November 19, 2016

1 - New apple trees cannot be grown from stem cuttings, but may be propagated by grafting.

Yard and Garden November 19, 2016


A friend has an apple tree that makes delicious fruit. Can I take a piece of a stem and grow a new tree from that stem?


If you mean you want to put the stem in water or soil and have it form roots so that you can plant it, the answer is no. However, it is possible to graft that stem, or buds from that stem onto another apple tree to have a tree that produces, or at least one branch, that produces the same fruit as your friend's tree.

The apple trees you buy in nurseries or garden centers are grafted trees. They may be grafted onto a seedling rootstock, or more often onto special rootstocks, such as dwarfing rootstocks. A rootstock is a part of the tree providing the root system to which a scion, or upper, fruit bearing portion, is grafted.

If you already have an apple tree, this is something for you to consider. However, first be sure that your friend's tree is not a recently released variety that is still protected by a plant patent. It is illegal to graft such a branch from a patented variety onto your tree. If the branch your friend is offering is from a tree whose plant patent has expired, then you can legally graft a branch onto your own tree.

There are probably several books in your local library that will provide instructions and illustrations teaching the various types of grafting. Some people prefer a form of grafting called "whip grafting", others like "cleft grafts", and others prefer one of the other many forms of grafting. I have been most successful with a form of grafting that is called "t-budding" in which a single bud from a branch is grafted onto the new rootstock. I like this because I can get several buds, and therefore, chances for a successful graft from a single branch. I also think there is less chance for damage from a bird roosting on the newly attached graft with this form of grafting. I like to place the bud on the north side of a trunk or large branch to protect the graft from our intense New Mexico sunlight and drying southwest winds.

If you do not already have your own apple tree, you cannot graft an apple onto just any other tree. The rootstock and scion must be closely related. In the case of apple, you cannot even graft it onto most pear tree varieties, even though pears are fairly closely related to apples. So, if you lack an apple tree, you can start one from a seed, but even that is an involved process and will take several years. The simplest option is to purchase a tree of the desired variety. If the tree is still protected by patent, that is your only legal option. If you purchase an apple tree, of any variety, you can then graft another (non-patented) variety to your tree within a year and for many years after that. It is possible to have a single apple tree that produces many different varieties of apple fruits.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

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