Can Two Become One?

September 28, 2019

 Grafting, or joining parts of two plants so that they grow as one, is a commonly employed technique in the nursery industry. It is a relatively fast way to produce lots of woody plants. It also ensures that the cultivar is true to type. For example, commercially-produced avocados are grown on grafted stock both to ensure the quality of the fruiting part and to quickly create an orchard.

 

Grafting can also be used to provide for cross-pollination. Pears, for example, need to have more than one variety around to produce fruit. Grafting a second type (and even a third) onto the tree saves space while increasing the odds that pollination will occur.

 

Grafting requires some skill.  There are several grafting techniques, all of which require the courage to cut into the woody heart of a growing plant to insert a branch of another. The inserted branch must then be stabilized and the wound sealed with grafting wax and held together until healed. Healing may take a year or two. 

 

“Budding” is very similar but uses a much smaller scion and so heals faster, forming a stronger union than grafting.

A particularly pretty rose garden. Roses are commonly propagated by grafting the desired cultivar onto established root stock. 

 

In the rose world, relatively few plants of a desired cultivar are divided for grafting onto fields of established root stock. This satisfies the demand for new offerings as well as old favorites. The grafted roses are ready for the market in a year, while those grown on their own roots take three years to be ready to sell. Own-root growers are introducing younger, smaller plants into the market. I find that it takes them a year to catch up, after which I cannot tell any difference from the  older, larger ones.

 

Rose propagation is moving into the lab where one bud-eye in a petri dish quickly forms 20 more bud eyes. Those 20 are placed in 20 petri dishes and so the process continues.  (A rose's bud eye is the swollen area found where the leaf joins with the stem, A bud eye can grow into a new stem.) Out in the field, each cutting must have four to six bud eyes to either be grafted or grown into an own-root rose. Amazing how technology is impacting tried and true methods in the nursery industry. 

 

Gardening is a hobby, and I know folks who love to dabble in grafting. One caveat: it is illegal to reproduce patented plants in this way. For those wanting more

 information, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has a fact sheet #H-00-049, “ Grafting Fruit Trees in the Home Orchard.”

 

Master gardener Ann Bartlett may dabble with new lifeforms in the ornamental beds around her home but would never advise readers to break the law.

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