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The Magic of Grafting

Imagine finding the most delicious, crunchy, slightly tart yet still sweet, apple. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a tree that produces such fruit? The trouble is, apple – and many other fruits – seeds are a genetic gamble – no seed will ever produce the same fruit as it came from.

This is why fruit producers use often grafting to reproduce winning fruit.

Grafting is both a simple and surreal concept. You cut a branch off one tree (the “scion”), and stick it on another tree (the “rootstock”). Done right, that branch will become a part of the tree and grow, bearing fruit in due time.

Advantages are that…

  • You know the tree is adapted to its environment as it is alive and thriving (just perhaps not producing your favorite kind of fruit)
  • If you planted a new tree, you would have to wait years to get fruit; grafting allows you to gain time by building on an already-productive tree
  • With the “new” branches you have selected, you know exactly what you are investing time and energy in to grow

Having heard of this tradition, Francois and I were curious to find out more. A motivating factor is that we have numerous cherry and apple trees on the property, but – there had to be a but – a number of them produce “meh” fruit.

Learning grafting from a pro

Without being very proactive, we got lucky. A friend and organic farmer who lives just an hour away from us posted on Facebook that he was doing an afternoon grafting workshop. Perfect!

Tristan Coverdale has turned his property into a little paradise, full of all the things he loves to eat. Through grafting, he has diversified the kinds of peaches, cherries, and apples he has, extending their season from a few weeks to months. #goals

After a touch of theory, we dove in.

You always work with a receiving branch – the rootstock – and a “new” branch – scion – of similar size (aim for relatively thin, maybe with a width of 1-2cm give or take). Both have to be trimmed. The scion should have 2-3 buds, no more, no less.

The best tool to use is a small, sharp knife. After the initial trim with a secateurs, preparations should be made using the knife and shaving off a bit of wood at a time to avoid overdoing it. Note: there is a “right way up” for the scion – so make sure you point the buds towards the sky!

The best time to do grafts is in Spring, before the trees come out of dormancy and break out into buds.

We learned three types of grafts (presented in order of difficulty; see photo gallery below if you also think a picture is worth a thousand words):

  • Wedge: Cut the scion into a v-like shape, make a slice into the receiving branch, combine.
  • Whip & tongue: Cut the scion at an angle on one end, and make a slice halfway down the diagonal section. Cut the outer layer of bark off a similar size area on the rootstock branch, and at the halfway mark more or less, make an extra “slice”. This allows the two pieces to be connected and hold by themselves thanks to the matching “slices”.
  • Bark graft: Make a vertical incision of about 2-3cm on the outer layer of the bark of the rootstock. Gently peel back the bark, creating a sort of split envelope. Cut the bottom part of the scion in a thinning diagonal, and insert it into the T you created in the receiving branch.

Important: align the barks on one side at least. Tape tight with grafting tape (stretchy cellophane) or electric tape, to encourage proper contact between the rootstock and scion bark layers – and to protect from rain and humidity until the graft is good to go.

Then wait for a few weeks to see if the grafts take.

 

 

Our first grafting rodeo

As luck would have it, shortly after our workshop, we were both due to travel to Switzerland where we stayed in my childhood home. There, the garden is full of apple trees including small red and yellow ones that are crunchy and sweet, bigger yellow ones that are great as a snack or to cook with, and granny smith apples (swoon).

Francois diligently collected branches from three chosen trees, and as soon as we got back to Portugal, we got our grafting on.

We stuck to mostly wedge grafts, with Francois trying two whip and tongue ones (show off!). We used blue string to mark the branches where we did grafts, and checked back every week or so to see if there were any signs of success (or failure).

When the trees we had grafted onto began to break out into buds, we checked our work and – oh magic wonder – most of our grafts seem to have taken!

We’ll keep an eye on them here on out, and are already plotting where to get more branches full of genetic deliciousness to graft onto cherry, apple, and peach trees.

 

If you have questions about grafting, or if you know more than we do (not hard at all as you can tell) and have tips for our future grafting projects, I would love to hear from you!

 

Grafting photo gallery

All photos copyright Casa Beatrix. Do not use without permission.

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