The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to gather scionwood

Storing scionwoodAfter figuring out your rootstock, you'll still need to hunt down some scionwood before starting to graft.  Scionwood (sometimes simply called "scion") consists of small twigs of the variety you want your final fruit tree to become.  By grafting a piece of Arkansas Black scionwood onto a rootstock, for example, all aboveground growth of the tree will produce Arkansas Black apples.

How and when you collect your scionwood depends on the type of graft you plan to perform.  Budding is done in the summer, so you want to clip off scionwood during the growing season and graft right away.  The scionwood is often called a "budstick" in this case, and the number of buds on it is not relevant since you'll be using one at a time.

Most of us (especially if we live in more northern states and are grafting apples and pears) will be grafting during the winter, in which case we collect scionwood during the dormant season and store it in a cellar, underground, or in the fridge until late winter.  Michael Phillips recommends gathering dormant scionwood in January or February, wrapping it in moist newspaper and then in a ziplock bag, and storing the cuttings in the fridge.  No matter how you store it, you should be careful not to let your scionwood, freeze, dehydrate, or mildew.

Scionwood for dormant grafting should be carefully selected.  The best scionwood comes from the previous season's growth (meaning the twigs aren't quite a year old) and doesn't contain any flower buds.  The tip of the previous year's growth isn't as good, so if you have the choice, you'll want to cut your scionwood from the lower two-thirds of the young branch.  Select a piece about 12 to 18 inches long to give you wiggle room if you can, but if scionwood is in short supply you can get away with shorter pieces as long as each one contains three or four buds.  The twigs you select should be about the thickness of a pencil, roughly a quarter to half an inch in diameter.

Apple scionwood

But how do you find a tree to cut scionwood from?  If you're lucky, you'll have a helpful neighbor with a tasty variety you want to try out in your own yard.  (I hope to get some Seckel pear scionwood that way from my movie star neighbor.)  Alternatively, you can buy scionwood from online nurseries, or check out this site to swap scionwood with fellow enthusiasts.  Finally, I'd be glad to swap scionwood with any of you if you have varieties I'm looking for and want one of my cuttings in exchange.

I can give:
I'm looking for:
  • Pears --- Keiffer, Oriental (which isn't actually an Asian pear)
  • Peaches --- Redhaven, Cresthaven
  • Apples --- Early Transparent, Virginia Beauty, Winesap (old-fashoned), Liberty
  • Mulberry --- Illinois Everbearing
  • Fig --- Chicago Hardy
  • Pears resistant to fireblight (especially Seckel, Dabney, Tyson, Harrow Delight, Honeysweet, Hoskins, and Luscious)
  • Figs --- Sal (Gene strain), Marselles vs Black, Blue Celeste

Drop me an email if you're interested, or leave a comment below to swap with other readers.

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This post is part of our Grafting lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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