Grafting Fruit Trees – A Step by Step

A couple of years ago, on our yearly trip to Israel to visit family, we met a local farmer who came to do some maintenance work on my mother-in-law’s fruit trees.

I started following the guy like a lost puppy, and what do you know? He took me in

After that day a couple of years ago, I wrote the post 4 Techniques of Grafting Fruit Trees which is one of the most successful posts on the blog.

And I get why… Grafting is a tricky business. There are so many benefits to grafting, and people had been grafting fruit trees for years, but there are so few people who know how to do it and so many things that can go wrong, it’s like making cheese, you have to practice and practice and practice until you get it right.

This is why it’s so valuable to learn it first hand from someone that has a ton of experience.

So today is your lucky day! Our last visit to Israel was right in grafting season and we got to tag along to a day of grafting and fruit trees maintenance and I am sharing it all here with you!

But let’s start at the beginning…

What is Grafting?

To graft means to join two living trees from the same family into one by uniting a shoot or a bud with a standing tree.

What are the Benefits of Grafting?

In my post 4 Techniques of Grafting Fruit Trees , I give a couple of examples of situations when you’ll want to graft another tree on your existing tree, those might help you understand the benefits below much better so make sure you check them out.

There are so many benefits for grafting… Obviously, the main benefit that comes to mind is having two (or more) different kinds of fruits on one tree, like, an orange and a lemon, or two (or more) different verities of fruit on the same tree, like, green apple and red apple.

Since you still have just one tree it means you still have to take care of just one tree. You don’t need additional space, you don’t need to water more, you don’t need to fertilize another tree or prune another tree, yet at the end of the day, you’ll get two different kinds of fruits.

Grafting also saves you waiting time. When you plant a new tree, it will take it a few years to start producing a nice amount of fruit for you. When you graft on an existing tree you’ll have fruit ready for picking in just a couple short seasons.

Grafting can also save a sick or broken tree. You will see this in the tutorial below… What we did is used the trunk and roots of a tree that was not producing anymore to support a new tree.

Another benefit for grafting is fighting insects and diseases. If your tree is suffering but you know of another verity that is doing much better in your area, you can graft the new verity on your tree to help it produce better.

Also, some trees have a female and a male tree and you have to plant both in order for them to pollinate each other and produce fruit, this is called cross-pollination. Pears, plums, and pecans are among the trees in this group. So in this case, you can graft a female on a male or a male on a female and you will have one tree that can pollinate itself. Magic, huh?

Which Tree on Which Tree?

This is where experience comes in… Basically, you have to remember that the trees you join have to be from the same family for them to successfully “communicate”.

For example, trees within the prune family such as peaches nectarines, and plums can be grafted together. Those can also be joined with an almond tree since it is from the same family.

Verities of olives can be grafted on to one another. Verities of apples or apples and crabapples can be grafted together.

You will have to make sure you check each combination before you graft.

The best way, though, is to ask someone with experience. If you have grafted before and you know of a successful combination, please list it in the comments below, hopefully, it will save someone a whole lot of work.

When to Graft?

You can’t just graft anytime of the year.

It has to be done at the end of winter just before spring. It has to be done before the tree starts to bud when the branches are still completely bare.

You want to do this on a sunny day but not a hot day. We want plenty of light but not a lot of heat.

Here in the South, it will probably be best to graft somewhere in the end of February or the beginning of March. Pay attention to when your fruit trees usually start to bud and pay close attention to the weather.

Ok, so this is the basics, now, let’s get out to the field and see how it’s done…

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

The first tree we grafted was my mother-in-law’s olive tree. A couple of years ago, it was split in the center because of a load of snow and since then it stopped producing.

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

Here is another look of the trunk. It was split almost all the way to the bottom.

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

So in this case, grafting was done in order to save the tree. Instead of pulling the tree out or just cutting it down and wasting the space, we took advantage of the already established root system and grafted a new olive verity on this existing tree.

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

The first step was clean-up. We needed to cut the tree past the point where it split and prepare it for grafting.

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

Raik worked with a small chainsaw to cut off a little bit at a time…

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

All the way down past the split…

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

We didn’t want to cut more than what we had to.

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

This tree had another big branch that came from the trunk. We could have left it and have the tree producing two kinds of olives, but since my mother-in-law didn’t like the olives this tree produced, we shortened this branch as well and prepared it for grafting.

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

Ok, that’s it. Now we are ready to start.

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

Raik has his own olive grove that he is caring for for years, so he brought with him a few young branches from one of his trees.

It is VERY important that you graft branches from a tree that you know or from someone that you absolutely trust. You want to make sure you graft a healthy tree so you don’t damage your own tree and that you graft from a tree that you know has a great production of healthy and delicious fruit.

It will be a shame to do all this work and find out in a couple of seasons that you grafted from a tree that does not produce well.

Grafting fruit trees might seem like an intimidating task that not many know how to do... This is a step by step picture tutorial for grafting fruit trees.

This is the one we will work on first…

See the tiny bud between the branch and the leaf? We want to make sure we don’t damage it because this is where the new tree is going to grow from.

 

 

To be Continue……..

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Grafting for a Tree Makeover

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A case in point: I grow about two dozen varieties of pear, all trees I made myself by growing rootstocks from pear seeds and grafting onto those rootstocks one or more stems (known as scions) of a variety I want to grow. (Pears on seedling rootstocks grow very large and I’m afraid of heights. So I usually make dwarf trees by grafting scions onto scions of special dwarfing rootstocks that, in turn, get grafted on the seedling rootstocks.) Problem is that I’ve never tasted many of the varieties I’ve grown. I chose them from recommendations or from printed descriptions. Alas, some varieties never live up to their promise, for me at least. And then, it’s off with their heads.

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In contrast to Henry, I don’t lop off their heads and that’s the end of them. Instead, after lopping a tree back to a fairly low stub of trunk, I then stick on some new scions. With a full-grown root system beneath them, the scions, once they’ve knit to the rootstocks, really take off, often growing more than 3 feet in one season.
These “top-worked” trees also bear quickly, sometimes within a couple of years. And a couple of years after that, the graft smooths out so that you’d hardly guess at the apparently brutal treatment the tree endured just a few years back. Unless, of course, I’m not pleased with the fruit of the new variety, in which case it’s again, “Off with your head.”
My favorite graft for these tree makeovers is known as a bark graft and the time to do it is just as leaves are beginning to poke out of recently dormant stems and the bark easily separates from the wood. Which is now, early May, here in New York’s Hudson Valley. Ideally, foot-long scions of one-year-old wood (last years growth) have been gathered a few weeks previous and have been kept dormant with refrigeration

The nice thing about the bark graft is that it comes with an insurance policy. Onto a stub of a trunk a couple of inches or more in diameter, you can stick 3, 4, 5, or even more scions, depending on just how wide the trunk is. Only one scion needs to grow; the more that are grafted, the greater the chance of success.

The graft itself is simple. I make a long, evenly sloping cut, typically about 2 inches long, near the base of the scion. Then, into the freshly cut stub on which the scions will be grafted, I make two slits about the width of the base of the scion and through the bark and down to the wood. Lifting the bark near where it was cut provides an opening into which I slide the cut scion with this sloping cut facing inward and deep enough to cover its sloping cut. This is repeated with the other scions, all around the stub. One or two staples from a staple gun or a wrapping of electrician’s tape suffices to hold the scions and the flap of bark from the rootstock in place

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Finally, and very important, everything needs to be sealed against moisture loss. A number of specially formulated concoctions will do this; my favorite is Tree-Kote.
Today I lopped the head off some major limbs of a 16-year-old chestnut seedling and grafted the variety Peach (yes, it’s a chestnut variety) on one large stub and the variety Colossal on the other. Tomorrow, I’ll decapitate a Doyenne de Juillet pear that’s only claim to fame, here at least, is that the fruit ripens in July, and stick some Beurre Superfin scions onto the waiting stub.
No harm done.

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