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UK National Tree Week: Grafting

Grafting is a technique commonly used in horticulture, forestry, agriculture, and crop sciences to asexually propagate plants. This works by physically carving a section of plant tissue out of one plant, and inserting it onto another. Inosculation (the joining of vascular tissue) will occur after a few weeks provided that each half are kept alive and vascular cambium in contact. During inosculation, the grafting scar is typically tied up with rubber, or tape to maintain cambium contact. 

So why do we do this?
Through extensive progeny testing, plant families that exhibit the best genetic phenotype for desired traits (straightness, big fruits, fast growing) are selected and bred. Genetic gains can be large for particular traits, but grafting offers breeders more control, as they can pair desired aboveground traits, with the best root stocks. The “stock” is typically a plant selected for robust roots, while the “scion” is the plant selected for the desired traits (straightness, big fruits, fast growing, etc.). 

In forestry, genetic gains in desired traits are among the more common reasons for using the grafting technique. In horticulture however, grafting is commonly used to create dwarf, hybrid and other aesthetic horticultural varieties. There are various grafting techniques, where different types of cuts are used to produce slightly different results. The most common graft is called a cleft graft, where the stock has a “V” cut down its center, and the scion is tapered to fit the cut. The whip graft is a difficult technique to learn, but encourages the most cambium contact between the scion and stock, offering the highest rate of success. The whip is accomplished by cutting the stock at a shallow angle, and the scion at a similar but opposite angle, fitting together to form a diagonal scar. 

Another technique that utilizes a similar physiological process within plants is called “budding”. It is technically a form of grafting, but only uses a single bud as the scion, instead of a portion of twig, leaf, or stem. It is commonly used in fruit tree nurseries, but is also experimented with in other fields. 

Regardless of cut or technique, all forms of grafting expose a unique physiological characteristic of plants to fuse vascular tissue (inosculation). Many people graft their own fruit trees in their yard; just find a tree that yields good fruit (scion) and fuse (stem, twig, or bud) to a hardy root stock (could be almost anything). It is simple, effective, and yields tasty results. Try it.

For better results – add rooting hormone (found in gardening shops, and online)

-Greg Aegis

Further Reading

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