Time to Check Grafted Trees for Rootstock Regrowth

With Spring (finally!) in full flow and fruit trees putting on their greenery, it’s time to check any recently-grafted top-fruit trees for rootstock re-growth, and remove anything untoward.

Rootstocks carry their own dormant buds, and once the sap starts to flow there’s a very good chance that they’ll break and grow of their own accord. If they do, then that’s going to divert water and nutrients away from the scion – the actual cultivar that you want to grow – which could prevent it from developing and establishing a successful graft union with the rootstock.

Here’s what to look out for:

As you can see, this tree, which was grafted in February, is already showing good scion top-growth, which suggests that the graft has taken nicely. But there’s also that leafy re-growth coming from the rootstock just below the wax-covered graft union.

All you need is a sharp knife and a steady hand:

Cut as close to the stem as you can, without risking damage to the bark when you cut. Slice off the growing tip and then if you see any other buds that look like they’re about to break, nick them off as well, before the tree invests any energy into their growth.

If you’re checking over your grafted trees and spot some that are showing strong signs of rootstock re-growth but nothing from the scion, that might be an indication that the graft hasn’t taken, or at least, hasn’t quite yet. Don’t despair though; take off the rootstock growth and check the plant again in a few weeks. Once the rootstock stops diverting resources to its own buds then the grafted scion might have a better chance of drawing up the nutrients it needs and may burst into life. Unless the graft really has failed, in which case you’ll see no growth by the end of the season. That’ll be the time to discard that attempt and re-graft (if there’s enough rootstock left to re-graft to) ready for the next growing season.

How about you? Are your grafted trees looking healthy this season? Do you have a different method for managing rootstock regrowth? Have you found it actually helps rather than hinders the growth of the scions? Let me know, via the comments.

2 comments

  1. We have a 40 year old cherry blossom tree which was vigorous last year but whose cultivar died this year before getting leaves.

    I think it is because the rootstock put up a 6 foot trunk.
    (If it is a rootstock).

    1. Hi Peter –

      I’m not as confident on cherries, especially blossom cherries, as I might be for apples or pears, but it does sound like a sucker from the base has taken over. If the tree isn’t on a rootstock and is growing on its own roots, then the sucker should be the same variety as the old top-growth and may just take over in time, when the wood is mature enough to set blossom. Without knowing whether or not it’s a grafted tree though, it’s difficult to say for sure. Fingers crossed

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