Grafting Trees

Grafting Trees

Part of Ep. 1304 Sticks and Twigs

Jeff Epping of Olbrich Gardens demonstrates how to create trees from pruning cuttings in a process called tree grafting.

Premiere date: Dec 25, 2005

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Late winter, early spring is a great time to prune. It’s also a great time to save your prunings to turn into new trees. We’ll show you how. I’m at Olbrich Gardens with the Director of Horticulture Jeff Epping. We’re going to talk about grafting trees. You teach a class on that, don’t you Jeff?

Jeff Epping:
Yeah, we do every winter, mid-March we teach a grafting class, which is a lot of fun.

Shelley:
Let’s start out then by talking. What is a graft?

Jeff:
Sure, it’s basically taking two different plants and joining them together as one as a graft. If we look at this Horse Chestnut, you can see its V-shaped union here called the saddle graft. The lighter color is what we call the root stock. And the upper portion is called the scion. So, you put those two together, they heal and they form one tree. And the cherry, as you see over here, is the same type of concept. A much bigger diameter for the root stock, smaller for the scion. They don’t have to match perfectly. We generally do apples or ornamental crab apples for our class because they’re one of the easiest to graft and they’re great trees for the Midwest.

Shelley:
And so, we can have success as a beginner.

Jeff:
That’s always important.

Shelley:
Not everything needs to be grafted, though. I can take my cuttings from my willow trees and practically pop them in the ground sometimes.

Jeff:
Right, generally it’s for hard-to-root plants. Or, in the case of say, apples we want the qualities of the root stock, disease resistance, insect resistance, tolerance in heavy soils. Or, maybe more importantly, dwarfing.

Shelley:
The height.

Jeff:
Most orchards actually have everything on dwarf root stock so people don’t have to get up on ladders to pick them. It makes it easier to care for and prune and for a homeowner with a small yard. Exactly, you can get more trees into a smaller space.

Shelley:
That’s a hard concept to realize. What’s down here on the roots is controlling the height and possibly the health of the tree.

Jeff:
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Shelley:
Let’s say I have an apple tree in my grandmother’s yard. I can’t rip the whole thing up and bring it here. I could save part of it and create a new tree.

Jeff:
Right, you just collect the scion from it and right here we have an apple tree which is Isaac Newton’s apple tree. The real McCoy. It came all the way over from Cambridge Botanic Garden in England. We just grafted it. They’re on the UW campus in their botanical garden and we have one here.

Shelley:
They sent you cuttings and we have a genetically identical tree to Isaac Newton’s apple tree.

Jeff:
Exactly.

Shelley:
That’s a great reason to graft. Well, show me how.

Jeff:
We take the scion, which is generally a water sprout from the current season’s growth.

Shelley:
These are some of the things we may have pruned off.

Jeff:
Right, exactly. You definitely want to prune them off. When I’m making this cut I’m pulling that scion away from me not pulling the knife into me. That’s very important.

Shelley:
This is a special, very sharp grafting knife.

Jeff:
It’s very important to keep them sharp because they make your cuts much easier. So, you put it on an angle, like such and you try to match the cut on the root stock. We’ve already cut that ahead of time. So, it’s pretty close. What’s important is that you match up one side. What you do is you take a rubberband. It’s a special grafting band.

Shelley:
We’re going to mention where to get grafting supplies and the root stock at the end of the segment.

Jeff:
Right. So, you match those up on one side, especially on one side, and then you wrap these around and you take your rubberband and wrap it back around onto itself so it holds it in place. Then, you just apply a little bit of pressure.

Shelley:
Do you have to take this rubberband off later?

Jeff:
No, it breaks down over about a year or so.

Shelley:
Wow, excellent, okay.

Jeff:
So, you bring it around, then. Wrap it around under itself and it sort of holds itself in place if you do it right.

Shelley:
So you’re just trying to make a knot like you’re blowing up a balloon.

Jeff:
Exactly, and just bring it around. I think that one’s going to work. You’re going to have some surfaces that are not covered by the band. It’s important to keep the moisture in. So, you take a grafting wax, which you can purchase from your sources. It’s just beeswax, actually. There’s no scientific trick to it here.

Shelley:
It lasts for a while, for a long time.

Jeff:
Share it with a friend.

Shelley:
You heated it up and melted it, too.

Jeff:
Right, this is just on a little heating pad. That’s what you’ve got. So, once you have that union made you want to pot this into a gallon-size pot and put it somewhere cool, about 35 to 40 degrees.

Shelley:
It’s too cold to be outside and digging anyhow.

Jeff:
You’re in March, remember, late winter. It will root in. And it will also heal, which is important. It doesn’t need light, doesn’t have to be in a greenhouse, or anything. It can be a basement, a cellar, porch.

Shelley:
A cold closet. In the dark is okay.

Jeff:
Definitely. Then, when they start to break bud and start to show little leaves emerging, then get it out into full sun outside. You can plant it that season protect it with a little bit of hardware cloth then you’re good to go.

Shelley:
And you’ve got a brand new tree. That’s great. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff:
You’re welcome.

Shelley:
Get a piece of paper and a pencil. We’re going to show you sources for information and where to get supplies to do your own grafting.

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