hanging baskets planted last autumn with spring flowering pansies and primroses and replace any that have died in winter. There are now plenty in flower available now in most garden centres.


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