Grafting is a common practice in horticulture, often used to improve yields and fruit quality. It also helps shorten the time for a tree to start bearing fruit, improves disease and pest resistance, and increases winter and soil hardiness. But do avocado trees need to be grafted to bear fruit?
Avocado trees do not need to be grafted to bear fruit. Like most fruit trees, they will produce fruit without grafting. However, they will take a long time before they start bearing fruit, slowing production. Fruits from non-grafted avocado trees are also often small, misshapen, and of poor quality.
If you’re thinking of planting an avocado tree, it’s best to opt for a grafted plant. This method will give you the best chance of yield and fruit quality success. I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you understand grafting and how it can benefit your avocado tree. I will also offer steps to follow when grafting an avocado tree.
Why You Should Graft Avocado Trees to Increase Fruit Yield
If avocado trees can still bear fruit without grafting, why bother going through the process?
Here are several benefits of grafting avocado trees:
Shorten the Time to Bearing Fruit
While non-grafted avocado trees can still produce fruit, it often takes several years before they start bearing fruit. You may sit with a non-bearing tree for up to 8 years or more before it finally produces its first fruit. And after years of fertilizing, watering, and patiently waiting, the fruits produced are often small, misshapen, and of poor quality.
Grafting helps shorten the time for an avocado tree to start bearing fruit. Grafted avocado trees can produce fruit as early as 3 years after planting. This early fruit bearing is because the scion is taken from a plant already bearing fruit.
By grafting this onto a rootstock, you are giving your avocado tree a head start in fruit production.
Boosted Fruit Quality and Yield
High-quality fruits and a bountiful yield are every farmer’s dream. Unfortunately, this is often not the case with non-grafted avocado trees.
The fruits produced are of poor quality, unattractive, and have little commercial value. In some cases, the fruits may not even be edible due to their unappealing taste and texture.
Grafting helps improve the quality and yield of fruits since the scion comes from a plant with the desired characteristics. The resultant fruits are often better shaped and have a more uniform appearance. They are also tastier and juicier, making them more marketable and valuable.
Additionally, grafted avocado trees produce more fruits than non-grafted trees. The scion already has an established fruiting system so that it can make fruits sooner and in more significant quantities. At the same time, the rootstock provides a robust and healthy foundation for the tree.
Increased Pest and Disease Resistance
Pests and diseases can wreak havoc on avocado trees, causing damage to the tree, lowering the quality of the fruits, and reducing yields. Grafting helps improve avocado trees’ resistance to pests and disease—as the grower often chooses the rootstock for its resistance to certain pests and diseases.
This resistance is especially beneficial in areas where avocado trees are susceptible to soil-borne diseases, such as Phytophthora root rot. By grafting onto a resistant rootstock to this disease, you can help protect your avocado tree from infection.
Similarly, grafted avocado trees are also more resistant to pests, such as borers, avocado lace bugs, and thrips. This resistance is because the grafter often takes the scion from a plant with inherently high resistance to these pests.
Increased Tolerance to Extreme Conditions
Cold winters, high winds, and drought can all affect avocado trees. Hot summers can also cause the fruits to drop prematurely from the tree. Grafting helps increase the tolerance of avocado trees to extreme conditions, as the growers often take the grafts from plants native to these conditions.
For example, grafted avocado trees are often more tolerant to cold weather, withstanding temperatures as low as 20 °F (-6.7 °C). They are also more drought-tolerant than non-grafted trees, making them ideal for areas with little rainfall. This feature saves you the hassle of frequently watering your trees and helps them withstand drought.
How to Graft an Avocado Tree to Bear Fruit
Proper grafting techniques are essential for a successful graft. If done incorrectly, the graft may not take, and you might destroy your tree.
Fortunately, grafting an avocado tree is not as difficult as it may seem and requires a few tools you likely already have. You only need a sharp knife, some grafting tape, and a healthy scion.
Follow these steps:
1. Choose Healthy, Disease-Free Rootstock
When grafting an avocado tree, you will need to home-grow an avocado tree from the seed until it is big enough to graft. Once it reaches a height of about 3 feet (0.9 meters), it is ready to be grafted.
The best rootstock to use is vigorous, healthy, and disease-free.
2. Select a Healthy Scion
The scion is the upper part of the plant that you will graft onto the rootstock. It’s best to source a scion from a healthy avocado tree with desired characteristics, such as high fruit quality, increased pest, and disease resistance, or increased tolerance to extreme conditions.
Select a branch that’s producing buds from the current year’s growth. Choose buds towards the end of the branch for best results.
3. Sterilize Your Grafting Tools
Before grafting, it’s important to sterilize your grafting tools. This process helps prevent the spread of disease and pests, which could potentially damage your trees.
To sterilize your instruments, soak them in a solution of rubbing alcohol for a few minutes and let them air dry.
4. Cut Healthy Scions
The cutting process is essential, and you should follow these steps:
- Using a sharp knife, make a clean cut at a 45-degree angle about 6 inches (15 cm) below the bud.
- Ensure the scion has at least 2-3 buds.
- Wrap the scions in a damp towel to keep them cool and fresh until you’re ready to graft them.
5. Prepare the Rootstock
Proper preparation of the rootstock is essential for a successful graft.
The process is as follows:
- Cut the top of the homegrown avocado tree to eradicate it.
- Make a vertical cut down up to ⅓ of the way through the center of the rootstock using a sharp knife.
- Be careful not to cut too deeply, as this could damage the rootstock.
6. Insert the Scion
Carefully insert the scion into the vertical cut on the rootstock. The scion should fit snugly into the cut, ensuring no gaps.
For a successful graft, you should press the scion and rootstock cambium layers tightly against each other. Ensure that the buds on the scion are pointing upwards.
7. Secure the Scion
Once the scion is in place, you should:
- Use grafting tape or a rubber band to secure it in place.
- Carefully wrap the tape or band around the scion and rootstock, ensuring it’s tight but not too tight, as this could damage the scion. Avoid covering the bud area, as this could impede growth.
8. Wait for the Graft to Take
The last step is to wait for the graft to take the following these steps:
- Keep the tree in a cool, shady place and water it regularly.
- In about 3-4 weeks, you should see the buds begin to open, a sign that the graft has taken.
- After a successful graft, remove the tape or band and allow the tree to grow freely. As the avocado tree grows, it will produce healthy, high-quality fruits.
How Grafting Works for Fruit Bearing
Grafting is a horticultural technique in which you join a piece of one plant (the scion) with another (the rootstock). This process entails wounding both plants to grow together.
The scion is the upper part of the plant that contains the desired characteristics, such as fruit type, size, and flavor. The rootstock is the lower part of the plant that provides the roots and anchor for the graft.
Grafting is often used in fruit tree production as it allows growers to produce trees that are true to type. Grafted avocado trees have a shorter maturity period and will often bear fruit within 3-4 years. Non-grafted avocado trees can take up to 8 years or more before they start bearing fruit.
Since grafting involves selecting plants with desired characteristics, the quality and yield of fruit from grafted avocado trees are often superior to those of non-grafted trees. The fruits are also larger, better shaped, and more uniform.
During grafting, you join the scion and rootstock together using a splice grafting technique as follows:
- The grafter will make a triangle-shaped cut on the rootstock and a similar incision on the scion.
- The two cuts are then joined together and held in place with tape or a rubber band.
- After a successful graft, the scion and rootstock will fuse and start to grow as one plant.
While avocado fruits don’t require grafting to produce fruits, grafting can help shorten the fruit production time and improve the fruits’ overall quality. Grafting also increases disease and pest resistance and tolerance to extreme conditions.
Use a healthy rootstock and scion for best results; prepare both properly before grafting. With a bit of time and patience, you can enjoy healthy, delicious avocados from your very own tree.