Collecting your own scion wood
The apple tree must be dormant (no leaves) and the buds must not have started to swell – December to February in south coastal B.C.
Ideally, the tree should be free-of-disease.
The earlier you cut the scions, the longer you have to store them so in zones 6-7-8 February is a good time to cut scions and you can graft in March.
Wait for a dry day!
The best scion wood is the wood which grew last year (2018). If you look closely at a branch of an apple tree – start looking at the very tip of the branch! Let your glance move slowly down the branch – first you will see the buds are quite far apart then they get closer and closer together and you will see a ring or rings around the branch. This is the ‘annual ring’ (also known as ‘bud scale scar’) and marks the point where growth started last year.
If you continue to glance further down the branch, you’ll see another annual ring - this marks the start of growth in 2017. Keep doing this and you will be able to tell how old the branch is.
Your scion wood should be wood which grew last year (2018). Now some scion wood is better than other scion wood.
The best scion wood is wood which is growing on the sunny side of the tree, up in the canopy, coming UP off the main branch at about 45° to 60°.
Wood hanging down is not good scion wood; wood growing horizontally is not good scion wood; wood growing straight up (water shoots) is not good scion wood.
The year’s growth should be 6-12” long and about pencil thickness (5/16”)
Cut the scion at the annual ring. Cut off the top bud and discard it. Label the scions with the name of the apple variety (using waterproof ink).
Barely moisten a paper towel – just a few drops of water scattered around the paper towel and wrap the scions in it. Put the wrapped scions in a plastic bag, close the bag tightly with a tie and store the bag in the bottom vegetable drawer of the refrigerator or similar cold, dry environment (1-3°C/33-37°F). Do not store apples or other ripening fruit in the fridge while you are storing scion wood.
Some reasons: water shoots have a lot of auxins and auxins will slow down the fruiting of your new tree plus they are too vegetative and contain too few carbohydrates.
Terminal buds produce auxin (a hormone) so cut off the terminal bud and don’t make it part of your three-bud scion.
Horizontal branches have lots of FRUIT buds and you want LEAF buds to make your new tree grow in the first year.
Wood which hangs down is weak wood.
If the new growth is only two or three inches, this will be weak wood and it is difficult to get a good three-bud scion.
A three-bud scion gives you three chances for success – you only need one bud to grow, so one of the three buds must grow to make your new tree. You can use a two-bud scion, but you’ve reduced your odds for success. You can even use a one-bud scion, but if that bud does not grow you’ve had it!
If your paper towel is wet rather than barely damp, mould will grow on your scion.
The bottom vegetable drawer of the fridge is least affected by the frost-free cycling. An old non frost-free fridge is better for storing scion wood if you have one. The cooler, the better, but don’t store scion wood in the freezer!
Ripening fruit produces ethylene and ethylene will kill the buds on the scion wood. The union will heal, but the buds will not grow.
If you have a friend or a relative who has a really good apple tree, just ask if you can collect some scion wood. Graft the scion on to an apple root stock and you’ll have a tree which produces apples exactly like the one you admired … and you’ll have a new hobby!