How To Graft a Fruit Tree • 4 Simple Methods Explained

Grafting is a commonly employed technique in horticulture where two separate plants are merged to create a hybrid plant.

It’s a popular method for propagating fruit trees, allowing growers to combine the best characteristics of two varieties. In the following, we’ll explore four simple methods for grafting a fruit tree.

What Is the Purpose of Grafting?

Grafting allows growers to combine desirable traits, such as disease resistance, fruit quality, and growth habits, of two different plants.

Grafting is commonly used to propagate fruit trees, repair damaged trees, and improve tree health and productivity.

What Trees Can Be Grafted Together?

Most fruit trees can be grafted together, as long as they are closely related species.

For example, apple trees can be grafted onto crabapple rootstocks, while peach trees can be grafted onto plum rootstocks.

It’s important to choose compatible varieties to ensure successful grafting.

When Is the Best Time To Graft Fruit Trees?

The best time to graft fruit trees is during the dormant season, typically in late winter or early spring before the buds begin to swell. This allows the graft to heal before the tree starts to grow in the spring.

Grafting can also be done in the summer, but it’s more challenging and requires more care to ensure success.

Fruit Tree Grafting: The Basics Explained

Fruit tree grafting involves joining a scion, or a small cutting from a desired fruit tree, to a different rootstock, which is the base of a tree. The two parts grow together and form a new tree.

How It Works

Grafting works by creating a physical connection between the scion and rootstock, allowing the two parts to exchange nutrients and grow together.

The scion is typically a small cutting taken from a mature fruit tree, while the rootstock is a young tree or root system that provides the base for the new tree.

Rootstock

The rootstock is an important part of the grafting process as it determines the size, vigor, and disease resistance of the new tree.

Different rootstocks have different characteristics, so choosing the right one for the desired fruit tree is important.

Scion

The scion is the part of the graft that determines the fruit variety and characteristics of the new tree. Choosing healthy scion wood from a mature fruit tree with desirable traits is critical to the outcome.

Timeframe

The best time to graft fruit trees is late winter or early spring while the trees are still dormant. This allows the graft to heal before the tree starts to grow in the spring.

Grafting can also be done in the summer, but it’s more challenging and requires more care to ensure success.

Rootstock for Fruit Tree Grafting

The rootstock is key to the grafting process, and choosing the right rootstock is essential for a successful graft.

Best Choices

The best rootstock for fruit tree grafting depends on the type of fruit tree and the desired outcome.

Some popular choices for apple trees include Malling 9, Malling 26, and Geneva 41, while popular rootstocks for cherry trees include Colt and Gisela.

Where To Find Rootstock for Fruit Tree Grafting

Rootstock for fruit tree grafting can be found at many nurseries and garden centers as well as online at places like Cummins Nursery and Burnt Ridge Nursery.

It’s important to choose a reputable source that provides healthy, disease-free rootstock.

Clonal Rootstock

Clonal rootstock is a type of rootstock that is propagated through tissue culture rather than from seed.

This allows growers to produce large quantities of genetically identical rootstock, which can be more consistent in terms of size, vigor, and disease resistance.

A man cutting a slit in rootstock in preparation for grafting.

How To Prepare Rootstock

Before grafting, it’s important to prepare the rootstock properly to increase your chance of success. Follow the steps below for best results:

  1. Choose a healthy rootstock: The rootstock should be healthy, free of disease, and of the appropriate size for the desired fruit tree. Choose a rootstock that is compatible with the scion and the soil and climate conditions of the growing area.
  1. Prune the rootstock: Prune the rootstock to the desired height, typically 18-24 inches above the soil level. Use clean, sharp pruning shears to make clean cuts, and remove any damaged or diseased wood.
  1. Remove any suckers: Suckers are shoots that grow from the base of the rootstock and can compete with the scion for nutrients. Remove any suckers emerging from the rootstock.
  1. Keep the rootstock moist and cool: To prevent the rootstock from drying out, keep it moist and cool until it’s ready to be grafted. Store the rootstock in a cool, shaded area, and cover the cut end with a damp cloth or plastic wrap.
  1. Treat the rootstock with rooting hormone (optional): Some growers choose to treat the rootstock with a rooting hormone to promote successful grafting. Follow the instructions on the rooting hormone package, and apply the hormone to the cut end of the rootstock. Allow the hormone to dry before grafting.

Selecting and Storing Scion Wood

The scion wood determines the type of fruit tree that will grow. Selecting and storing scion wood is a critical part of the grafting process as it can affect the success of the graft.

Here are some tips for selecting and storing scion wood:

  • Choose healthy wood: Select scion wood from a mature fruit tree that is healthy and free from disease. Avoid wood with spurs or blossoms, as these can affect the quality of the graft.
  • Choose wood of the right size: Scion wood should be between 0.25 and 0.5 inches in diameter and 6-8 inches long. Choose wood that is straight and free of knots or damage.
  • Choose wood with good growth: Look for wood with growth that emerges from the bud just below the cut end of the scion wood. This growth should be straight and healthy and should have at least one bud that is pointing outward.
  • Collect wood during the dormant season: Scion wood should be collected in late winter or early spring before spring growth begins.
  • Store wood in a cool, moist place: Wrap the wood in damp paper towels or wood shavings, and store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
  • Label the wood: To avoid confusion, label the scion wood with the variety name, date collected, and any other relevant information.

Techniques for Grafting Fruit Trees

There are several different techniques for grafting fruit trees, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The choice of technique depends on the type of fruit tree and the desired outcome.

1. Cleft Grafting

A successful cleft graft on an apple tree.

Cleft grafting is a common technique for grafting fruit trees and is often used for larger-diameter rootstocks. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cut the rootstock: Make a straight cut across the top of the rootstock, about 6 inches above the soil.
  2. Make a cleft: Use a sharp knife to split the cut end of the rootstock down the middle, creating a “V” shape.
  3. Prepare the scion: Cut the scion wood to a wedge shape that matches the cleft in the rootstock.
  4. Insert the scion: Insert the scion into the cleft in the rootstock, making sure that the cambium layers of the scion and rootstock are aligned.
  5. Secure the graft: Wrap the graft with grafting tape or parafilm to hold it in place and protect it from drying out.

2. Bark Grafting

Bark grafting is a technique that’s often used for smaller-diameter rootstocks. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cut the rootstock: Make a straight cut across the top of the rootstock, about 6 inches above the soil.
  2. Make a slit or flap: Use a sharp knife to make a vertical slit or flap in the bark of the rootstock, about 2 inches long.
  3. Prepare the scion: Cut the scion wood to a wedge shape that matches the size of the slit in the rootstock.
  4. Insert the scion: Insert the scion into the slit in the rootstock, making sure that the cambium layers of the scion and rootstock are aligned.
  5. Secure the graft: Wrap the graft with grafting tape or parafilm to hold it in place and protect it from drying out.
A tree rootstock with three scions growing through bark grafting.

3. Whip and Tongue

Whip and tongue grafting is a technique that’s a bit harder to do but can be very successful It’s best used for smaller-diameter rootstocks. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Prepare the rootstock and scion: Cut both the rootstock and scion to a diagonal cut, and then make a sloping cut in the center of each. This should create a lightning bolt shape.
  2. Insert the scion: Insert the scion into the rootstock, aligning the two tongues together so they interlock securely.
  3. Secure the graft: Wrap the graft with grafting tape or parafilm to hold it in place and protect it from drying out.

4. Bud Grafting

Bud grafting is a technique that’s often used for stone fruit trees, such as peaches and plums. As opposed to other common methods, bud grafting is often done in the late summer. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cut the rootstock: Make a T-shaped cut in the bark of the rootstock, about 6 inches above the soil.
  2. Prepare the bud: Cut a bud from the scion wood, making sure to include a small piece of bark.
  3. Insert the bud: Slide the bud under the bark of the rootstock, making sure that the bud is facing outward.
  4. Secure the graft: Wrap the graft with grafting tape or parafilm to hold it in place and protect it from drying out.

Multigrafted Fruit Trees

Multigrafted fruit trees are trees that have been grafted with multiple varieties of fruit on the same tree. This allows growers to produce several different types of fruit in a small space.

Here are some tips for growing multigrafted fruit trees:

  • Choose compatible varieties: Choose fruit varieties that are compatible with each other and with the rootstock. Some varieties may not be compatible and may not produce fruit on the same tree.
  • Label the varieties: Label each variety on the tree to avoid confusion and to keep track of which variety is which.
  • Prune regularly: Prune the tree regularly to maintain a balanced shape and to prevent one variety from taking over the tree.
  • Provide adequate water and nutrients: Multigrafted fruit trees require adequate water and nutrients to produce healthy fruit. Fertilize the tree regularly, and water it deeply during dry spells.

Grafting Fruit Trees Step by Step

Here is a step-by-step guide to grafting fruit trees:

  1. Collect scion wood: Collect scion wood from a mature fruit tree during the dormant season.
  2. Prepare rootstock: Prune the rootstock to the desired height, and remove any damaged or diseased wood.
  3. Choose a grafting technique: Choose a grafting technique that is appropriate for the type of fruit tree and the desired outcome.
  4. Prepare scion wood: Cut the scion wood to the appropriate size and shape for the chosen grafting technique.
  5. Insert scion wood: Insert the scion wood into the rootstock, making sure that the cambium layers of the scion and rootstock are aligned.
  6. Secure the graft: Wrap the graft with grafting tape or parafilm to hold it in place and protect it from drying out.

Caring for Your Newly Grafted Fruit Trees

After grafting a fruit tree, it’s important to care for it properly to ensure that it grows to be healthy and productive.

  • Water deeply: Water the tree deeply after grafting, and continue to water it regularly to promote healthy growth.
  • Protect from pests and disease: Protect the tree from pests and disease by applying fungicides and insecticides as needed.
  • Monitor growth and health: Monitor the growth and health of the tree regularly, and prune as needed to maintain a balanced shape and promote healthy growth.
  • Provide adequate nutrients: Fertilize the tree regularly with a balanced fertilizer to provide the necessary nutrients for healthy growth.
  • Remove competing growth: Remove any competing growth that emerges from the rootstock, such as suckers or water sprouts, to prevent them from competing with the scion wood.
  • Train the tree: Train the tree to the desired shape by pruning and tying branches as needed.

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion, grafting fruit trees is a valuable technique that can be used to create trees that are disease resistant and produce high-quality fruit, and it can even allow multiple fruit varieties to grow on a single tree.

While it may seem daunting at first, grafting is a relatively simple process that can be done with a little practice and patience.

With careful selection of rootstocks and scion wood as well as proper care and maintenance, grafting can result in a bountiful harvest of delicious, healthy fruit for years to come.

Whether you are a seasoned home gardener or completely new to fruit trees, grafting is a skill that can pay dividends in terms of increased yields and improved fruit quality.