If you have recently been bitten by the desire to grow more fruit trees, you may have the idea of joining your regional association “Croqueurs de Pommes”.
When you join, you’ll be able to sign up for local workshops describing everything from fruit formation and size – my own local association held an espalier grafting workshop this summer – to the mysterious and addictive art of graft.
Read more: Gardening in France: the worries of the apple tree
Free grafting material
The only qualifications you need for Croqueurs or grafting will be a bit of passion and – if you’re considering grafting – a determination to improve your carpentry skills.
And – greatest joy – the resources of all the other Croqueurs in your area will be available to you each February or March at your local graft purse.
There you can take away unlimited scion (graft) from Cox’s Orange Pippin, Calville Winter Red, Reine des Reinettes or Transparente Blanche – any popular or thriving cultivar in your area, in fact – without paying a penny.
Here’s the catch: you still have to get the rootstocks, but October and November are good months for a bit of anticipation.
Read more: A steady hand is needed in autumn for pruning and grafting
Grow your own rootstocks from seed
If you are truly immersed in this love affair with the apple, you are probably enjoying the different varieties available from local producers this month.
Maybe even consider saving the seed and growing your own rootstocks?
It’s an often-recommended plan, but with a catch.
Harvest the seeds now, by all means, choosing locally grown fruit if possible, as the seeds will be fresher and the eventual plants better suited to your own soil.
Sow the seeds by the end of November, either in pots or in an easy-to-maintain area of the garden, such as a cold frame.
They will need a cold period of around 4-5°C for a few months to break their dormancy and induce germination the following spring.
Alternatively, try ‘stratifying’ them in the fridge for 60-90 days: sow the seeds in pots or trays, cover them with a layer of vermiculite and a plastic bag (for fridge cleanliness only!) , then leave them in the cold, whip them so that they germinate at a temperature of about 20 degrees centigrade.
The resulting seedlings will be what French apple growers call “frank‘.
Buy rootstocks adapted to your projects
Coming from the land of carefully tested and produced East Malling rootstocks, I had no idea when I bought my first franc rootstocks that they might not be suitable for the espalier apples I was planning to grow.
A hardy rootstock will most likely give a type of wild apple with a rootstock only suitable for grafting large orchard trees – say 7.5 to 9 meters tall and wide – not the more controlled specimens and at slower growers that we like to play with in an ornamental fruit garden.
In other words, it’s a lottery, having invested maybe three years of your gardening life in hopes of beautiful seedlings. Perhaps best treated as a bit of fun?
A rootstock for every tree shape
If you want a suitable rootstock for a cordon, espalier or goblet apple, you will need to look at the East Malling selections, all popular and readily available in France, as well as much more reliable and uniform than any seed. – raised plant.
Choose the semi-dwarf M9 or M27 for goblet bushes, fan shapes, cordons and espaliers, while the more vigorous M106 could be used for large bushes or pyramids.
The village orchard could benefit
Finally, after playing with franc‘, I purchased M9 rootstocks and discovered, to my delight, that there is another, more foolproof way to have an endless supply of free rootstocks with the right characteristics.
‘Stooling’ will give me more clones than I could use.
So many that I could give them as gifts (probably already grafted with a good cultivar) to friends.
Or maybe give them to my village orchard (village orchard); Restoring them is all the rage now that we are much more conscious of conserving our local forest and food biodiversity.
Read more: French town donates trees to locals to add greenery to local area
You can of course take cuttings from your rootstocks, but the saddle is easy and coincidentally M9 is a perfect subject as it produces quite a few suckers – a troublesome habit in the orchard, but perfect in the doorway nursery -grafts.
How to “stumble” clones
You plant your rootstock in the fall, let it grow for a year, then cut it to the ground, packing the soil down around the roots.
It is obvious that this method will not give you material on which you can graft in less than two years, so patience is essential!
During the fall following the saddle, the many shoots emerging from your plant should be long enough to allow you to cut them with a good part of the root system at their base.
Then you can either pot them up (I find potted plants easier to graft than plants growing in the ground) or plant them in the ground and grow them.
You should hopefully have well-rooted plants ready for grafting the following spring – giving a timeline of about three years between saddle forming operation and grafting.
Get ready in October!
Email your gardening questions to Cathy at [email protected]
Ideas to avoid wasting fruit – and pick some for free – in France
French drought causes early – and poor – apple harvest in Brittany
How many of these 12 fruity French expressions do you know?