Teach Fruit Trees to Multitask with Grafting
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Jim says if you have an older tree, but don’t particularly like the fruit, it’s easier to graft a new variety to it rather than pulling the tree out and planting a new one. Plus, it won’t take as long to enjoy the benefits.
The other advantage of grafting is growing the variety you want since many fruit tree cultivars were derived as vegetative sports and won’t reproduce seed that’s “true” to the parent. Typically, if you plant a half-dozen apple seeds from the same tree, no two will come out the same. Grafting ensures you’re able to enjoy the fruit you desire.
Give grafting a try
Regardless of the long and illustrious history, don’t be afraid to experiment. There is truly very little risk. If a graft doesn’t take, it dies at the union. You don’t lose the entire tree. It’s well worth the effort for impressive – and delicious – results.
Want to try an heirloom apple, such as Jonagold, but are concerned about its susceptibility to fire blight? Graft a Jonagold scion onto an established tree. If it succumbs to the disease in a few years, you still have the original tree. If you are unsure about which new apple to add to your orchard or are short on space, you might sample the fruit from a graft before investing in a new tree..
Jim and his wife, Joan, traveled to the Cornell University fruit-tasting station when he became interested in grafting in the 1970s and 1980s. They took several days each season sampling apples to decide which varieties to try at home. “It took 10 years to taste them all,” he says. “They had 1,500 varieties with names and 700 to 800 with numbers.”
During his most productive year, Jim enjoyed 200 different kinds of apples on the 20 trees in his yard. “On some I had five, some I had 10, and on one I had 18.” Over the years, he’s whittled down what he likes and what grows well; he now averages approximately four different apple varieties on each tree.
It’s all about relationships and timing
Although the process is fairly straight forward, there are a couple of important things to remember for successful grafting. Most important is to choose compatible species for your grafting experiments.
For instance, an orange graft won’t take on an apple root stock. “If they’re two different (phylogenetic) families, forget it,” Ken says. For best results, choose closely related species or cultivars within the same species.
Grafting different types of trees opens up exciting possibilities for the backyard orchardist. Whitaker says you can graft apricots on plums, crabapples on standard apples, and Japanese plums with the European plums without much difficulty.
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