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.

20 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

  2. I have multi variety mango tree with Shelly Heidi and Tom Atkins as the grafted varieties on a Sabre rootstock. The rootstock has developed a branch, which is smaller than the other varieties and all look healthy. Do I really need to cut back this branch and allow only the 3 varieties or leave it as a 4th variety?

    1. Hi David – I’m sorry, but I’ve no experience growing mango, so I wouldn’t know how the rootstock might behave, or what the rootstock fruit might taste like. The best I can suggest is that if you fancy an experiment, give it a go, but if it looks like the rootstock stem is starting to dominate and divert resources from the others, then it might be best to remove it.

  3. I have a new Fuyu persimmon where the scion is not showing any sign of life but I am getting growth from the root stock coming out of the soil. Is this something worth saving? Will it be a persimmon?

    1. Hi Jeff – I’m sorry, but persimmons are another fruit that I don’t have any experience of growing, so I’m afraid I’ve no idea whether the rootstock will produce viable fruit, or even if it will be a persimmon. Best I can suggest is the same thing I said to David in the comment above: if you feel the urge to experiment then let it grow and see what happens. Unless there’s a persimmon growers’ association out there who might be able to advise? Could be worth an online search to see.

  4. Hi, I bought a dwarf Damson tree about 4 years ago. I left it to its own devices and it looks as though the root stock has taken over . There are lots of shoots ( one has obviously been there for a while) from the root stock. The main tree hasn’t blossomed at all this year. Can I safely remove the shoots from the root stock?

    1. Hi Rob – Was it definitely a grafted tree that you bought? As I understand it, damson is sometimes grown on its own roots by propagating wild suckers, in which case the growth from the base of the tree could be basal suckers of damson rather than rootstock outgrowth, and that’s a fairly normal growth habit for a damson.

      But if you did buy a grafted tree of a specific rootstock then I’d say pruning out the suckers is a good idea, yes, as that should allow the actual damson to develop a bit more strongly.

      On the not-blossoming front, some damsons can take around 7-8 years to start producing a regular crop of fruit, so at 4 years yours could still be a little on the young side. Fingers crossed for next year.

  5. I have a cherry tree that I bought this year. It was grafted onto a Maximas 14 rootstock. There seems to be a small bush growing from the rootstock, but the tree above the graft point is dead. 🙂 I’m assuming the rootstock stole the water/nutrients that were meant for the tree.

    1. Hi Patti – Yes, I’m afraid it sounds very much as though that’s what happened. Sometimes if the graft union between scion and rootstock doesn’t form properly the top-growth will die back and then the rootstock will take over. Or if the rootstock is just too vigorous for the scion, as you say.

  6. I grafts some Goji berry and pepper plants but pepper as a scion is still healthy but not growing. I know you are only know about fruit plant grafting. Please suggest me a platform where I can discuss my problem. Thank you

    1. Hi Hafiz – If you search online for ‘exotic plant forum’ or ‘tropical plant forum’ then you should find a few message boards on the topic of tropical plants. Hopefully if you post a question there someone might be able to help.

  7. Hi. My neighbour has gifted me a plum tree in a pot. It is pot bound and so I said I would plant it in my garden. It has a flowering section which I think is the plum but it’s rather thin. The root plant is huge though and has some buds. It’s about 1m tall. Should I chop the root stock right back to give the plum a chance?

    1. Hi Jim – That’s a tricky call to make without seeing the tree. Could you send a photo to the email address on the Contact Info page?

      Having said that, if you’re absolutely sure that the 1m stem is the rootstock then yes, it definitely needs to be cut right back to its point of origin, below any visible graft line on the other stem, if it’s possible to do that without damaging the scion. Otherwise it will always out-compete the scion and divert resources away from the stem you actually want to keep.

      If it was an apple I’d suggest top-working – re-grafting onto the rootstock – but as I understand it plums are a lot trickier to graft successfully, so that might not be an option.

  8. Hi, I moved last year and have successfully planted a pot grown small pear tree in my new garden, it is looking healthy with plenty of leaves but the rootstock is also growing and looking healthy too. Should I cut the rootstock back this late in the year or let it take its course?

    1. Hi Marion – It’s definitely a good idea to cut off any rootstock regrowth as soon as you spot it. Otherwise it will divert energy away from the fruiting wood, and the rootstock will eventually take over.

      1. Hi Darren
        Thanks for your reply, I will have a close look to see where I can cut it. Could I sent you a photo?

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