A couple of weekends ago I attended a fruit tree grafting workshop. Brian Campbell, a fruit tree grafter and beekeeper from Vancouver, flew in to teach the course. He brought with him a nice variety of scion (grafting) wood as well as the root stock for us to use during the workshop. He’d sent a list around to us the different kinds of scion wood that he would bring which provided a chance to look them up on the web and decide which three species I wanted. I was thrilled to see in his list that there were several heritage breeds of apples, one of them (the blue pearmain) is listed in the Slow Food ‘Ark of Taste’. That, I had to have.
Apple and pear trees don’t grow true from seed, consequently most trees are grafted on to a type of root stock. In fact, nowadays, almost all fruit trees you buy are grafted. There are some good reasons for this: it can give increased disease resistances as well as pest resistance, it allows you to control the size and vigor of the tree depending upon the root stock you choose, and the root stock can be chosen to match your soil type so you can design the tree to grow in what would otherwise be a less than optimum breeding ground for the particular apple or pear you wish to grow.
Because grafting is making the successful union of the cambium layers, there is an art to the process that takes some time to learn. After providing us with a demonstration and a few basic tools (knives and a metal washer to preserve our fingers), he turned us loose on some wood to practice with. There are a few ways of grafting but the method Brian showed us was called the ‘whip and tongue’ graft. The idea is to make two cuts into the root stock and then two cuts into the scion wood and slide the two ends together and bind it with grafting tape.
Step one: The whip cuts.
Make a diagonal cut on the scion wood leaving only three buds above the cut.
Make an identical cut on the root stock about one hand length above the soil line (roughly 8-10 inches above the roots).
Where to make the whip cut on the root stock.
Step three: Slice through the diagonal cut on the whip cuts on both the scion wood and the root stock to make the tongue cuts. Use a metal washer to protect your hands in case of knife slippage!
Step four: Join the scion to the root stock and wrap securely with grafting (or electricians) tape. Slide the two tongue cuts together being careful to make the bark meet as best you can.
Wrap your join carefully.
Label the trees and place them in wet wood shavings in a shady, but warm spot, for about a month or so and do not let it dry out! After this time it can be planted in the soil in the garden or moved to a larger pot. The little tree can be kept in a large pot for one year if you do not let it dry out. Once the graft has calloused over (after about one month to six weeks) you can safely remove the grafting tape.
My first grafting attempt, wrapped, planted and labeled.
All up we each go to make three grafts. It was a straightforward procedure which surprised me because I’ve read about grafting and the literature tends to make it sound more complicated than it is (or that is the way I’ve been understanding it!). Of course, it will be another month or so before I know if I was successful or not. Our intstructor boasted a nearly 100% success rate–here’s hoping some of his talent has rubbed off!