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:
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.
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: http://www.fedcoseeds.com/forms/ft36scionOS.pdf
Walden Heights Nursery: http://waldenheightsnursery.com/store/scionwood-seed
Tower Hill Botanic Garden (not taking orders at this time, but they do have a scionwood collection; contact them for updated status): http://www.towerhillbg.org/files/3213/6501/4578/th_scionwood_ord08-09.pdf
Maple Valley Orchard & Nursery: http://maplevalleyorchards.com/pages/scionwood.aspx
Don’t delay; most of these will be done collecting scionwood or taking orders for the season very soon!