Plant Grafting: Fruit & Vegetable Tricks

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May 6, 2016

Seeds and cuttings aren’t the only way to acquire new plants for your garden. Plant grafting is more tedious, but allows a gardener to accomplish things with plants not possible in any other way. It is the technique of joining the parts of two or more plants to create one plant. Ornamental plants used in landscaping and flower gardens are more commonly seen grafted than with fruits or vegetables. In the realm of food plants, grafting is usually found in trees – but not always.

WHY LEARN ABOUT GRAFTING?

Make Proper Plant Grafting Cuts for Stronger StemsLet’s say you have a tomato variety that is now impossible to find seed for. Maybe you live in a cold climate that makes it difficult to grow really awesome tomatoes to vine ripened harvest due to early frosts. Grafting allows you to stick stem cuttings to a more developed root system, or a more robust and disease resistant variety to make the impossible… possible. It can also make certain crops possible at all.

All sweet orange trees are grafted onto sour orange variety stock because sweet orange trees are highly susceptible to root disease. In the 1880s, a Texas scientist actually saved the wine industry in France by grafting French grape varieties onto wild grape roots when a disease epidemic threatened to drive the French varieties into extinction. Wild Texas grapes are immune to this grapevine plague and are the only reason fine French wines are enjoyed around the world today.

While lots of people would love to have an organic fruit orchard just outside their door, small yard space makes it impossible. Multi-grafted fruit trees are perfect for small gardens. It’s your one trunk solution for orchard variety harvest in limited space. This growing technique lets you have several types of apples on one tree; or peaches, pears, cherries, plums and citrus. As long as you stick to the same type of fruit, it works well.
DIY Fruit Cocktail Tree with Plant Grafting

THE FRUIT COCKTAIL TREE

Sometimes it is possible to graft types of fruit trees to a single trunk that are less similar. Stone fruits and citrus plants are easily adapted to each other, making for successful grafting of a wider variety of fruit grown in one spot. The Fruit Cocktail Tree gives you a source for tree-ripened fruit salad even in a tiny outdoor garden. Stone fruits are those that have pits, like cherries, peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines. Citrus gives you limes, lemons, grapefruits, oranges and tangelos variety.

You’ll find both orchard-on-a-trunk delights available pre-grafted from online nurseries. Or you could try your hand at grafting and create your own Fruit Cocktail Tree. Not only could it be an interesting project, what if one type of fruit on a ready-made tree isn’t hardy where you live? What if you want only heirloom varieties or a different mix than you can buy?

NO YARD AT ALL?

You can grow fruit trees in large containers where they will never get more than 6 feet tall. A sort of bonsai orchard in a movable box that produces full size fruit. So it’s possible to grow truly dwarf fruit trees on a rooftop, the balcony or patio. This method would also allow you to take your orchard with you if you move to a new residence.

Be sure you have proper winter storage for outdoor container grown fruit trees in a cold climate. Frigid winter temps aren’t kind to roots above ground. If you live in the north, container grown fruit trees with proper winter storage will allow you to grow fresh peaches and less hardy crops that would never fruit when planted in the ground. A garage or seasonal room will work for overwintering. You just need to make sure the temperature never drops below the lowest range for any given tree.

WHAT DO I NEED?

Obviously, you will need to gather the plants you will use to make your grafted wonder. Depending on the type of plant (woody or soft stemmed) you need to decide if it is best to do stem or bud grafting. The best way to start your research is searching for answers online.

[column size=one_half position=first ]Bud grafting - the secret to 250 kinds of apples on one tree.[/column]

[column size=one_half position=last ] Only want a few different fruits per tree? Use stem grafting.[/column]

Next you will need the proper tools and supplies.

Grafting is a precise science, so don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to improvise. For small projects, look for a grafting kit online. The basic kits aren’t that expensive, so it is within most people’s budget to arm themselves with the stuff that is proven to allow success. At the very least you need a grafting knife, grafting tape and grafting wax. To do bud grafts you also need rubber bud strips. A good grafting kit will also include a guide booklet you can follow step-by-step.

INVEST IN QUALITY PLANTS

No matter what type of grow you want to do, never forget that ‘quality in, quality out’ applies to gardening too. The better the health of the plants you use to graft your new tree, the easier it will be for you to succeed.

The main tree you use for the trunk should have a well developed root system for faster growth and better graft support. A more whip-like version of what you’re budding or stem grafting makes more economic sense as you only need a small piece for your project. Well developed root systems will cost more as they have been kept in the nursery at least a year longer for this purpose.

VEGETABLE PLANTS YOU CAN GRAFT

Hopefully no one wants to know how to graft lettuce, because that’s impossible. It will only work with plants that are vines or bushes in their native environment. The one exception that swiftly comes to mind is grating a tomato to a potato – but they are cousins, and tomatoes are easily grafted, just normally onto tomato roots. Here’s some veggies suitable for grafting:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumbers
  • Melons

 

[alert type=white ]This article was originally published in Garden Culture Magazine, Issue 3 where it appeared under the title, “Grafting: The One Trunk Orchard”. Read the rest of that edition on the Our Magazines page.[/alert]

Tammy Clayton

Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.
Tammy Clayton

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