Marriage is a tough go. Even after a couple in love ties the knot with promises to not part till death, many marriages fail. After months or years of attempts at counselling, nearly 40 per cent of those who kneeled at the altar have discovered they are just not compatible.
Horticultural marriages, better known as grafting, enjoy a much higher success rate than those that began with a long white dress and a tux. Professional nurserypersons have their compatibility issues figured out with precision, achieving a success rate of nearly 100 percent.
Grafting is not a modern technical procedure, but rather a propagation method that dates back thousands of years. And grafting is far more commonplace than one would think. You can bet that most trees bought at a nursery have been grafted. All fruit trees and roses have been grafted.
The process of grafting is quite simple and involves taking the bottom of a tree (rootstock) and marrying it with a piece of desirable top growth (scion).
In order for a graft to be successful, the two pieces need to be compatible. Unlike people, a rootstock and scion need to be related. Don’t try to graft a Maple to a Spruce. Don’t try to graft an apple to a pear. Grafting an apple to a Flowering Crab will likely be just fine, as would a peach tree to a flowering plum.
Why bother with grafting? As horticulture has progressed, we’ve come up with some pretty awesome plants with wonderful attributes. Crimson King Maples, Weeping Pussywillows, Golden Delicious Apples and Japanese Red Maples are just a few examples of ornamental or edible plants with desirable characteristics that consumers can’t get enough of. But the problem is that these desirable plants won’t grow from seed and won’t successfully produce their own roots.
Grafting takes on many forms. Roses are easy to graft by taking a single bud and slipping it into the stem of an easy-to-grow wild rose. Horticultural wax is applied to the union to prevent drying out and once the graft is successful, the balance of the top is pruned off. Occasionally, the understock of a rose will send up a shoot that competes with the new desirable bud. Cut this sucker off before it overtakes the bud.
Bark grafting involves taking small stems and carefully grafting the stem (scion) under the bark of a larger rootstock where the most active xylem and phloem activity occurs.
Whip grafting is easy to illustrate and probably the simplest for a rookie gardener to attempt. Choose a rootstock and scion of equal diameter and use a sharp knife to create a cut in the rootstock. Next make a similar cut in the scion and marry the two together. Use wax to seal the union and use an elasticized tie to hold the union in place. For best results, do the grafting when the tree is dormant, keep out of direct sun and leave the wax and tie in place until the graft shows success.