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Refining apple trees: practical tips from professionals

By grafting an apple, you can bring a new variety into the garden. We explain what grafting apple trees and grafting apple trees mean.

Have you discovered a new favorite apple and want to harvest it from the apple tree in your own garden in the future? What could be more obvious than storing a few seeds and skilfully sowing them? Actually nothing - if the apple (Malus domestica) not a cross-fertilizer. In order for the blossoms of an apple tree to develop into fruit, the pollen of another variety has to hit the stigma of the blossom. As a result, the genetic material is essentially a mixture of mother and father trees. As a result, there will be a colorful mix of different properties in the next generation that develops from the seeds sown. However, in order to reproduce the desired variety quickly and correctly, the method of grafting is used.


Refining: why refining and what is it?

Grafting is about propagating a certain variety. The main interest is the true-to-variety propagation. Genuine variety means that the offspring that is propagated corresponds exactly to the same variety as the mother variety to be propagated. Unfortunately, since the apple is a cross-pollinator, this cannot be achieved through seed reproduction. In the end, a clone of the mother plant is created when grafting - just like when propagating with cuttings or cuttings. The variety with the desired fruit characteristics - the so-called noble variety - is combined with another plant with specific growth characteristics - the rootstock. To put it simply, the noble variety grows together with the base in order to combine the properties of these two varieties. There are different techniques for this and some things can go wrong and it is not uncommon for the base and the noble variety not to grow together. This can either be due to the fact that the rootstock and the noble variety do not go well together genetically or simply because there is no practice in refining.

So why all the effort and risk so that in the end everything is for the cat? Unfortunately, other propagation methods are not suitable for propagating true to the variety (sowing) or lead to inferior results (cuttings, offshoots). In addition, by refining the noble variety, you can help achieve certain growth properties: shortness of stature in trees for plantations, stability in trees for orchards - these properties are determined by the substrate. In addition, apple trees propagated through grafting bloom and fruit much earlier than plants propagated through seeds - with the latter you can wait 12 years for the first high-yielding harvest period.

The advantages of grafting apple trees at a glance:

  • Varietal propagation
  • Good growth properties of the rootstock can be combined with good fruit properties of the noble variety
  • Reduced time from propagation to the first blossom and harvest of apples

Tip: Of course, it's not just the rootstock that influences how healthy and productive an apple tree is. The location, and especially the soil, also has a major influence. In order to revive a less fertile soil and to give the apple tree the best conditions for growing on or on after grafting, you can use a soil fertilizer such as the Plantura organic soil activator.

Plantura organic soil activator

Refining apple trees: the right time

There are two different times of the year for grafting apple trees. A distinction is made between winter processing (December to March / April) and summer processing (July / August). In summer, grafting techniques that require loosening the bark can be used, which is not possible in winter. The physiological principle, however, is the same: the cambium - that is the divisible tissue from which the vascular system of the tree is formed - of the two varieties is connected with the respective technology so that they grow together.

Refining the apple tree: the base

In order to refine, you need a pad - or even better, a few more, if you need several attempts due to lack of practice. The rootstock is an apple variety that has only been cultivated with regard to its growth form, its roots and its resistance or even resistance to diseases and pests. It is not relevant which fruits, flowers or leaves the rootstock would bear. After all, the rootstock will never bear fruit itself - only the noble variety that has grown together with it. However, the document still has at least two important tasks:

  1. The vigor of the rootstock also influences the growth of the noble variety: Slowly growing rootstocks lead to overall smaller fruit trees that are easier to care for and harvest. In return, these fruit trees are less stable, so they may need a tree connection. Rapidly growing rootstocks lead to large fruit trees, which have many advantages, for example in extensive orchards and orchards, and are both stable and robust.
  2. The underlay determines how well the fruit tree can cope with the existing soil conditions. Some bases are ideal for wet, heavy or light, sandy soils. Other bases are particularly good at warding off soil-borne diseases or pests.
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In summary, the following properties of a grafted apple tree can be influenced by the underlay:

  • Growth habit and vigor (weak / strong vigorous)
  • Stability of the tree
  • Location requirements
  • Trunk shape: Depending on the height at which the base is cut off for finishing
  • Resistance especially to soil borne diseases
  • Fruit quality

Since the documents are of particular interest to commercial horticulture, they often have more technical names. One looks in vain for descriptive terms such as 'Golden Delicious' or 'Goldparmäne'. Here is a small selection of recommended documents:

  • ′ M 9 ‘: weak to medium strong growing; medium-sized trees for the home garden
  • ′ M 25 ‘: strong growing; Half trunks / high trunks for the meadow
  • ′ M7 ′: medium-strong growth; medium-sized trees for the home garden
  • ′ M 27 ‘: slow growing; small trees / tub trees for small gardens or intensive plantation cultivation

Refine the apple tree: noble rice and noble eye

The parts of the plant that come from the apple variety whose excellent fruits you want to propagate are called "noble rice" or "noble eye". A noble rice is an approximately 10 cm long section of a shoot of the noble variety. A noble eye, on the other hand, is a single vegetative bud, which, however, can be taken from a noble rice. Depending on the method of refinement used, you have to choose noble rice or noble eye. Since noble vines usually contain several noble eyes, more refinements can be carried out by propagation via noble eyes than with noble veins.

Only well-matured annual shoots with short bud spacings are considered as noble spikes. These shoots can be found in the outer, well-sunlit area of ​​the crown. With winter processing, the vines are already collected in December or January and initially stored in a cool and dark place. If a greenhouse with heating is available, it can also be refined directly. With summer grafting between July and August, the vines are harvested as soon as possible before grafting. Well-ripened annual shoots are also harvested here. Logically these are just leafy. Except for a small piece of the petiole, the leaves are removed with rose scissors and the small stipules are also plucked off by hand. Now the vines are ready for summer processing and can even be stored in a cool and dark place for a short time - but if possible, but no longer than three days.

How do you refine an apple tree?

How to graft an apple tree depends on several conditions:

  • At what season of the year should it be finished?
  • What is the diameter of the rootstock and the noble rice?
  • How much plant material of the noble variety is available for grafting?

Of course, you also need a lot of special tools for such a special job as finishing:

  • Very sharp knife, preferably a special finishing knife
  • Rose shears
  • Finishing rubbers to connect the finishing point
  • If necessary, wax to smooth the finishing point

Grafting an apple tree: the procedure

When refining the apple tree - regardless of the method used - make sure that the two refining partners are perfectly on top of each other and that there are no gaps. This increases the likelihood that the guide vessels and the divisible cambium of both refining partners will grow together quickly and well. In addition, the risk of infestation with diseases or pests via the grafting point can be minimized. To avoid unnecessary contamination of the interfaces, do not touch the areas with your fingers if possible. The exact procedure for grafting apple trees depends, of course, on which grafting method you choose. We take a closer look at the various methods.

Tip: Both noble rice and the base are damaged during processing and form wound tissue at this point, so-called callus. It arises exactly where the plants will later grow together: on the cambium. The production of callus creates a high pressure between the assembled elements. It is therefore very important that the finishing point is always squeezed very strongly by finishing rubbers or wound closures!

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Winter finishing

Winter refinements are only carried out on rootstocks that grow in pots. In this way, the assembled plant can calmly establish the bond after the procedure - for example in a bright hallway or a cool winter garden.


During copulation, the base and rice are cut diagonally with the same diameter so that the cut surfaces fit together perfectly. The cut should be about two inches long. The oblique cut increases the contact area so that the base and the noble variety can grow together over a larger area and thus more stably. The method can be carried out very well in winter, as no leaves have to be removed from the noble rice at this time.

  • Select the base and rice with the same diameter.
  • Provide the base and the noble rice with an oblique, approx. 5 cm long cut.
  • Join the base and rice at the cut surfaces and connect very firmly with raffia or a finishing rubber.
  • Spread the finishing point with a finishing wax.

Goat's foot method

The goat's foot method is very suitable if you only have a base with a significantly larger diameter than the noble rice available. A wedge-shaped piece like a cake is cut out of the decapitated base. Make sure that the cut is pointed from top to bottom. The noble rice is sharpened on one side according to the wedge shape of the base.

  • Base about twice the diameter of the noble rice.
  • Cut on the base:
    Two oblique cuts from top to bottom so that a 3 - 4 cm long wedge (goat's foot) is cut out.
  • Cut on noble rice:
    Shape the noble rice with two diagonal cuts into a counter wedge of the goat's foot so that the wedge of the noble rice fits exactly into the wedge of the base.
  • Make sure that the cambium (green layer of the bark) of the noble rice lies on the cambium of the base and that there is no gap.
  • Fix the connection point between the base and the rice with raffia and coat with finishing wax.

Graft (gap graft)

With split grafting, a significantly thinner noble rice is grafted into a thick base. For this purpose, a vertical, approximately five centimeter long cut is made in the edge area of ​​the graft head that has just been cut over the entire surface of the graft head. This creates a tongue on the surface that can be carefully removed so that a gap is created. The thin noble rice is cut to a point on both sides to a length that corresponds to the gap in the base. The wedge-shaped noble rice can simply be inserted into the gap in the base, whereby this must be done on the outer edge so that the cambia and vessels of base and noble rice can grow together at all.

  • Base cut: vertical cut about 5 cm long over the entire surface of the graft head; It is an advantage if you do not cut in the middle but rather in the edge area.
  • Cut noble rice: Point the length of the base cut into an even wedge on both sides.
  • Bring the base and the noble rice together, connect with raffia and spread with finishing wax.

Tip: A noble rice can also be grafted onto the graft head of the base on both marginal sides of the split cut. Then one speaks of "double gap plug". On the one hand, you can directly create a kind of branching, on the other hand, it is theoretically also possible to combine two different types of noble quality on one base.

Summer finishing

The special thing about summer refinements is that at this time the bark is soft and flexible, so that some refinement methods are only possible at this time.

Okulation: noble eye instead of noble rice

During the inoculation, only a noble eye is placed on the surface. The name - derived from the Latin "oculus" for "eye" - says it all. Since the thinly cut noble eyes are pushed under the bark of the base, the bark of the apple tree has to "loosen". This is the case from around the end of July to the end of August.

  • Prepare noble trip as described above: Approx. 1 cm thick, annual and well developed; Cut the leaves off and use them immediately.
  • Cut the noble eyes out of the rice to a length of about 3 cm, flat under the vegetative bud; light greenish cambium must be included and exposed (remove wooden parts if necessary).
  • Make a 1 - 2 cm long, horizontal cut in the ground; make a cut in the middle vertically downwards in the length of the noble eye; this T-cut has to be made relatively superficially in the bark so that the light-green cambium of the base is not damaged.
  • Insertion of the eye: It is better not to touch the inner side of the precious eye so as not to contaminate it. Carefully lift the bark under the T-cut with a knife and push your eye in as deeply as possible. The noble eye should be in the middle. Fix the spot at the top and bottom with finishing rubber, but the eye must remain free. You can also use a special rubber ooculation fastener (Fleischhauer fast oculation fastener).

Chip refinement

Chip refinement or “chip budding” is, in principle, a modification of the oculation. A noble eye is also used instead of a noble rice. However, with the chip refinement, the bark is not loosened, but a relatively flat piece of the base corresponding to the noble eye is cut out. The method is therefore independent of the loosening of the bark and could also be used in the winter months.

  • Cut a uniform piece of wood from the rice and the base. In the case of noble rice, the chip consists of the bud and the surrounding bark; in contrast to the ooculation, the part of the underlying wood is not detached here.
  • Inserting the chip: The chip is inserted into the cut notch on the base. Fix the spot with finishing rubber and then spread it with melted finishing wax. Caution: The bud must also be exposed here.

Plug behind the bark

We have already got to know the grafting in the gap as winter finishing. Alternatively, you can graft a noble rice behind the bark. Since the bark has to loosen for this, this grafting method is carried out in summer. The method is suitable for rootstocks and vines with significantly different diameters.

  • Cutting noble rice: The noble rice is prepared as usual for summer refinements. In order to graft it onto the base, an approximately 5 cm long, oblique copulation cut is made.
  • Cutting the underlay: The underlay tree is decapitated and a straight plug head is created. With a downward vertical cut starting from the plug head - in the corresponding length of the surface of the copulation cut of the noble rice - the bark of the base is carefully loosened.
  • The noble rice is carefully pushed under the bark of the base so that the cut surface just lines up with the cambium of the base.
  • Connect the finishing point with the finishing rubber and spread it with melted finishing wax.

tip: As with fissure grafting, several edible vines can be grafted onto a base at the same time by loosening the bark of the base in several places. However, you should not make more than two to three cuts in order not to strain the surface too much.

Maintain apple tree after grafting

Even if it appears to have been grafted well, that is no guarantee that the two plants will grow together. Even after grafting, an apple tree still needs care and attention. Overwinter the refinements carried out in winter in a bright, frost-free room. Refinements carried out in summer should be protected from excessive exposure to the sun and should definitely be adequately watered. Not infrequently does not only sprout the noble variety, but also the rootstock. However, this is wasted energy and also promotes that the base repels the noble variety: therefore always cut off all shoots that sprout below the refinement point.

If the noble variety sprouts, the intergrowth has come about for the time being, but is not yet stable. If, even after a whole year, the special finishing rubber does not come off by itself due to the sun's rays, you have to cut it open to avoid constricting the tree.

tip: If you have refined your noble variety in winter refinement on a potted base, planting is due next May after the winter frosts have definitely ended. When planting apple trees, it is an advantage to offer the young tree fertile soil like our Plantura organic universal soil in order to promote healthy growth in the early years - after all, the small tree cannot yet take root that deep and take care of itself worse .

Plantura organic universal soil

In general, it is important to prune the apple tree regularly and skillfully in order to give it a stately crown. You can find out how to properly prune an apple tree in our special article.

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I have a master’s degree in horticulture and am also a trained ornamental plant gardener. The subject of cultivation has just stuck with me since I was a child: whether on the small city window sill or in the spacious garden - I have to garden always and everywhere in my free time.
Favorite fruit: raspberries
Favorite vegetable: broccoli