All About Grafting Fruit Trees

Graft a few varieties to a single fruit tree and check out new tastes.

| March/April 2009

Tools of the Grafting Trade 

Did you ever see five varieties of apples growing on one tree? Have you wondered about the difference between standard, semi-dwarf and dwarf versions of the same fruit variety? Ever see a pear growing on a quince tree? These horticultural tricks are all about the ancient art of grafting. Although shrouded in mystery, grafting fruit trees is a simple process that requires minimal equipment and effort, yet lets the home gardener grow an almost limitless number of fruit varieties on relatively few trees. In its most basic form, grafting involves inserting a piece of branch, called a scion, of one tree variety into the stem or trunk of another. This allows you to grow a multitude of varieties on one tree.

Nothing new under the sun

Grafting has been a horticultural staple for thousands of years. Records from Theophrastus, generally regarded as the Father of Botany in Ancient Greece, describe the process as far back as 300 B.C. As civilization marched across the world, these effective techniques followed. In Ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder wrote extensively of grafting practices, and the basic methods continue to this day.

In current applications, grafting and bud-grafting (incorporating single bud pieces of scion instead of a two- or three-budded scion onto a common rootstock) is critical to the fruit tree industry.

“Modern apple production is probably more sophisticated than any horticultural art,” says Dr. Ken Mudge, associate professor of horticulture at Cornell University in New York, who teaches courses in grafting trees and shrubs.

Ken says, “The rootstocks are specialized varieties that have been bred for certain characteristics.” Depending on the purpose, rootstocks are chosen for their growth habits (such as dwarf or semi-dwarf) and disease resistance. Grafting allows producers to grow a number of varieties on these standard rootstocks, producing desirable fruit while maintaining overall consistency in the orchard.

In reality, most of the trees you find at nurseries have been produced by grafting a specific cultivar to the appropriate rootstock. Growing a tree from seed takes many years to bear fruit, and it very well might not be true to form. A grafted variety will bear within two to three years, and its characteristics will be true to the variety. Jim Whitaker’s grafting hobby began more than 30 years ago at his home in Barberton, Ohio, and over the years he’s had tremendous success. “I’ve had apples the same year I grafted them,” Jim says. The new branch may not produce bushels, but it’s always nice to try the fruit sooner than later.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: September 14-16, 2018
Seven Springs, PA

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on modern homesteading, animal husbandry, gardening, real food and more!