Another Grafting #EpicFail – A ‘Family’ Tree, Killed by Canker

Last April I attempted to top-graft a ‘family’ apple tree, by grafting six different varieties onto the cut-back main stems of an outgrown MM106 rootstock tree. I was full of hope and expectation of a really interesting experimental tree that would develop over time into a productive, multi-variety… I’ll stop myself there. Because the whole thing went rather badly.

Checking on the tree last Autumn, I was disappointed to see that only one of the six grafted scions had actually taken. The other five were all dead and gone. Ah well, I thought, never mind. Maybe I can make fresh cuts further down the stems and try again.

Alas, dear reader, this was not to be. Returning to the tree more recently, I saw the painfully obvious signs of what was most likely the culprit for the failure of my grafting efforts: pretty much the whole tree is absolutely riddled with what appears to be apple canker, or some other disease-based malady, that has all-but completely killed off the top-growth:

…and more Canker!

I’m putting this second experiment down as another #epicfail – along with my first, hilariously misguided attempt to graft a family tree – even though I’m 95% sure that this time the problem wasn’t anything to do with poor planning or shonky grafting technique on my part.

I can hazard a guess at what happened: one or more of the pruning cuts I made when I trimmed back the MM106 rootstock tree became infected by canker (or a.n.other pathogen) and the weather conditions last year just allowed it to let rip.

There are a few disease issues, mostly canker, affecting the trees on the Plot #79 allotment orchard, and I think the key word here is ‘allotment’. With so many other fruit trees around, many of which are unmanaged, it’s almost inevitable that canker spores will spread from a neighbouring tree. There’s very little that can be done about it, except to cut out the affected material and hope for better luck in future years.

Anyway, my course of action here is pretty clear: I’m going to have to take the whole tree back down, most likely right to the base, or maybe even take it out completely. There doesn’t seem much point in trying to salvage the one scion that did take – an ‘Orleans Reinette’, as it happens – because it’s probably carrying whatever disease has killed the rest of the tree.

That’s all very disappointing, but so it goes. I’ll try again to graft a ‘family’ tree at some point in the future, when the opportunity arises. In the meantime, I’ve grafted another dozen or so apple trees this year and planted out ten cordons that I grafted last year, so the overall number of allotment fruit trees that I’m looking after is steadily increasing. Here’s hoping that they can stay reasonably disease-free.

How about you? Do you have problems with apple canker, and if so, do you have any sovereign remedies or control methods that might actually work, aside from cleaning tools between pruning cuts and all the usual stuff? If you know of anything reliably effective, I’d love to hear about it, please do let me know via the comments.


  1. It is a sobering thought…. I have invested two decades in creating my family tree and it has become a monument of diversity -with excess of 40 varieties hanging on.
    Fortunately disease has not struck, but I have some very unruly family members that are constantly trying to take over; exceeding the growth of some of the slower ones. The tree is not there for its fruit but is just a safety backup for the guarding against loss of the donor trees; having saved the day twice, over the unexpected death of precious favourites within the main orchard. It is a lot more compact than having to graft two of every tree.

  2. Hi Bob – A family tree as insurance against losing a particular variety? What a marvellous idea. And 40 varieties on the one tree? That’s impressive. Seems I have a new goal to aim for.

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