Dwarf fruit trees are the best to plant if you have limited space in your garden. With these smaller fruit trees, you will be able to grow more trees in your small area and still get a lot of fruits during harvest. But are dwarf fruit trees genetically modified?
Dwarf fruit trees are not genetically modified. They get their intriguing short stature from natural genetics, environmental factors, or grafting. However, horticulturists create most dwarf trees by grafting a fruit tree scion to a rootstock of another tree with the desired traits.
In this article, we’ll look at why dwarf fruit trees are small, what genetically modified crops are, and why dwarf fruit trees are not GMO. We’ll also discuss the tools needed for grafting dwarf trees and the factors to consider when determining the suitable rootstock and scion to graft your fruit trees. Read on to learn more.
Dwarf Fruit Trees vs. Genetically Modified Trees
The processes involved in growing dwarf fruit trees and genetically modified organisms differ. First, let’s break down the meaning of genetic modification and how dwarf fruit trees came about.
What Is Genetic Modification?
Genetically modified crops are plants that are modified using genetic engineering methods. Genetic modification involves altering the genetic makeup by inserting DNA segments of desired traits into an organism’s genome.
As the genetically modified plant produces new fruits and seeds, the seeds will carry unique traits, manifesting when you plant them and grow them into adult fruit trees.
The main aim of genetically modifying plants is to get desired traits into the plants. Some of the characteristics include the following:
- The hardiness of the plant
- Resistance to specific pests and diseases
- Adaptation to particular soil types and qualities
- Resistance to stress, flood, and drought
- Resistance to chemical treatments
- Enhanced nutrient proportions
According to Colorado State University Extension, some popular genetically modified crops in the U.S. include the following:
- Sugar beets
All these genetically modified crops are for commercial use, and almost no vegetables and fruits for general use are genetically modified.
Why Are Dwarf Fruit Trees Small?
Most dwarf fruit trees are small due to grafting, where they get their diminutive size from the rootstocks. A dwarf tree borrows its characteristics from the scion and the rootstock. However, dwarf fruit trees can also be naturally short or influenced by environmental factors.
The following are the factors that can make a dwarf fruit tree small:
- Grafting – This is the most common reason behind a dwarf fruit tree. It involves combining two trees by joining them together as a scion and rootstock (more details ahead).
- Natural genetics – It may be strange seeing a small tree, but the reality is that some trees have genes that make them naturally short.
- Environmental conditions – The bonsai is the best way to understand how environmental factors result in dwarfism in trees. When a tree is grown in a small container, e.g., a pot, it may result in stunted growth because of the limited space in the container.
The bottom line: Dwarf fruit trees do not undergo genetic modification as growers do not introduce any external DNA into the plants. Instead, they acquire their traits after growers attach a scion to a rootstock with desired characteristics.
Some dwarf fruit trees are naturally small. Additionally, dwarf fruit trees can get their dwarf stature from being grown in containers which restricts their growth.
How To Grow Dwarf Fruit Trees by Grafting
Grafting dwarf fruit trees is relatively easy. You can graft your trees on your own or get them grafted in a nursery.
There are several techniques to graft dwarf fruit trees. If you wish to graft your dwarf fruit trees, you must have the following:
- The right tools
- The right rootstock
- The right scion
Tools Needed in Grafting
The right tools are necessary for harvesting the scion, cutting it into the rootstock, and binding them together. Some of the tools you need when grafting include:
- A grafting shear- You need sterile and sharp grafting shears to ensure that you don’t contaminate the cuttings with any disease.
- Knife- A sharp knife can give your scion a clean cut. You can cut the scion into the right shape to fit the rootstock. Use a steel sharpener or rock to keep the knife’s sharp edges. Some grafting tool kits come with a knife.
- Tape – You can use grafting tape to hold the grafted parts in place. Choose a tape that can hold the scion securely in place but is easy to remove later.
- Grafting Wax– This material is necessary to patch the wound between the scion and the rootstock to prevent microbial infections.
- Grafting rubber – Grafts can use elastic rubbers as an alternative to grafting tapes to keep them steady and in place. These rubbers not only generate pressure but also help to conserve moisture.
Choosing the Right Scion for Grafting
Choosing the right scion is imperative when grafting. Ideally, it’s best to use a one-year-old scion as thick as a pinky without much vegetation.
The scion determines most characteristics of the fruits that will be produced by the grafted tree, including:
- The texture of the fruits
- Quality of the fruits
- Ripening time of the fruits
- Taste of the fruits
There are several factors to consider when choosing the right scion for your graft. Some of these include:
- You should extract the scion from a young tree. The right age for a scion should be one year for fewer risks of diseases. Avoid collecting scions from older wood.
- The scion should have adequate size and shape. The scion you choose for your graft should be at least 0.25 in (6.35 mm) to 0.5 in (12.7mm) thick and 14″ (35.56 cm) to 18″ (45.72 cm) long. The scion should also be straight and have many narrow buds.
- Choose an appropriate time for collecting scions. It is best to cut the scions shortly before grafting to keep them fresh. So if you’re planning to graft in spring, collect your scions by the end of winter or early spring, right before the tree wakes up from winter dormancy.
If you cannot graft the scions immediately, you must store them properly. Proper storage can determine the success of grafting. After cutting your scion in the dormant stage, you need to keep it dormant until you graft it. Keep the scion in a freezer bag and store it in a cold place.
The storage place should have enough moisture to keep the scion alive but not so much that it risks rotting. Refrigeration at 34-40°F (1.11-4.44°C) is ideal for storing the scion for up to 2 months.
Here’s a detailed video guide on how to choose the right scion, gather them, and store them until it’s time to graft:
Choosing the Right Rootstock for a Dwarf Fruit Tree
When grafting, a suitable rootstock is vital. A rootstock is the root system of a grafted tree. The rootstocks of trees are grown for at least one year before you can graft a scion onto them. Once you remove the foliage of the rootstock, and only the trunk remains, you are ready. Once properly established, the scion leaves will grow.
Gardeners often choose the rootstock based on the inherent qualities of the trees they deem beneficial. Some of the characteristics to look for in a rootstock are:
- Pest and disease resistance. When selecting a rootstock, you should identify the pests in the area where you plan to plant your dwarf fruit trees. Choose a rootstock that is resistant to these pests.
- The size of the tree. The rootstock determines the size of the tree. It is essential to choose a rootstock with the desired tree size. If you have space and want a more sizable tree, you can use rootstocks from larger trees. Otherwise, you can use dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks.
- The tree must have the ability to thrive in different soil types. The rootstock you choose should be able to sustain itself in the types of soil you have in your garden. Some rootstock may be prone to root rot if planted in moist soils.
Benefits of Grafting
Grafting gives your dwarf fruit trees many good characteristics, as shown in my other article: Are Dwarf Fruit Trees Worth Planting? 4 Facts
Some of the benefits of grafting are listed below:
- It is the fastest way to grow desired varieties of dwarf fruit trees.
- You can graft more than one variety of fruits from the same rootstock.
- You get some plant varietals that you could not propagate in any other way.
- You get the best of two plants, the rootstock, and the scion.
- Grafting helps to get plants with higher pest and disease resistance.
- With grafting, you get better quality fruits from the dwarf fruit trees than you could get from the full-size trees.
- Grafting shortens the time it takes for plants to reach production.
- Grafted plants yield more with fewer plants than non-grafted plants.
- Grafted plants are more economical as you do not need to invest much in fighting pests and diseases.
- Grafting enhances the effectiveness of microbe-containing crops.
Dwarf fruit trees are not genetically modified but mostly made from grafting. Some dwarf fruit trees are naturally short in size, while others remain dwarfs because of the space limitations of the environment where they are grown.
When grafting dwarf trees, you need the right tools for the job and choose the right scion and rootstock that will bring in the desired characteristics.