Fruit tree grafting is an economical way to create your own orchard. In winter you can collect cuttings (called scion wood) from your favourite deciduous trees and graft these onto rootstock and create multiple copies of each tree, without having to wait for a new tree to grow from seed or having to buy an established tree from a nursery.
There are a few more reasons why it can be a good idea to graft, other than it being cheaper. Grafting wood onto a specific rootstock means you can better choose the size of the tree you’ll grow as well as the hardiness.
In New Zealand for example, one of the standard rootstocks for apple is mm106. This is a semi-dwarf rootstock that is quite tolerant to moist soils. However, if you were wanting a smaller apple tree, for example, you could pick an m9 rootstock, which is a dwarf variety.
The scion wood and the rootstock need to be the same genus for the graft to take. The genus ‘Prunus’ includes stonefruit such as plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and apricots, so these could all be grafted on the same type of rootstock. You can’t graft a plum scion wood onto apple (Malus genus) rootstock. The only exception to this rule is pear, which can also be grafted to a quince rootstock despite quince being a different genus.
For some trees that grow quickly from seed, and grow fruit which is true to type such as a peaches, nectarines and apricots grafting isn’t particularly worth it. But for pears and apples, it’s a great option. Apples and pears that haven’t been grafted to a rootstock with dwarfing characteristics can grow ridiculously tall and take up to 10 years to fruit, and just because you grew an apple from seed you can’t guarantee what type the fruit will be. A grafted apple can fruit in 3-4 years and grafted pear in 4-6 and you’ll be sure of the fruit you get.
That being said, grafting is good fun too, even if it’s just an experiment. It’s very cool to see the wood fuse together and become a new tree. I thought I would give a step by step run down of two grafting techniques, Whip and Tounge Grafts and Chip Budding, and encourage you to give it a go!
Rootstock and Scionwood
The rootstock is a plant with an already established root system. The rootstock is what determines things like how big the fruit tree will grow, what conditions it can grow in and the fruit size.
Some grafting techniques use an established tree stump to graft their scion wood on. In the two grafting techniques below I’m not using an established stump. I’ll be using young rootstock, like pictured below. You can buy bunches of inexpensive rootstock online, or use your own. For example, I have a lot of self seeded cherry blossom rootstock around my property on which I will graft edible cherries.
The scion wood is a cutting of wood that is from the tree that you would like to propagate and grow. Scionwood must be first-year wood, meaning the wood that grew last summer. The scion wood must be collected in winter and must always be dormant (no burst buds) and aim for pieces of about 2ocm- 30cm long. One very long piece can be cut into several pieces. Store scion wood in the fridge, wrapped in wet newspaper and plastic, until you use it.
Whip and tongue graft
This is a dependable and solid graft with a bit of careful skill required. When grafting it is essential that the cambium layer of both the rootstock and the scion wood match and grow together. The cambium is a tissue layer of cells, responsible for plant growth. To ensure a good match it is important you cut smoothly and cleanly using a sharp grafting knife like this one.
Take your rootstock and make a long slanting cut across an internode (the space between the buds). Either place the rootstock on a chopping board and press down hard with a grafting knife or hold the rootstock away from you and with one hard stroke, slice, off an angled slice. Try to get the longest possible cut and as smooth as possible to create an oval face.
Find scion wood of a similar size in diameter and do the same thing.
They should match as closely as possible when held together.
There’s the whip graft, now for the tongue.
Keep your thumbs nice and close together for better control with the knife. About 1/3 of the way down from your cut, slice down into the face. Do this slowly and carefully as this can be quite tricky and you don’t want to press down too hard and cut yourself!
Do this in both the rootstock and the scion. Those cuts create the ‘tongue’ and this is what will help hold the rootstock and scion together. Carefully match them together.
Now the graft needs to be securely tied with grafting tape. Grafting tape stretches as the tree grows and keeps out water and diseases. This step is just as important as a clean cut! Cut the top of your scion wood off so that it has only 3 buds remaining. Plant your finished rootstock, preferably in the open ground.
This grafting technique is one that can be done all throughout spring and even summer. It involves grafting only a little bud of the scion wood onto rootstock. This means you get a lot more use out of one piece of scion wood.
On your rootstock, in the internode (the space between two buds), make a little cut, about 3 mm deep. 1cm above that, slice down to meet the little slit you previously made.
On your scion wood, you want to do the same thing except on the bud.
Once you have sliced the bud off, keep it sitting on your grafting knife to avoid touching it with your fingers and contaminating it. Carefully place it onto the rootstock, matching the bud with the cut you made before.
When wrapping this graft, wrap the bottom of the bud first and only cover the tip of the bud with one layer of tape. Plant your rootstock, preferably in the open ground.
The above two grafts were prepared on a bare rooted rootstock. This is a lot easier than grafting on a rootstock in the ground as you can move it around when cutting.
If cutting with a grafting knife isn’t your thing, there are grafting shears you can purchase online that do the grafting work for you and actually cut the rootstock and scion wood so they fit like a puzzle.
Once you have planted your rootstock, keep it well watered. If your graft is successful, you should be able to see the buds on the scion wood grow and swell within a couple of months.