How do I bench graft?

Bench grafting, aka whip and tongue, is a very common grafting technique for propagating apple trees since it is relatively easy and effective. Bench grafting is done relatively early in the year. We may start grafting as soon as February/March and go until April/May depending on when we can get our scionwood and rootstock. You want to make sure both the scionwood and rootstock is dormant while you are grafting with it.

In order to perform this graft, you:

  1. Select rootstock and scionwood that are approximately the same width, you want to make sure the cambium layer lines up as much as possible to increase the odds of success.
  2. Using a sharp knife (preferably a grafting knife) make a diagonal cut at the top end of the rootstock and bottom end of the scionwood, exposing about 1-2in of the interior. 
  3. Taking the knife again, cut straight into the exposed surface of the scionwood and rootstock to create a small raised piece to act as your ‘tongue’
    1. Please note that you should never touch the exposed inner wood with your fingers, the oils on your skin will prevent the tree from healing!
    2. See a demo here:
  4. Interlock the tongues of the rootstock and scionwood so they hold together as one tree
  5. Using grafting rubbers, buddy tape, etc wrap the graft tightly to hold the rootstock and scionwood together
  6. Coat the graft union in wax and dip the exposed end of the scionwood in wax to keep moisture in

To save on time we usually just make the diagonal cuts in the rootstock and scionwood and line those up. While this is faster, it is not as secure.

Once you have completed the graft, we recommend potting them and keeping them somewhere relatively cool for about a month. This allows the graft to callous over without it getting too warm, which can push the tree to try to grow too soon and use up all its energy. Be careful when handling the grafts at this point as they are very delicate and break off easily!

After this period, you can plant the grafted trees out into a nursery bed!

There are several advantages and disadvantages to this method:

  • Pros:
    • Not overly difficult once the cutting technique is mastered
    • Whip and tongue allows the scion and rootstock to be secured quite nicely 
  • Cons:
    • Need to be quite careful with the knife, cuts can be a little tricky