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How to Grow an Apple Tree

Pic Credit Jason Ingram

Did you know that apple trees aren’t grown from pips? Kevin Croucher, owner of the award-winning Devon tree nursery, Thornhayes, explains the art of apple tree grafting…

If you were to sneak a peek in Kevin Croucher’s nursery fridge, instead of the usual pints of milk and veg in the crisper drawer, you’d find packs of clingfilm-wrapped sticks, which Kevin has placed there to prevent them coming into growth. These are the trimmed shoots of apple trees properly called ‘scion wood’, pruned in winter from one of Kevin’s stock trees and stored cold to keep them dormant until the Garden Festival in April when Kevin will be demonstrating how to graft an apple tree.

Kevin Croucher at a Thornhayes Apple Day

Kevin is showing how to graft using wood from the crab apple Malus hupehensis, a late-flowering tree with white blossom and red cherry-sized fruit in autumn. “It’s a really good garden tree,” says Kevin, “one of the latest to bloom with a dome-headed shape and good autumn colour.”

Apple trees are traditionally grown on root-stocks to control their growth and cropping. The most common rootstock is MM106 a medium sized tree ideal for most gardens, while the M25 makes a 25ft apple tree over time and is ideal for orchards. Kevin buys in hundreds of commercially grown rootstocks every year.

Trees are propagated by attaching the variety to a rootstock using what’s known as a whip graft. Kevin first cuts the top off the rootstock using a sharp clean knife – in Kevin’s case a Tina grafting knife – he then cuts a corresponding cut to the base of the scion wood so they fit together and then bonds the two in place with polythene grafting tape. The grafted trees are then placed into crates of compost to keep the roots moist until they are ready to be potted up.

“Grafting is simple carpentry,” says Kevin. “The clever stuff isn’t the grafting, it’s what happens before and afterwards. Growing the right quality of scion material and looking after it. If you do it right you can have 100% success and a 4-5 foot tree from a graft by the autumn.”

Join Kevin at his Grafting Workshop in the Sow, Grow, Cook Tipi on Friday 27th April at Powderham Castle. The talk is free to paying visitors. Buy tickets here.

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