Save Money & Build Skills: Learning How to Graft


My DIY grafting kit

Spring is in the air here in Appalachia. The sap is flowing, and the buds are swelling on the fruit trees, which means it's grafting season. There are many types of grafting techniques for many plants, but we will be discussing whip and tongue grafting for simplicity's sake. This grafting technique is the most common and the one I am most familiar with. However, the world of grafting is complex and diverse, so I encourage you to explore other videos and articles on the subject if this topic interests you.

Photo courtesy of Cornell University

Grafting your own fruit trees is the best way to save money and build a valuable life skill. Knowing how to graft will be an essential craft to learn in order to prepare for a future based on agriculture. So get ahead of the game, save yourself a lot of money, and become a great asset to your community. I compiled a table comparing the cost of buying one Apricot tree from One Green World versus the cost of grafting one yourself from Fruitwood Nursery once you have bought your necessary tools.

Cost of buying 1 grafted Apricot tree from One Green World Nursery

Cost of 1 Apricot scion and 1 rootstock from Fruitwood Nursery

$39.95 for grafted fruit tree

$4.00 Apricot scion (can make two grafts) $5.00 rootstock

$33.00 Shipping

$13.80 Shipping

Total $72.95

​Total $22.80

You could make seven new fruit trees by grafting for the price of one grafted fruit tree. If you consider that most people do not buy just one tree, you could quickly begin amassing a considerable number of trees for very little money. For many nurseries selling rootstocks, you get a discount ordering in bulk. Depending on your goals, you could potentially start a profitable side business selling your own grafted fruit trees considerably lower than the big nurseries (say $20.00 a tree) and still make a decent profit—just saying.


Before we go any further, let's define some grafting terms.


Scion: A cutting of twig growth of the desired plant that will be used to graft onto a rootstock. For this post, we will only be using one-year-old hardwood scion from fruit trees. On the left, I have scion cuttings of an Asian pear that match up to the correct rootstock diameter. Check out the list of nurseries in the rootstock description below for links to good-quality nurseries selling scion wood.

Rootstock: The below portion of your graft that has an established root system. You cut the top portion of a rootstock and then graft your scion onto it. Below is an example of a rootstock. Rootstocks are used for most fruit trees. However, nut trees can also have specific rootstocks as well. Cummins, Raintree, and Burnt Ridge are Nurseries that carry good quality rootstocks. Each of these nurseries sells scion wood as well.

Grafting wax and grafting tape: This is the first year I am using grafting wax. This product is a wax that you melt to cover your graft and scion. If this works according to plan, I will be using the wax exclusively going forward. I use a small paintbrush to evenly spread the wax over the rubber band to hold the graft tightly in place. Grafting tape, on the other hand, is a parafilm tape used to cover the scion wood and graft union. This product is more difficult to use if you are using thin scions as the pressure needed to wrap around the wood can easily dislodge your graft. These products are used to eliminate moisture loss of the scion before the graft begins to grow. You can purchase grafting wax here, but I am not linking any grafting tape products due to the poor reviews on Amazon. Make sure to do your homework when looking up this kind of tape. There are a lot of cheaply made Chinese knock-offs that are not made of parafilm.


Grafting wax

Tanglefoot tree wound tar: This substance is very thick, and it's used to cover the graft union in much the same way as grafting wax. Tanglefoot, however, cannot be used to cover the whole scion and graft like grafting wax can. Instead, you use this product to cover the rubber band holding the graft union together. You will see in the following pictures that I have this tar all over my hands. I did not have a disposable glove on hand and just used my finger to apply this product.


Wonderful product

Grafting knife and scissors: Felco grafting knives are some of the popular tools to use for making your grafts. I have been using a similar knife like the photo below, which has worked very well. Caution must be taken as these knives are very sharp. Always let the knife do the work as you gently wiggle the blade back and forth to make the proper cuts. The scissor grafting kit is also useful when cutting larger diameter scion and rootstock. Smaller twigs are much harder to graft using this tool, so I use a knife instead. This kit comes with an excellent knife and several different heads for various graft shapes you can make. I find the kit's tape is useless, so throw those items away. Click on the picture to see these items on Amazon.



Cambium: The growing layer of wood just inside the outer bark. The green cambium layer on the scion wood must be in contact with the cambium layer of the rootstock for the graft to take.



Grafting process:

In my zone 7 climate, late February into March is the primary time of year to graft. The weather this week has been fantastic for grafting, so I was able to capture some of my work with the help of Christopher Michael. First, I collected scion wood (in this case, an apricot variety called Tomcot) in my hand.


First, we take the scion and locate the best place to graft, which is an area on the rootstock roughly the same diameter. Please note that the black substance on my fingers is tanglefoot tar. I lost my paintbrush, so I used my fingers to apply the tar to my previous grafts.


Now we cut the rootstock using a pair of hand pruners. I picked mine up at Lowes.

We then throw the cut piece of rootstock away, so we don't confuse this with the scion.

We make an upwards angled cut into the rootstock going slowly not to cut ourselves. Here I am using a grafting knife to make the cut. This angled cut needs to be as smooth as possible to make the two pieces connect properly.

Once this cut is made, we then go 1/3 of the way down and make a thin cut halfway down. As seen below, this will add stability to the graft as the two pieces connect.

Then we make the same kind of cut on the scion, making sure to take our time not to cut ourselves.

Another cut is made into the scion 1/3 of the way down.

Both pieces are ready to be connected.

Gently connect the scion to the rootstock. Again, take your time. There is no need to be rough.

Here we have the connection made. Notice the "Z" made once the pieces come together. This is because you want the green cambium layers on both pieces to be in contact with each other as much as possible.

Now the fun part. Take a cut rubber band and overlap one end back onto itself to hold it in place.

Continue wrapping the rubber band up the graft to cover the "Z completely."

As seen in the photo, take your index finger, and bring the rubber band around to your index finger.

Loop the rubber band over your index finger.

Come around with the rubber band.

Now, take the rubber band looped around your finger and bring it in between your index finger and the scion.

At this point, you will simultaneously curl your finger down to pull the end of the rubber band under your finger while you push the rubber band portion that has looped your finger down. The end of the rubber band will pass through this hole, providing a snug fit on the graft union.

We now have a secure graft that is ready for grafting wax!

To finish, we put tanglefoot around the graft union and cover the rubberband making a secure seal. Grafting wax or parafilm is now placed on the top portion of the scion to keep the wood from drying out.

You now just made your first graft! Congratulations on learning this time-honored craft. It took me a lot of practice to get the rubber band part down when I first started, so I hope these pictures help you learn how to secure the graft. I practiced many times to get this technique down. I used sycamore twigs, which grow prolifically all over the field, as my practice scion wood.


There are 3 options on what to do next. If you want to, you can pot up your grafted rootstocks to take care of them over the growing season. Another option is to plant them out in permanent locations where you can water them regularly and take care of them. The other option is to plant all of your grafted trees in the ground together as nurseries do in order to take care of them and make sure they were successful. Next spring before the trees leaf out, you would plant them in their permanent locations. These are just some ideas on what to do with them after your graft them. Below is a picture of my grafted rootstocks planted in a 1-gallon air prune pot. These pots create a superior root system by eliminating root-bound issues and causing the plant to form feeder roots. I am not worried about overcrowding in these pots due to these characteristics and they will be planted out next spring.


I love these air prune pots from Amazon

Any buds that appear under the graft union should be removed in order to direct nutrients towards your graft. You will need to do this multiple times over the growing season to make sure the graft is the only part growing.



Final thoughts, when planting your grafts, make sure the graft union is above the soil line by at least 2 inches to prevent the graft from forming roots and growing into a large tree. Thanks for coming along on my grafting journey. I hope you will be encouraged to go out and try to make some grafts of your own this spring!


Your orchard awaits

 

An adapted version of this article can also be found at PeakProsperity.com