Learn Grafting To Affordably Expand Your Permaculture Orchard

Learn Grafting To Affordably Expand Your Permaculture Orchard

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In my opinion, no permaculture homestead is complete without an orchard. Some of my fondest memories as a kid were centered around my grandparent’s and my parent’s orchard.

Being able to go out and pick the fruit of your choice for a snack at any time was a great treat, sticky faces, and stained hands. It was like having a free candy store in your backyard, not to mention all the awesome baked products created from those orchards. My grandparents even had a large area of walnut trees which also provided an amazing abundance.

Photo of apples growing on tree

Having an orchard on your property is amazing, but it can be an expensive pursuit. Buying saplings to plant can be costly but if you have a little time and patience then there may be a better way to build that orchard of your dreams. Why not give grafting a try.

What Is Grafting?

Grafting is the art of joining together parts of two plants in a way that they will unite. This is usually a portion of the last year’s growth of a plant with a length of about 4 or 5 inches with 3 or 4 buds called a scion being united with another plant called the stock, either being joined on the root, the collar, the trunk, or branches.

photo of using a grafting knife

Grafting Is Done For Several Reasons

  • To reproduce non-seed-bearing varieties or those that don’t replicate from seed.
  • To create a more vigorous or hardy variety of a weaker or tender sort.
  • To change the variety in order to affect the size or other characteristics.
  • For the homesteader, it may be done To Save Money!

Best Time To Graft

Grafting is generally done at the beginning of the season’s growth. At this time dormant buds can be procured. The union will actually take place quicker later when the sap becomes thickened but the chance of failure will increase because of evaporation from the leaves. The usual time is April or early May.

How To Graft

There are primarily 4 ways to graft scion to rootstock. The grafting method employed depends to some extent upon the size and kind of tree upon which it is to be used.

Whip Graft

Also known as the tongue graft. This method is commonly used on small trees and is especially adapted for root grafting. The stock is cut off at an angle and a shaving of the bark and wood is removed from the longer side and the end. The scion is prepared by cutting off the lower end so that the exposed surface will be about 1 inch long. In the middle of this, a tongue is cut. The tongue on the stock and scion are then fitted together so that the inner bark on one side of the scion will be in contact with that on the same side of the stock. The graft should then be bound firmly together.

Photo of whip and tongue graft

Root Veneer Graft

When using this method for root grafts the scion should be 5 inches and the rootstock should be about 4 inches. Although this method is not in common use it works well for small stocks and can also be used for stem grafting. The merit of this method comes from the fact that the cambium surface only is exposed, which makes it possible for a more perfect union to take place.

photo of veneer graft

Cleft Graft

When stocks are 1 to 2 inches in diameter this method works well. In making this graft, the stock should be cut off at a right angle and the end smooth. A split to the depth of 2 inches is then made in the center of the stub. Two scions should be used for each stock and should be about 3 inches long with a wedge at the lower end and a bud near the upper end and another at the upper part of the wedge. There is no need to tie the graft unless the stock is small and does not bind well. Cover the unions with grafting compound and be sure the cleft is covered its full length.

photo of cleft graft

Side Graft

This method is valuable when grafting young seedlings growing in the greenhouse. A slanting cut is made just under the bark of the stock near the ground. The scion is prepared in much the same way as the cleft graft scion except the cut is shorter. The scion is then pushed into the cut on the stock so that the barks will be in contact. Tying is unnecessary if the stock binds well, but you may have to tie small materials if the scion is not held firmly. Cut surfaces should then be covered with grafting compound.

photo of side graft

Protective Coatings For The Graft

It will be important in most cases to put a protective coating over the graft to help it heal. One way to do this is with Grafting Tape, its ability to stick to itself and its elasticity work well for this purpose. Grafting Wax is another way and is a time-tested way of sealing up and holding together newly grafted plants. The wax can be applied in a heated liquid state, with a brush, or by simply warming it up with your hands before applying it. Another way is to use a Grafting Compound, it comes in a paste form and acts as a quick band-aid to help your tree heal. It can be used as a paste or simply add water for a brush application.

What Root Stock Do You Need?

The rootstock you choose to graft to will determine the characteristics of the tree. Perhaps you want trees of a certain size to make harvest easier or maybe you live in a harsher zone and need a more vigorous tree. Choosing the right rootstock will be important and can be a little confusing. Here is a chart I put together to help you decide which one may be best for you.

You may be able to buy your rootstock at a local nursery and if you can that will probably be your best option. If you can’t get them locally they can be purchased online. One place I found that carries many varieties at affordable prices was onegreenworld.com, I don’t know much about them and there are many others to choose from so do your homework and shop around for the best deal and a good reputation.

Some Items You May Need

If you want to learn more about the art of grafting the best book on the subject in my opinion is The Grafter’s Handbook by R. J. Garner. The Kindle version is affordably available but unfortunately, the paperback and hardback versions are hard to find and very pricey usually.

Know that grafting takes practice and with any learning process there will be failures. Not all of your grafts will take but even with the failures grafting is still (in my opinion) the best and most affordable way to grow an amazing homestead orchard you will be able to enjoy for many years. Happy Homesteading!

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Harold Thornbro

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