Grafting trees is not for the faint-of-heart. It is not for those who have little patience or don’t want to practice. It is not for people who are afraid of a little knick or cut on their fingers. It is pretty cool though, especially if you do it while hanging out with some fun people.
But really, those YouTube video-nursery guys make it look so easy.
It’s not. Getting a good clean cut is actually really hard; and if the cut is not good, the graft won’t take.
Why would you want to graft a tree anyway? Commercial growers do it to replicate good fruiting trees, get fruit faster and to sell. Home gardeners do it to save space by getting several varieties of fruit on one tree and also to get fruit faster: waiting for rootstock from seed to fruit might take 7+ years. But if you graft a scion from a mature fruiting tree onto a young rootstock, you will only wait about 1-2 years for fruit. Similar reasons go for ornamental grafting, such as hibiscus or gardenia, but so far I have only been messing around with citrus and avocado grafting.
Regions really matter for grafting and you want to work with someone who knows what they are doing for your climate zone. Selecting and growing rootstock is important because you want to graft onto strong, virus resistant roots.
Here, we are transplanting young citrus trees that will in many more months time, become root stock that we graft onto.
When selecting scion wood (the piece you put onto the already growing rootstock) look for young, new growth, in the “flushing” stage or newly sprouted leaves. For a simple straight graft like the one we did, look for the same size diameter as your rootstock. We selected this one with new little nodes ready to open up:
After removing all leaves from the scion wood, but leaving one or two leaves on the rootstock, we are ready to make the cuts with a special grafting knife. Here, you can see the cambium in the center, this is what you will line up when putting the two pieces together.
It is important to get as much surface area in contact with each piece as possible, one inch or greater most good grafters will say. Carefully cut the root stock at the same angle and then you can place them together and wrap tightly.
And then you water, fertilize and wait. And wait some more. If your graft takes, in a few months, it might look this one (hibiscus) with new leaves on the scion and maybe even a flower bud.
In the meantime, you better label the thing that looks like a stick in a bucket, because if you are like me, you will surely forget what it was you spent so much time fussing around with.