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Grafting fruit trees

07-May-2013 | Contributed by: Jamie Small

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Orange Tree

While grafting is often used to graft together different varieties of the same fruit, you can also graft different types of fruit together, provided they are similar, like oranges, lemons, and limes.

Grafting can be used to grow a different variety of fruit on a tree that already has established roots.

Different varieties of the same kind of fruit tree can be grafted together, e.g. granny smith and braeburn apples. In some cases, completely different kinds of fruit tree can be grafted together, though they generally need to be similar e.g oranges, lemons and limes.

Grafting can be used when you don’t want to continue growing a certain fruit, but don’t want to wait for a whole new tree to grow, or if you want to grow multiple varieties on the same tree.

Grafting is best done in winter or early spring while plants are dormant.

There are many methods of grafting, but cleft grafting and bark grafting are the most useful for fruit trees. For both methods, you will need the following:

  • Sharp, clean clippers. Sterilise with flame or alcohol to prevent spreading plant diseases.
  • Scions. These are the shoots that you will graft on to the root stock. Try to choose new shoots that are around 150mm-200mm long and have three or four buds on them. Fresh young scions will work best; hard woody growth will not graft well. Keep them cool and damp.
  • Plant sealer. This is to stop the exposed cuts from drying out, and also to stop excess water getting in and causing rot. Sealer can be a wax, paint or natural product. Ask at your local nursery or garden store.

Cleft grafting

Cleft grafting can be used if the branches on the root stock are less than 100mm in diameter. Prune away branches that you want to replace. If replacing all of the branches on a tree, be sure to leave one “nurse branch” to keep the tree alive while the new grafts take. This can be cut off after the first growing season.

Using a sharp wedge, split the exposed ends of the branches on the root stock. This doesn’t need to be a big cleft: around 40mm deep is fine. Leave a wedge in the branch to hold the cleft open.

Using a sharp craft knife, slice both sides of the bottoms of the scions to make a V shape. Insert two scions in the cleft so that they line up with the outside of the branch.

Remove the wedge. The cleft should close and hold the scions in place. Seal the entire exposed area.

Bark grafting

Bark grafting is the best option if the branches of the root stock are 100mm-150mm in diameter.

Prune away branches that you wish to replace, leaving a nurse branch if necessary.

Using a sharp craft knife, make a split in the bark of the root stock at the exposed end of a cut branch. You can make up to three evenly distributed splits in each branch.

Slice one side of the bottoms of the scions to make a wedge shape. Insert one scion into each split, so that the cut side of the scion is pressed against the branch of the rootstock.

Using insulation tape or similar, tightly wrap the branch so that the scions are secured and will not fall out. Seal the entire exposed area.

Not all scions will take, and some trial and error can be required to find the best method of grafting. After the first growing season, prune away all excess growth from the root stock.


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