The New Year is the perfect time to start thinking about and planning next year’s garden, and if you’re planning on trying your hand at grafting next spring and summer, winter is the season to be tracking down scion wood for desirable cultivars.
Scion wood is basically a dormant limb from a tree that is used to propagate the same tree’s genetics on a new rootstock. These pieces are usually as thick as a pencil and about 6 inches long. The wood should come from a healthy, disease-free tree, and also from a cultivar that performs well in your bioregion.
There are numerous ways of going about collecting scion wood. If you have a friend or neighbor with an apple or pear you’ve always liked growing in their yard, you can ask to take a few pieces home with you. Local scion swaps abound in winter and spring, and the internet has also opened up a world of trading possibilities.
Keep an eye out for disease quarantines, and try to always get wood from reliable sources of healthy plants to avoid bringing pathogens back to your garden and neighborhood. As with pruning, sterile equipment and attention to tree health goes a long way.
Once clipped, scion wood should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. In order to keep the tissues viable, scions need to remain dormant (cold) and hydrated. Exposing them to air will cause them to desiccate quickly, making them useless come springtime.
Spring grafts—like whip-and-tongue or cleft grafts—use a whole piece of scion wood and are excellent for pome fruits like apples and pears. This is the season I make a lot of my multi-cultivar fruit trees.
Spring and summer grafts—like chip budding—use a dormant bud from the scion wood, so a single piece gives a little more milage.
In either case, the time to gather the materials is during the season where plant tissues are dormant. Grafting starts with an idea in winter, not a cut in the springtime!