’Tis the Season to Graft Your Fruit Trees!
Greetings all! I’m sure most of you are familiar with the story of the 20,000 prune trees Mr. Burbank delivered to Warren Dutton in 1881, earning Burbank the nickname of “The Plant Wizard.” To accomplish this task, Mr. Burbank used a technique known as June Budding, where individual buds of one plant are spliced onto the stem of another plant. They call it “June” budding because often this process is accomplished when the rootstock of the plant is actively growing. This time of year, when plants are dormant, we use a different grafting technique that involves a rootstock and a scion. A scion is a twig from a different plant that usually contains 3-4 buds, and the rootstock is the plant you are grafting the twig onto.
The closer the two plants are related genetically, the more likely they will be compatible for grafting. This means one can create fascinating fruit salad trees with multiple kinds of fruit all on one tree. For example, one can graft peaches, plums, plumcots, apriums, pluots, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds all onto the same tree. One could also graft a tree of different citrus, or a tree of different apples and pears. This is advantageous to the home grower who does not have a lot of space for fruit trees, for varieties that require cross-pollination to fruit, or for commercial growers who would like to extend their fruiting season without increasing the total number of trees in their orchard. You can see two different examples of these multi-grafted trees in the Gardens. The first is our multi-grafted apple tree containing several varieties of apples and pears. The second is Rachel’s Fruit Salad Tree: an almond rootstock with a nectarine, a peach, a plum, an apricot, a pluot and a plumcot all on one tree.
Other advantages to grafting fruit trees include shortening the time to fruiting, preserving genetically identical heritage fruits, dwarfing a tree, propagating plants that have difficulty rooting by cutting, and decreasing disease susceptibility. Though there are many methods used to graft, the one we use on site is called Whip & Groove.
If you are interested in learning more about the types of grafting Luther Burbank used, you can check out volume 3 of the 12-volume set Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries where he covers the topic extensively. https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/histscitech/lutherburbank/