Growing fruit trees doesn’t have to be overly complicated. However, they need to be grafted to produce the best fruit and ensure your healthy fruit trees continue producing. So why exactly do fruit trees require grafting?
Fruit trees need to be grafted to ensure desired characteristics of a tree are preserved and that the fruit will grow true to seed. In addition, grafting allows characteristics from another tree to be passed on and grow more quickly since it’s attached to an already rooted tree.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss how the grafting process works, the benefits of grafting your fruit trees, and the basics of grafting trees. So if you want to learn more about the grafting process and its benefits, read on.
How Fruit Tree Grafting Works
First, it’s essential to understand precisely how tree grafting works. Grafting is integral to maintaining a fruit tree’s health and its continued production of quality fruit. So how exactly does the grafting process work?
A fruit tree is grafted by taking a scion from another healthy fruit tree with desired characteristics or traits during a tree’s dormancy. This cutting is placed on an established tree’s branch, stem, or roots. The scion and the other tree need to be cut so the graft can grow into the new tree.
Where the cutting and tree are conjoined is typically wrapped to keep them safe until the two grow together. Over time the graft will take and become a part of the tree. Typically, it will take 3-8 weeks for the graft to take and become a part of the new tree.
However, it’s important to note that there are several grafting methods and which one you use depends entirely on the type of tree you’re grafting. Some methods are easier for beginners, but most trees prefer being grafted in late winter or early summer.
The Benefits of Grafting Fruit Trees
As I previously stated, grafting is critical to maintaining a fruit tree’s long-term health, mainly when producing fruit on a large scale, like an orchard. Additionally, there are several other benefits to grafting your fruit trees.
So what are some of those benefits?
Easily Repair a Tree Injury
Though grafting is generally used to strengthen a tree or produce better fruit, it’s also used to heal a tree’s injuries. Unfortunately, trees can become injured in several ways by things like bugs, animals, or strong winds. Sometimes these injuries leave large wounds behind that will weaken the tree.
A graft can be placed over the wound to protect the tree from the elements, pests, and further damage. This kind of graft is usually used to ensure the structural integrity of your tree and to keep out dangerous bacteria or bugs.
Grow Fruit That’s True to Type
Another great benefit of grafting your fruit tree is ensuring the fruit produced is true to type. When planting any trees from seeds, it isn’t easy to replicate an exact fruit type. However, by grafting a fruit tree, you can ensure the fruit replicates the plant you want. This kind of replication is often referred to as cloning.
Produce Dwarf Varieties
Grafting can also be used to produce dwarf varieties of fruit trees. Smaller fruit trees can be beneficial for small yards or orchids. Grafting your fruit cutting onto a dwarf tree is a great way to pass on desired characteristics to a smaller-sized tree.
The scion you graft doesn’t have to be from a dwarf tree for the cutting to take. Dwarf trees will significantly benefit from regular scions being grafted to them, so long as the cutting is healthy.
Increase Resistance to Diseases
One of the most important reasons to graft your fruit trees is the added disease resistance that comes with grafting. Each tree has its disease resistance, and by grafting a healthy scion to another fruit tree, you are increasing the tree’s ability to fight off illness.
You only want to graft scions from continuously healthy trees that grow easily. You will also want to ensure the cutting you take is free of pests and is 1-2 years old for optimal grafting.
Obtain Desirable Characteristics
Another benefit of grafting fruit trees is the ability to obtain disabled characteristics. Grafting is a great way to shop around for characteristics you want your new tree to have. By grafting a healthy, disease-resistant, fast-growing scion, your tree will inherit these essential characteristics, resulting in a better fruit-producing tree.
Aid in Pollination
Lastly, by grafting onto your fruit trees, you can ensure that your trees get better pollination. For example, apple trees require cross-pollination to produce fruit. However, cross-pollination can be challenging if your pollinators aren’t traveling from tree to tree.
So, to remedy this, you can graft another apple scion to your tree. The new graft will ensure the plant is cross-pollinated since the tree now produces two different pollination sources. Of course, not all trees require cross-pollination, but those that do greatly benefit from being grafted. Additionally, cross-pollination is excellent for most fruit trees, so you win either way.
How To Graft a Fruit Tree
Now that you understand the many benefits of grafting your fruit trees, it’s time to discuss the process of grafting a tree. The steps to grafting a fruit tree aren’t overly complex. However, it’s imperative to be patient and thorough in grafting. You want to ensure your tree grows straight and not crooked.
What you will need:
- Grafting wax
- Grafting tape
- Xacto knife
How to cleft graft a fruit tree:
- Select a scion. You want to collect your scion during the tree’s dormant season. Additionally, the branch you take should be 1-2 years of age to promote optimal growth. The scion should be no wider than a pencil, reasonably straight, with minimal side branch growth.
- Store your scions until ready to use. You can keep your cuttings in ziplock bags with a damp paper towel in the fridge. Keeping the cuttings contained prevents the scions from getting too warm and sprouting. The cuttings must stay cool until grafted to the fruit tree.
- Select your grafting method. The most popular methods include cleft, inlay, four-flap, and whip grafting. It’s essential to research which method will work best for your specific fruit tree. However, the cleft graft is the easiest method and the one I’m going over today.
- Prune your rootstock. You want to choose a thin branch to cut and adhere your graft to. The cut needs to be made precisely to avoid tears in the wood, as this will weaken the tree and your graft.
- Cut up to 1 inch (2.54 cm) from the scions bottom. Cutting the bottom ensures your graft takes better and more smoothly. Additionally, checking that your branch is facing the correct way is essential. The graft needs to be attached at the same point it’s cut from the original tree.
- Cut the top of the scion off. You only want to take a small portion of the scion off. Additionally, ensure that there are still 1-3 buds along the branch to promote the best future growth.
- Widdle the bottom of the scion into a point/wedge. You need to create a wedge that will fit with the new tree. The point is where the graft will take hold and help the two plants grow together.
- Split the rootstock down the center. Use an Exacto knife to carefully split the rootstock for placing the scion wedge. The cut needs to be long enough for the wedge to fit fully into the cut.
- Insert the scion into the rootstock. This process needs to be done with care, as you don’t want to split the rootstock. You can pry the rootstock cut open with your knife to give yourself leverage.
- Seal the graft with graft tape. Use the tape to keep the graft in place and seal the wound from the elements. Use as much tape as you need to create a sturdy branch.
- Heat the grafting wax and apply it to the tip. The wax will seal the scion’s tip where you cut it to ensure no infection, diseases, or pests ruin your tree.
- Keep an eye on your graft. Over time the graft will start to bulge, and the tape will need to be slit to rot away. Grafting tape is biodegradable and will decompose on its own.
As you can see, despite the many steps, grafting is pretty straightforward. Being patient and acquiring suitable materials for the project is essential. A graft will have no problem if it’s the right time of year, the graft is protected with graft tape, and you keep an eye on it.
I recommend watching the below YouTube video on grafting for beginners if you’re a visual learner. They do a fantastic job of visually walking you through the process and explaining the science behind each step.
Fruit trees must be grafted to ensure healthy pollination and that desired characteristics are passed on. Grafting also helps produce fruit that is true to type, unlike growing fruit trees from seeds.
Plus, grafted trees are generally healthier since they have a higher resistance to disease and increased growth. However, it’s essential only to graft healthy scions to new trees, or you risk passing on poor health to the new tree.