Apples do not come true from seeds. So if you plant the five seeds in your Honeycrisp apple from lunch, you'll get five completely different apple trees, none of them a Honeycrisp. Instead, gardeners use a technique known as grafting to propagate apple trees. Grafting involves taking a cutting from a mature tree and attaching it to the rootstock of another tree.
Humans have been growing apples for thousands of years, and the art of grafting dates back at least to 5,000 B.C. in China. The ancient world was enchanted by the apple and took great care in its propagation. Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher, wrote about apple grafting and general apple tree care in 323 B.C., and described six apple varieties available at that time. The ancient Romans created several new apple varieties with grafting, including the lady apple, which is still grown today.
To propagate apples, you need a rootstock and a cutting. he rootstock can be acquired by planting an apple seed and waiting a few years for it to grow large enough for grafting. You can also purchase apple tree rootstock from some nurseries or garden centers. Rootstock grown at home from seed can be quite variable, and may not possess desirable growth habits. Rootstock grown in a nursery is specially selected for successful grafting.
A cutting, also called a scion, is simply a twig cut from a mature apple tree. If you have a favorite apple tree that you would like to reproduce, use a sharp knife to cut a twig from the past year's growth. Scions are best harvested in the late fall, when the tree is dormant, and stored in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, until spring. Store scions in a plastic bag filled with moist sawdust or peat moss, and do not allow them to dry out.
There are several different cuts you can use to graft apple trees, depending on the age and size of the rootstock. The basic instructions for any type of grafting is to make a fresh cut in the rootstock, then attach or insert the scion so that the cambium, a layer of cells just under the bark, lines up on both the rootstock and the scion. Protect the graft site with tape until the wound heals, but remove the tape as soon as possible to allow the tree to grow freely. You can graft multiple apple varieties together on the same tree, and you can even graft together an apple and a pear or an apple and a cherry.
Apple Tree Care
Water a newly grafted tree thoroughly but gently to help establish the tree. Apple trees like lots of sun and may need occasional watering in dry weather for good fruit production. To ensure good pollination, plant two apple trees nearby, even if they are different varieties, and growing your apples organically to attract honeybees and other insect pollinators. Prune apple trees as needed to keep them healthy and manageable.