Tips for Growing Apple Tree Cuttings

Asked February 15, 2020, 6:36 PM EST

Hello, Last November, I visited the Sierra gold town of Quincy, California to do family history research, and I took some cuttings from two historic apple trees there. One set of cuttings is from a Gravenstein that was planted (according to the history museum director) in 1876. The other cuttings I took from an unknown kind (but with yellow apples, not Gravenstein) in the backyard of my great-great grandfather's house, so it could date back to the late 19th century. I dipped the cuttings in rooting compound and stuck them all in pots of a moist peat/compost/soil mixture. I put tomato cages on each one and hung dry cleaner's bags over the cages to create little greenhouses. They have been inside my house since then, and I have kept them very moist. They have leafed out a little -- one even sent out a little blossom -- but now the bud areas look kind of fuzzy. I'm not sure if they're molding or getting ready to leaf more! I haven't wanted to disturb them to see if they are rooting. I am not sure how to proceed at this point. Should I plant them in larger pots and set them outside and then put them in the ground later? I am going to be giving them to various friends and family, but they won't be able to get in the ground until March or even May. I'll attach some photos in case that helps. I'd appreciate your direction from here! Thank you very much.

Lane County Oregon

3 Responses

You may have difficulties getting the apples to root from a cutting. Apples are usually propagated by budding or grafting onto a hardy rootstock. Typically, cuttings (scion) are taken in January, refrigerated, and then grafted onto rootstock in the early spring. However, that doesn’t mean it is impossible to get an apple tree to root from a hardwood cutting, but the success rate will be low and it may take up to six months for the cutting to root. I suspect you will need to give these cuttings a little more time to root (make sure the soil is kept moist but not soggy). Leaves should be removed from the bottom half of the cutting, and remove any blossoms or fruit as well, so that it puts all of its energy into producing new roots. In late March or April, check to see if the cuttings have rooted. If they have sent out 1-2 inch long roots, then you can re-pot them into individual pots with a sterilized potting soil. Keep them growing in a protected area for another year and then plant them in the ground the following spring. Here is a little more information on propagating from cuttings: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/plant-propagation-by-stem-cuttings-instructions-for-the-home-gardener

With regards to the fuzzy growth on the blossoms, I suspect that there may be a little powdery mildew growing which is most likely caused by the humid conditions (https://pnwhandbooks.org/plantdisease/host-disease/apple-malus-spp-powdery-mildew). Remove and destroy the blossoms, and try to reduce the humidity (open up the plastic covering to increase aeration).

P.S. Hi Heather, thanks for your call to Linn County Extension.

Erica has great recommendations for your efforts to grow apple trees from cuttings and it sounds like you're proceeding with her directions. However, if you find that the cuttings don't "take" and you are able to get more cuttings of your family heirloom trees, you might take those cuttings to an event of the Home Orchard Society and get them grafted to the rootstock. You can find the HOS and learn about their events here: https://www.homeorchardsociety.org/

Thank you both so much for this information! I knew it might be hard to root these cuttings, but I thought I'd give it a try. I have taken off the plastic bags as you suggested, and I'll leave them in the house in their pots for another couple of months. I pried up a couple of them just now and I don't see any roots -- but it sounds like I can still give them some time. At what point should I move their pots outside?

If they don't root out this year, I will get some more cuttings from those trees next fall and this time connect with someone from the Home Orchard Society to see about grafting them. Thanks again!