Once upon a time, Wise County was the third largest apple producer in Virginia. Today, we’re down to one commercial orchard (or two if you count the 14 acres managed by the prison for their own use). Even though we no longer have this industry, home orchards can thrive, and our annual apple grafting workshops typically bring together commercial producers, home gardeners, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists and Grow Appalachia families.
Last week, we offered an evening workshop in Big Stone Gap, at the Southwest Virginia Museum. This week, it was at the Town Hall in Pound.
We offered 15 varieties of “scionwood” that participants could choose from, including favorites like Ginger Gold, Seek-No-Further, Horse Apple, Cortland, Mutsu and Winter Banana, and some of the standards like Golden Delicious.
Why graft fruit trees? First of all, any apples or pears that grow from seed are going to be unpredictable. You may end up with something similar to one parent or another, or you may get something off the wall. Grafting results in a clone, genetically identical to the tree from which the scion was collected.
Secondly, while the trees and fruits will be genetic clones of the originial, the rootstock of choice will help control the size. Dwarfing and semi-dwarfing rootstocks can be used. The one we order is EMLA 111, which results in a tree that’s approximately 80 percent the size of a standard.
Rootstock can give some disease resistance, such as some protection against fireblight.
Finally, it’s a low-cost and easy way to expand your orchard.