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In Botany, what is Grafting?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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Grafting is a process which fuses plant material from two different plants. There are a number of reasons to perform a graft, ranging from cosmetic to practical. Viticulture, raising grapes for wine making, is a field in which grafting is commonly used, and many fruit trees are also grafted. It is relatively easy to graft successfully, although the procedure does take some practice.

Gardeners have been grafting since at least the Roman era, and the procedure has remained much the same throughout history. When a graft takes successfully, two separate plants appear to be growing as one unit. Often, the grafting seam is close to invisible, except for someone with a great deal of horticulture experience. Grafting is extremely useful for plants and gardeners alike, which is why the practice has endured for so long.

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The plant material being grafted to a parent plant is known as a scion or slip. It is usually a small cutting with a few buds. The parent plant is called the stock or rootstock, since often the graft is placed just above the roots. To make a graft, the scion and rootstock are both cut, and then attached to each other. Commonly, the scion is wedged into the stock. The graft is waxed or taped to keep it moist and promote growth, and when the graft takes, the protective layer is removed. Typically, grafting is performed when both trees are dormant, to reduce shock and to promote fusing when the stock and scion both start to grow.

One of the most common reasons for grafting is the propagation of hybrids. Many hybrids, fruit trees especially, will not breed true. In other words, the seeds of a hybrid fruit tree will produce fruit trees, but the fruit trees will not resemble the parent. To reproduce the hybrid, grafting on sturdy stock is performed, usually on the trunk just above the roots, leading the tree to produce the desired hybrid fruit.

In other cases, grafting is performed to make a plant more healthy. For example, the roots of an established plant which is accustomed to an environment may be used as stock for a new cultivar. In the wine industry, grafts of Old World grape varieties are often placed onto New World stock, since the roots of Old World grapes are susceptible to infection and rot.

In a small garden, grafting can allow a gardener to grow several types of fruit on one tree, or to grow a fruit tree which is self pollinating. This can also be done for decorative reasons. For example, a grafted fruit tree may produce flowers of different colors on different branches, if the graft is placed onto a branch rather than the trunk.

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browncoat
Post 3

There are also people who use grafting techniques to build furniture out of living trees. They bend around the branches of a single tree, or a couple of trees and force them to grow together over a couple of years until they seem to naturally form a chair or a table. Then they might cut it out, or just leave it in the garden to continue growing.

Usually they keep the exact techniques a secret although I think it would take so much skill knowing how they do it would only be a small part of it.

umbra21
Post 2

@indigomoth - The more closely related the trees are, the more successful they are likely to be if they are grafted together.

Most of the time different varieties of the same kind of fruit will be successful (like if you graft a rose apple onto a granny apple tree). Even that can depend though on different factors, like how fast they both typically grow.

And rarely, you can use fruits that aren't that closely related, like grafting pears and quince. It all depends, and if you want it to be successful, you should research it first, or you might end up killing both the scion and the stock.

indigomoth
Post 1

The idea of having a tree with several different kinds of fruit bearing branches on it is very appealing. I have heard that you can get apple/pear trees, or trees with two or three kinds of apples, but they tend to be quite expensive. Can all kinds of fruit be grafted onto each other? Or just fruits that seem closely related like the apple and the pear (i.e. they both have pips not stones)?

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