There are excellent documents, videos, and books that can help you successfully graft deciduous fruit trees in the winter in Southern California. Directing you toward those is the main aim of this post. Secondarily, I’ll note a few of my own preferences and tips.

Before getting to the resources, let’s remember why we graft deciduous fruit trees. You might want to add a pollenizer branch. (See more about this in my post “Grafting a pollenizer branch into your fruit tree.”) Or your friend might have a tree that makes delicious pears; grab a branch and graft it onto your pear tree.

You might want to make a tree that has multiple varieties in order to save space. For example, I have a Snow Queen nectarine tree that I grafted Red Baron peach into. About two-thirds of the canopy is Red Baron peach. So with this single tree we get nectarines in June and then peaches in July.

You might want to renew an old tree by grafting onto rootstock suckers. I did this with an old peach whose trunk was diseased. I’ve ended up using the rootstock suckers to try out many varieties of peach and nectarine.

Dead peach trunk in center; rootstock suckers around periphery.

And on and on. Grafting can be used in myriad other ways. Only your creativity is the limit.

Videos about grafting deciduous fruit trees in winter

So who can help us graft with success? With the advent of YouTube, there are endless videos showing grafting, but here are a few that I find useful, particularly for grafting deciduous fruit trees, in winter, and in Southern California.  

“How to Collect and Prepare Grafting Wood for Fruit Trees” by Mike Pace of Utah State University Extension. I’ve never bothered soaking my scions in a chlorox solution as Pace shows, but maybe that’s a wise safeguard.

“Selecting the Right Graft” by Kevin Hauser of Kuffel Creek Apple Nursery in Riverside. In winter, you want to choose the cleft, chip bud, or whip grafts that Hauser shows.

“Grafting Fruit Trees” by Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery demonstrates a few methods you can use on deciduous fruit trees in winter, including cleft, whip and tongue, and side veneer grafts.

Note that these grafting methods can also be used on individual branches of large trees, not just the small trunks of young trees. And instead of the rubber bands and asphalt seal that Spellman uses, you can also use different types of tape to hold the graft and seal in moisture.

Slideshow presentation on grafting deciduous fruit trees

It is sad that we have lost the treasure of Chuck Ingels, who passed away a few summers ago, but fortunately he left a few very reliable resources on grafting deciduous fruit trees that we can still access. One is his slideshow presentation called “Budding and Grafting.”

Budding and Grafting by Chuck Ingels.

Book on grafting deciduous fruit trees

Also, in The Home Orchard, the best book about growing deciduous fruit trees in California generally (see my review here), Ingels has a great chapter on grafting. It is full of photos, drawings, and clear descriptions. 

The book is worth buying for every one of its chapters, but if you’d just like to check out its chapter on grafting you might see if you can borrow it from a library.

Personal preferences and tips

I am not a professional grafter; I’m a mediocre amateur. But this might make me well qualified to share a few preferences and tips to other beginners or amateurs since I’m less likely to make assumptions or talk over anyone’s head.

Timing

In terms of collecting scion wood, I’ve done so mostly in January. Almost all varieties everywhere in Southern California are dormant in early January. In late January, early varieties can already be blooming which means it’s too late. For example, here on January 31, 2020 my Eva’s Pride, May Pride, and Tropic Snow peaches are already pushing popcorn blossoms. Friends with Flordaprince peaches already have open blooms.

I’ve done the actual grafting in January, too. But sometimes I keep the scion wood in the fridge for a few weeks and do the grafting as late as mid February. The scion wood needs to be dormant, but it’s acceptable if the stock tree or branch is beginning to grow.

Methods

In winter, I have mostly used whip grafts. Sometimes I add a tongue to my whip grafts, but often I don’t bother. Last winter I did dozens of whip grafts and the only one that didn’t take was one that I did upside down! Somehow I’d put the scion on with the buds pointing the wrong way. The point is that I’ve found a simple whip graft to be very effective in winter.

Whip graft on a peach done last winter.

Tools and materials

I did my first grafts some years ago with a pocket knife and a plastic bag that I’d torn into strips, and I had some success. You don’t need fancy tools and materials to graft. In fact, veteran grafters all have different preferences for tools and materials.

That being said, you might like to know that the knife I use and like for grafting deciduous fruit trees in winter is this Felco Victorinox Budding and Grafting knife:

Felco Victorinox grafting knife and sharpener.

More important than the specific knife is how sharp it is, however, which is why I included my Felco sharpening tool in the photo.

And I like to use one-inch-wide Parafilm tape (clear) and half-inch tape (green) for tying and covering grafts. Every good nursery carries these.

Parafilm grafting tape and green nursery tape.

Good tools and materials do make the job easier. If you’re just trying your hand at grafting though, don’t think you need to buy a bunch of stuff from the outset. Rather, with whatever tools and materials you have on hand, do many grafts so the chances of a few succeeding rise.

That’s probably the best advice I ever got about grafting: It’s a numbers game. Even professionals don’t get 100% take so do more than you need.

That graft that I did upside down last winter? Wasn’t a problem because I’d done a second graft of the same variety, this one right side up. And it took.

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