Grafting 101

Interested in grafting your own trees? We've got you covered, from supplies to know-how!

Grafting Fruit Trees

What is grafting?

Grafting is the process in which part of one tree is taken and attached to a different tree where it will continue to grow. Often, trees must be of the same species or genus for this to work, although grafting within the same family is also possible. I.e. we use apple rootstock for apples, and pear rootstock for pears; while there is occasionally some graft compatibility between apple and pear, it is far and few between. 

Most commonly in our fields and orchards we use the following methods of grafting:

  • Bench grafting: a small branch called a scion or scionwood is cut from one tree, a matching cut is made on rootstock, then they are fitted and tied together.
  • Chip budding: which involves cutting the bud from one tree, making a matching cut on the rootstock, inserting the bud into the cut, then wrapping it. 
  • Bark Inlay: scionwood is carefully cut and shaped, then inserted directly into the bark of another tree.


What is scionwood?

Scionwood, or scions, are the small branches you graft with in order to propagate a variety. It is the one year growth from a tree. The scionwood is what grows into the desired variety when we are grafting! For example, if you want to grow a Pink Pearl apple tree you would collect scionwood from a Pink Pearl tree and graft it onto rootstock. 

Scionwood and budwood are essentially the exact same thing, it's just a difference in time of year that they are collected/used and handling.

Where can I get scionwood?

We sell scionwood from our orchards. Generally, any tree listed on our website or in our catalogue is growing in one of our test orchards and we should be able to provide scionwood for it. We also have many other varieties (over 500 collectively) that aren’t on the website, so feel free to inquire about other varieties. Some of our trees may be too young to provide sufficient scionwood to sell however.

If you are interested in ordering, send us a wishlist of what you are interested in and we will let you know what we are likely able to provide! We will not know for sure what is available until we harvest our scionwood in the spring, so there may still be changes to orders at this time. We will notify you if any of the requested scions are unavailable. If possible, sending along some options you wouldn’t mind as substitutes helps things go more smoothly when cutting scionwood for orders!

We do our best to provide scionwood that is pencil thickness (ideal for grafting) and at least 12-18in long, providing at least two to three grafts’ or more worth of material. If the scions are smaller than we would like, we will either discount your order or provide extra material to compensate. Some trees naturally produce small or skinny scions, so we are not always able to provide ideal grafting material.

We recommend placing scion orders by Dec. 31st for the following spring for priority selection. We generally harvest our scions in late winter/early spring depending on the weather and they are often available for shipping/pick-up earlier than our other orders. Please note that we ship scion orders in April at our discretion, with no delay available. If you need to hold it dormant until later in the season that is your own responsibility. 

Scionwood can also be sourced from other growers (eg. Bill O’Keefe in Ontario has an excellent heritage selection) or you can harvest it yourself if you have a tree you would like to propagate!

How to collect and store scionwood

What is budwood?

Budwood is the same portion of the tree, just collected in August(for us - this may vary based on your climate), and it's used for bud grafting. We use the fresh shoots from the currant year, look for the growth collar (a ring at the base of the branch where it changes from 2 year old wood to 1 year wood). It should be around pencil thickness. Similar to scionwood, these buds determine what variety the grafted tree will be.

How do I harvest budwood?

In late summer (usually around August for us*), locate the current year’s growth on your tree. It will generally be thinner, smoother, and glossier than older growth. Cut this off the tree and cut off the youngest end, the buds here will likely be smaller and less plump since they have not matured yet and will not be as successful for chip budding. Remove the leaves but leave the stems so you have a ‘handle’ with which you can hold the hold when working with it later. Bundle the budwood (we use masking tape) and label immediately.

*Look for a slight browning of the buds under the leaf stem. Soft, green tissue is immature. For grafting we want hardened off material with a solid heartwood core, brown bark, and bit of brown to the buds we use. Some varieties are more tricky than others; Muscadet de Dieppe for example can feel hard but look very green, and that's just the nature of it! If in doubt, give the tree another week or so until you are sure the budwood is 'ripe'. But keep in mind, the trees need 15-20 days to nicely callous with warm weather, so be careful leaving it too late in the season. We like to wrap up around early-mid September, though ideally we keep it all in August, in a typical year (weather dependent).

Store the budwood in a cooler and use it for grafting within 24h. Unlike scionwood which can be stored dormant in the fridge for months, budwood quickly dries out and is no longer viable.

Online Grafting Courses by Silver Creek Nursery and Orchard People

We get so many questions and comments about grafting, and our whip-and-tongue grafting course sells out so early every year, we decided to partner with Susan Poizner of Orchard People to create an online course.

The course is currently being upgraded to include a grafting forum and more - get your name added to the waitlist below to stay in touch!

In-person Grafting Course at Silver Creek Nursery

Unfortunately this is sold out for spring 2023.