Air-layering apples

One of my longer-term projects is to try to get some own-root fruit trees established. These are produced by persuading a cutting from your chosen variety to produce some roots, instead of the normal method of grafting it onto the roots of another variety. The usual method is to use a ‘nurse graft’, in which the cutting is grafted as normal but the graft union is planted underground so that the top can produce its own roots. Once it does so, the rootstock roots are cut off, giving an ungrafted tree. I have had no success at all with this method: my grafts take all right, but no roots are ever produced from the top.


Then I discovered this: what looked like little rootlets at the base of a branch of one of my established trees (I have since looked around and discovered that this is not uncommon). I decided to try air-layering, a method that involves putting some moisture-holding material around a shoot to encourage root production. I have previously tried it with both plums and apples without any success, but thought that if the tree was already thinking of producing roots I might be able to encourage it. I tied on some moss using an old bandage, then wrapped the lot in plastic – the plastic open at the top and tight at the bottom to try to funnel water in.


A week ago, I decided to see what the result was, and unwrapped my Christmas present a little early. Success! Nothing spectacular, but there was definitely root growth. The next stage will be to cut the branch off, prune it heavily and plant the rooted section to create a separate tree. Once this is established, it is meant to be much easier to produce further clones simply by taking root cuttings.


9 thoughts on “Air-layering apples

      • Thats a useful plant. I keep a quince purely for starting rootstock from cuttings. I read about another variety of apple a year or two ago which creates those rootlets and could be propagated by cuttings. I remember the article saying that this variety was investigated for growing apples in Africa as a new food source because it was easily propogated. I of course neglected to write down which variety it was and now forget (and cant find the article or mention of it again, not matter how I google) . But I remember it was a fairly well known apple here in the US. I think it was Northern Spy or something similar that was popular not too long ago. I am going to see if I can find Red Devil somewhere, if only to root cuttings. How are the apples? If it roots like that I’d guess its a pretty vigorous tree and not picky about conditions!

        • There are a few apples that take easily from cuttings: rootstocks, obviously, and there’s a local variety here called Arbroath Oslin that is famous for it. Red Devil doesn’t usually. I think this tree produced the adventitious roots as a result of being stressed due to a large canker in the main stem. It wouldn’t root from a normal cutting. My next step is to see if I can propagate it from root cuttings.

          The apples are lovely. The red of the skin goes deep into the flesh and it makes an amazing pink apple juice. Its main drawback is that it isn’t a good keeper.

    • That’s interesting. Irish varieties are probably better suited to the West of Scotland than to Aberdeen, but it does suggest that that other varieties have the potential to root from cuttings in the right conditions. I’ve so far failed to get it to work with any others. I tried layering (in the sense of bending down a branch and burying it in the earth) a number of my trees, with fairly disastrous results. No roots were produced but the soil contact seemed to offer a way in for bacteria and serious canker developed on many of them! I’ll restrict my rooting attempts to sterile media from now on.

      • I read an excerpt from an old book (1931) citing studies on apple variety propagation recently which stated that the variety “Sweet Bough” will propagate readily from hardwood cuttings. 98% success. I’m going to graft some onto one of my trees for quick rootstock production in the future. It will yield a standard size tree without disease resistance but for “fun” trees that I am playing around with in my yard that’s fine. Plus, any branches that are not grafted will yield a fruit of some value – not true of common rootstock suckers. Northern Spy also had a high percentage of success but not like Sweet Bough.

        Here it is: google this –

        American fruits: their propagation, cultivation, harvesting and distribution
        Samuel Fraser
        Orange Judd publishing company, inc., 1931 – Gardening – 892 pages
        excerpt” Shaw has shown that there is a wide variation in the ability of twigs of apples to take root. Of fourteen varieties tried, Tolman Sweet cuttings produced but 3 per cent of rooted trees, while Sweet Bough produced 98 per cent. Generally speaking, the softer the wood the easier the scion rooted. A well-drained sandy loam soil seems most favorable for rooting cuttings of apples. Root cuttings can be used for the propagation of some apple trees although the growth may be …”

        I’m going to see if I can dig up an copy somewhere. Looks like an interesting read.

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