Grafting: The Franken-trees?

Authored by Sheldon Falk - Owner
Aug 12th, 2020
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Have you ever pondered this in your own yard… a flowering crab apple tree is growing and then suddenly it changes colour and switches on you. What happened? Or why is this tree half purple on one side and green leafed on the other, and it blooms following suit. What’s going on?! Well it’s not GMOs (Genetically modified organisms) and it’s not some unique DNA mutation. This happens most commonly on apple trees. Apples are all grafted. So whatever is growing as the under stock or the root system will be different than what you see on the top. In a fruiting scenario the apple should be blooming white with rather large leaves. The understock is often a little bit more bronze green leaves and blooms either white or pink. What’s really happening is that below the graft the rootstock is firing up branches that are undetected since trees are generally not being carefully observed every day. Very often a small shoot from the root will grow up right beside the stem unnoticed until it is displaying leaves and colour. This is often the point of where the homeowner is perplexed by what’s going on. All shoots should be clipped off of apples, plums, pears, and basically any grafted trees. 

So then what do you do if your tree looks this way? It’s usually not too late as you can always prune off the unwanted growth. The best time for trimming would be in the spring when there are no leaves. You may have to mark the part of the tree you want to keep while it has leaves so that you do not mix them up and cut off the wrong portion.

Wildlife or a damaging wind can also destroy the portion above the graft. This is why people sometimes get trees and years later find that their large eating apple is producing very small useless apples. If there is no good fruit production, the tree should be removed because the root stock is usually not valuable for aesthetic purposes or producing good fruit.

Hopefully these tips can help make your tree into a masterpiece rather than growing into Frankenstein’s monster himself.


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