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Top-Working Fruit Trees

Top working means to add onto or change entirely an existing tree. This is the method that can create an apple tree that grows one hundred different varieties, or a single tree that grows peaches, plums, and apricots. 

There are many, many different methods of top-working a tree. It is a grafting technique that is usually performed in the spring, around bloom time, using dormant scion wood. One method that we like is to severely prune the mother tree the year before, leaving a few nurse branches. This will encourage the production of water sprouts during the growing season. These sprouts are perfect for either chip-budding onto in August, or whip-and-tongue grafting the following spring. A more traditional method is to cut the entire top off the tree and graft several cleft scions into the trunk. This requires a lot of sealant.

Our Preferred Method

Here we take a quick spin through top-working some apple trees at our home orchard, Indian Creek Farm, using the first method mentioned above.

Pick a tree

This old Rome Beauty needs a facelift.

Cut a limb

Make a nice clean cut with a chainsaw. 

Make sure to leave a branch to feed the tree the first year.

See the new growth

This is what your tree will look like the following year. Notice the abundance of vigorous suckers.

Perform a chip bud

Pick a few suckers close to the main trunk and perform a chip bud onto them. This is a simple budding method that does not require any wax.

After making the cuts and inserting the bud, wrap the graft with budding rubbers, buddy tape or parafilm tape. A few weeks later, cut the sucker just above the graft.  The bud that you put in will grow quite a bit in the first year.

A successful graft

These are photos of a successful graft using the chip bud method a few years earlier on a Red Delicious tree.

Top-working dessert into cider

This photo shows a top-worked Mutsu tree. The vigorous vertical shoots are Wickson Crab. The horizontal branches are Mutsu. Cider apples on top, dessert apples on bottom.

So many possibilities

These photos demonstrate how it is possible to have many varieties on one branch. You can see how easy a chip bud makes changing a single variety tree into a multiple variety tree with a limited amount of scion.






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