Tree vivisection? Another spring, another attempt at grafting.

I have an arboretum and an orchard in the backyard. It’s a very compact arboretum, containing seedlings of a future landscape in the manner of Humphrey Repton and Capability Brown, I hope (doomed to be on a smaller scale, though), all pruned to keep them compact and movable, as we only rent at present. Oaks, a copper beech, yew, juniper, pines, cedars, basswood, European linden, horse chestnut, maple … all from seed. The orchard is intermingled with it, and contains two apples I actually bought (from Corn Hill, an excellent nursery for heritage apples and hardy roses, if you’re in the Maritimes). They’re a Cox’s Orange Pippin and a Bramley. There’s a plum and a few pears, as well as several apple seedlings of various parentage that I expect will turn out to be interesting apples some day when they grow up, plus three trees I use for grafting on. There used to be four, but several years ago I had a graft actually take (one of my first goes at Jones budding in August), so now the fourth grafting tree is off-limits, being officially a Bishop’s Pippin. I think I’ve been grafting on those poor trees for a decade (I started them from seed too); they’re beginning to look like some plant vivisectionist’s victim, all scars.

Some years ago I gave up on cleft grafting, and started trying Jones budding, using a handy dandy booklet entitled Fruit Tree Propagation, courtesy of Agriculture Canada, circa 1968. (Publication 1289, for those requiring more detail.) This is done in August, which made it easy to get buds from several varieties I’m particularly fond of, in the orchard at the Spouse’s parents’ cottage. Now that I’ve got a Bishop’s Pippin, the ones I’m particularly keen to succeed with are Baldwin, Russet, and Northern Spy. No luck with those three so far. I have a Northern Spy seedling, which might turn out someday to be Spy-like (or worse luck, end up like MacIntosh, which I don’t like and which is what dominates the orchard). Corn Hill also sells Spies and Russets, so I know that someday, when I have LAND, I can have both. They don’t sell Baldwins, though. The Baldwin is a late keeping apple with a very good flavour for both eating and cooking. I want one in my orchard, but at this rate … well, I have five Baldwin cross seedlings, about three inches high, and they may be my best hope to preserve the Baldwin (though they run the danger of being mostly bland, bitter-skinned MacIntosh, I know). Not one of my budding attempts from last August survived the winter; all have shrivelled away. Hence tonight’s sudden outbreak of “oblique side grafting”.

This involved me, out in the drizzling dusk with a jackknife that should have been sharper, some pruning compound (gloopy, tarry, asphalt stuff), some masking tape, as the cuts in the branch never spring back and hold the scion as the Ag. Can. booklet instructs them to do, and Mr Wicked in a supervisory capacity, chained out of reach. White dog. Runny black asphalt. Disaster just waiting to happen. By the end, I had my three scarred trees all stuck with new twigs and slathered with new tar, had tar inside the rubber gloves that I had at the last minute remembered to put on to keep from getting my hand stuck to my knife with tar like last time … but at least I didn’t get my hair full of it. Unlike last time.

Reeking of kerosene, which is the only thing that takes that asphalt pruning compound off, I have now retired indoors to contemplate the orchards of the mind, in which grafts always take and railway worms and scab are things unknown. At least with spring grafting, I don’t have to wait months to see if I had any successes. Really, the late-summer budding is a bit like writing. You do all this work, and then you wait, and wait, and wait, for that slim chance of success, the sudden spark of green.

Addendum: June 2011 – I’ve discovered this is in fact the top site in searches for “Jones budding”, which must frustrate people, as it contains no instructions. The booklet I use, from Agriculture Canada, is from 1968, crown copyright; thus it’s still under copyright for a few years more, so I can’t just post it. However, here are some links to websites on various grafting and budding techniques.
University of Illinois — Jones budding is included here; it’s also called plate budding and dry budding.
Texas A&M
Hope that helps!

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About K.V. Johansen

The author of Blackdog, The Leopard, The Lady, and Gods of Nabban, epic fantasies from Pyr, I also write for teens and children, including the "Torrie", "Warlocks of Talverdin", and "Cassandra Virus" series, and the "Pippin and Mabel" picture books, as well as a couple of short story collections and two works of adult literary criticism on the history of children's fantasy literature. I have a Master's degree in Mediaeval Studies, and read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and history. Blog at thewildforest.wordpress.com
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