Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

Collecting Dormant Scionwood

While north­ern gar­den­ers are buried in snow, west­ern gar­den­ers are del­uged with rain, and south­ern­ers are coated with ice; it’s not too early to think about any fruit tree prop­a­ga­tion you may be plan­ning for the spring. This will require a sup­ply of dor­mant scionwood (aka bud­wood.) Before spring arrives, it will be time to col­lect that wood and store it until you are ready for your prop­a­ga­tion project.

Rea­sons for spring graft­ing or budding:
  • To repair rodent dam­age to tree trunks
  • To switch from a vari­ety that did not work out for you or was not to your lik­ing to a more suit­able one
  • To use a root­stock suited to your soil, cli­mate, and gar­den goals paired with your cho­sen scion variety
  • To save a few bucks if you are plant­ing numer­ous trees and have more time than money
Col­lect­ing scionwood for spring use:
  • sticks of scionwood suitable for grafting

    Pencil-diameter scionwood , each with a dozen veg­e­ta­tive buds, suit­able for graft­ing & bud­ding. Note fruit spur on bot­tom of left stick. This bud would not be suitable.

    Bud­wood should be prop­erly mature — that is wood from last summer’s growth.

  • Use veg­e­ta­tive buds, not fruit buds or spur wood.
  • Sticks 8″ to 12″ are what you want with at least half a dozen healthy veg­e­ta­tive buds.
  • Scionwood the diam­e­ter of a pen­cil or your pinky fin­ger is ideal.
  • Small diam­e­ter, weak wood will not pro­vide as high a graft “take” and should be avoided, unless it is your only source of a rare variety.
  • Larger diam­e­ter scions will be more dif­fi­cult to match to the diam­e­ter of the root­stock or require an extra large cut in a top­worked limb. (Mak­ing sev­eral pen­cil size grafts in a large limb will increase the like­li­hood of a good take over one fat graft.)
  • Water­sprouts are not suit­able for most top­work­ing, bench graft­ing, or bud­ding uses. They are how­ever excel­lent for bridge graft­ing to repair rodent damage.
Han­dling Scionwood
  • Wrapped bundle of budwood

    Bud­wood wrapped in damp cloth. All it needs now is a vari­ety name label.

    There is some debate about cut­ting scionwood while it is still frozen. Cut­ting dur­ing a brief thaw, but before growth becomes active is a good rule of thumb.

  • Bud­wood should be col­lected as close to use as pos­si­ble, but must still be dor­mant. In the North­east and Mid­west, this is usu­ally be mid to late March, (with prop­a­ga­tion tak­ing place from  late-March into April; weather depend­ing.) In the warmer cli­mates of the South and West Coast, col­lec­tion may need to be done in late-February.
  • If cut­ting sev­eral sticks of the same vari­ety, they can be bun­dled together with one label. Large twist ties work well for this out in the field. Remem­ber to use a per­ma­nent marker, such as a Sharpie, for writ­ing labels.
  • Cut, label, and wrap one scion vari­ety at a time to avoid mix-ups. A label both inside and out­side is good insur­ance against mix-ups.
  • Pro­tect bud­wood sticks from dry­ing and freez­ing. Wrap each bun­dle of wood in damp (not soak­ing wet) news­pa­per or burlap and cover the bun­dle with a plas­tic bag.
  • Store under refrig­er­a­tion, 30 to 40̊F is best. If this is not pos­si­ble, bun­dles can be stored in damp saw­dust or sand, pro­tected from mice. I have used an old metal wash­tub, filled with sawd­sut and cov­ered with a big mound of snow. Placed on the north side of the house, it stayed dor­mant long past the time that tree buds started to emerge in spring.

If you don’t have a local source of scionwood, you can try one of these mail-order sources:
Fedco Trees:
Walden Heights Nurs­ery:
Tower Hill Botanic Gar­den (not tak­ing orders at this time, but they do have a scionwood col­lec­tion; con­tact them for updated sta­tus):
Maple Val­ley Orchard & Nurs­ery:
Don’t delay; most of these will be done col­lect­ing scionwood or tak­ing orders for the sea­son very soon!