Although the title of this page refers to the “Grating” of fruit trees, in reality we are not grafting. This term is just more routinely recognized then is “Air Layering”. Grafting is a method of tree propagation where the tissues of one plant are encouraged to fuse with those of another. It is most commonly used for the propagation of trees and shrubs grown commercially. In other words, and for example a small apple tree branch is cut off and fused onto a large branch on another tree (even a non-apple tree). In theory, that branch on it's new host tree, will now produce apples.
"Air layering", on the other hand, is the process of removing a large branch or section of the trunk of a tree to create a whole new tree. Before the branch is removed it is girdled, protected with peat moss or other media and the girdled section is allowed to root. After rooting the branch is removed from the tree. This method is often used in bonsai to obtain another tree from an unwanted branch or to save a thick trunk section that was going to be removed anyway. We used this Air Layering method very successfully when I was growing up in South Florida, to produce many new orange and grapefruit trees.
On this page I hope to document my success of "Air Layering" Apple Trees in Maryland, and particularly for a friend of mine in my office.
Towards the end of fall, buds are just starting to show. This will probably be the main tree used for our Air Layering project.
Just checking out some surrogate branches. Looking for straight and strong with a good shape.
Another possible host apple tree. This one is much smaller and slower growing. It was hit by high winds which pushed it over and we are trying to get it to grow back straight. It should not effect any grafts.
Well, as usual time got away from me and I did not update routinely. To catch up, Spring came a bit early this year (IMHO), and it lasted about 2 1/2 days, then went right to summer. So I jumped on the chance to get our trees going. Once the apple tree buds reached the size of small mouse ears I began the process. Over the next few weeks I was able to Air Layer about a dozen limbs and the trees were in full leaf mode. On each selected branch I used an exact-o knife to cut and peel about one inch of bark away, being careful not to injure the under side of the trunk, just removed the outer bark. I then dusted the area with root growth hormone, wrapped the "wound" in dampened peat moss, and covered with clear plastic wrap, taping each end with electrical tape. I then cover the whole thing with aluminum foil, to protect from the sun and birds. Every week or so, I would take a small plastic syringe and inject water into the ball if I thought it was drying out. I would put a hole under the ball as well to ensure excess water could escape.
After a month or so, I would routinely take off the aluminum foil and observe the peat moss through the clear plastic, looking for signs of roots. Roots started to appear in about 4-5 weeks. But one must remember, the roots are growing from the inside out, which means it was not a long time to see roots out near the plastic.This one has almost enough roots, the branch can be cut off below the root ball and transplanted into a bucket for eventual transplant into the ground somewhere. I believe this apple tree is destined for "Rocky's Yard"!
July 11, 2011, I cut off the first Air Layered apple tree with a pair of snips. I carefully unwrapped the cellophane which covered the root-ball for the last two months. The roots were very heavy on one side and less on the other (the picture shows the side with the least roots), but still there should be plenty. I quickly potted the tree in a mixture of potting soil and top soil from the field behind our house. The soil there is very rich in nutrients as it us to be a crop field. I spiked the tree up with a long stick, then moved it inside my shop due to expected storms. This tree is destined for my friend Rocky's yard and we'll transport it there around weeks end.
August 16, 2011, I cut off another apple tree branch which I had Air Layered. This one had plenty of roots and I am optimistic it will transplant well.
I thought I would post some more lessons learned from last year: At first I thought I had lost one or two of the apple trees I had air-layered which had smaller root balls, because shortly after harvesting them, their leafs turned yellow and dropped off. However, this occurred with all trees, even ones with large, well established root balls. My guess is the current leafs on the branch were being fed by the main tree root, and when harvested, these died, and new growth was fed by the new root ball. Regardless, all leafss eventually dropped, and the trees appeared to go dormant or even be dead. However, within a few weeks, they produced buds and sprouted new leafs. I would say my success rate for apple trees was approximately 8 out of 10 or 11. For my cherry trees my success rate was only 1 out of 3 attempts. And for my pear tree I was 0 for 2. The pear tree has a very thick and rough bark, which made it difficult to air-layer, so I am not surprised it did not take. On the cherry trees, I believe the two which failed were due to the larger size branches, while the one small branch I used, took well and produced a nice root ball. As for the apple trees, I believe the ones I took my time with and did a good wrap job worked the best. A few I did while racing against daylight in a hurry, may have been the ones which did not take.