Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Contributed by John Bradley
Ever since I was a young man I’ve had a fascination for different methods of propagation. I have done simple propagation such as cutting a stalk off a blackcurrant or a grapevine and sticking it in the ground – yes, it is that simple and you get a true clone of what you started with. Unfortunately, although the fruit will be a true clone the shrub or bush will generate it own size based on the genetics within the particular family being cloned. So how do we get the right fruit and the right size tree/shrub? This is where grafting comes in.
Definition - What does Grafting mean?
Grafting is the process of joining two plants together (an upper portion and a lower portion) to grow as one. The upper portion of the plant is known as the scion, which is attached to the lower portion known as the rootstock.This is most often done for fruit trees, and virtually all trees in orchards are grafted. Grafting in the orchard is done because the seeds of a fruit tree cannot reproduce true to their genetics. Therefore, the branch of a desirable tree is grafted to a suitable rootstock as it is the rootstock that controls the size of the tree.Grafting is also performed to produce dwarf plants that are true to their variety. A less desirable plant can be changed by grafting a more desirable species to the rootstock.
Multiple varieties can be grafted to the same rootstock to produce a novelty tree that will produce several different fruits on the same tree. Most roses are also a product of grafting to a different rootstock.
The world record for the different number of apples on one tree belongs to Paul Barnett in Chidham near Chichester – over 250 different varieties on one tree, yes you read it correctly! But he has spent 24years doing it. And why? Because you can I guess!
Grafting can be performed either through a stem cutting graft to the rootstock or through budding, which is a process where a bud, but not an entire stem, is grafted. Stem grafting is done in the spring and chip budding is done in late summer. Chip budding is often the preferred method for apple trees as it is much faster in growing on, but is also used with other fruits as well. The chip is actually just a leaf with the bit of the bark where it is joined to the stem. This is then cut into the root stock and taped on. Wax is used to cover the grafted area and then it is wrapped with growing tape to protect it during the healing period.
A plant produced through grafting can usually be spotted by a lump or ball-like growth at the base of the stem where it attaches to the rootstock. The grafted point should never be buried, or the rootstock will grow instead of the grafted upper portion of the plant.
To date I have grafted over a hundred fruit trees and I’m running out of space to store them. So far I have successfully grafted apple, pear and this year plum as well. My garden currently has about 40 trees of various size and age. The good thing about it is it is reasonable cheap; each rootstock is about £2.50 - £3.50 but the downside is that you have to wait for three to six years to get a reasonable size tree. But then it’s all about the chase!
If you would like to add different apples, pears to your existing fruit trees let me know before December and I will show and help you through the process during February March next year. You might even get hooked. Grafting is a fascinating, complex subject covering over a hundred different methods but reasonably easy to get success. A book written in 1947 by R J Garner has become the bible on the subject, unfortunately it had not been in print for over forty years until 2013 when it was republished due to the demand of amateurs like me. It has since been updated by Steven Bradley (no relation – honestly) and reprinted at £25 but you can get it on Ebay as I did for £17 or less.
Next year I’m going to try tomato grafting, this is as you can imagine a very fiddly process but you do get results in the same year as you graft. Wish me luck.