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

Stooling an apple rootstock

Stooling an apple

It seems a bit counter-intuitive to go out in the spring and cut down a baby apple tree, but that's exactly why I planted the tree below.  I set out the Budagovski 9 (aka Bud 9) rootstock last spring with the intention of using it to create more rootstocks for grafting in spring 2015.  To that end, I let the tree grow for a year, and now I'm cutting it back to prompt the tree to send out shoots.

Cutting back apple rootstockThe image above, from the 1957 Oregon Extension Service document "Propagating Clonal Rootstocks," sums up the process of stooling very succinctly.  I'll keep my eye on my little tree this spring, and once the shoots are four to six inches tall, I'll mound up sawdust (or perhaps dirt) around the lower half.  Just like hilling potatoes, I'll come back through a couple of times during May and June, adding more sawdust until my mounds are 12 to 15 inches tall.

After that, it's a waiting game.  The tree will send out roots into the sawdust around the base of each shoot, and by this time next year I'll be able to rake back the sawdust, clip off the rooted shoots, and use them as rootstocks for another dwarf tree planting.  I only expect a few shoots this first year, but the stool (plant I'm cutting from) should increase production over time, and can keep churning out shoots for over a decade.  Not a bad return on my few dollar investment.

Although I don't know for sure that my stooling experiment will work out, I'm confident enough that I'm adding three more rootstock varieties to the row this year --- MM111 and M7 for apples, plus OHxF for pears.  I know that seems a little overboard since I just grafted a dozen new trees last month, but I love propagating, and I've never had any of my new perennials go to waste.  If we don't use them, they make great gifts!

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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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Bud 9 happens to make decent eating apples. Tinged with red inside.

Have you thought about just rooting cuttings? Rootstocks are of course chosen for rooting abilities, etc. If you root cuttings you preserve your rootstock tree and you can make more of your roots and at a faster pace. You know, 1 sucker, against a branch that can be cut to multiple pieces.

Its what I do. I have an m111 tree and several bud 9's(I like their fruit), and I just take cuttings and root them. Sometimes I'll even do grafts on the trees, then just air layer the branches then plant them out.

Comment by T Mon Apr 7 14:44:24 2014
T --- Interesting suggestion! I may try to root the top I cut off, given your advice. It's true that I noticed some of the rootstocks at the grafting workshop had started rooting further up the nodes just from being in a cool, damp place. I love your idea of grafting and then rooting rather than vice versa --- fascinating!
Comment by anna Tue Apr 8 09:24:45 2014
Propagating small homestead-specific fruit trees sounds like a great sideline business for you!
Comment by Emily Tue Apr 8 09:38:34 2014
How exactly do you root cuttings? From what I've read, it's posssible but very hard. I was thinking of stooling rootstocks but if rooting is better then I might go that route. Also, I've heard of using rooting hormone. Is this a natural hormone, or would it be acceptable for natural/organic practices?
Comment by josh Thu May 15 12:49:39 2014

Josh --- The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation says: "Apple rootstocks...have been propagated from hardwood material. This technique is most logically accomplished in regions with mild winter temperatures. Hardwood cuttings of apple are harvested in fall or late winter, the basal ends are treated with root-promoting cemicals (IBA 2500 to 5000 ppm). After hormone treatment the cuttings are bundled together and placed in damp packing material (peat moss and sand) contained in insulated bins with bottom heat (64 to 70 F) for about 4 weeks. The tops are left exposed to the cool temperatures. Cuttings are transplanted before bud growth commences which is about the time roots begin to emerge."

I wouldn't try this with eating apple varieties, though, just with rootstocks since the latter have been selected for ease of rooting. Unfortunately, I can't answer your question about organicness of rooting hormone, but from a personal perspective, I wouldn't worry about it since you won't be eating anything from that tree until years later, at which point any impact of the rooting hormone will be long gone.

Comment by anna Sat May 17 10:51:19 2014
there are several websites where you can buy apple trees of named cultivars on their own roots(or just air layer your own), they don't have optional sizes (standard, half standard, dwarf) however using the stooling method would produce several clones of named cultivars with no need to graft
Comment by kevin Thu Sep 8 21:43:24 2016

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