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Get into grafting

  • Jane Scurich
  • Imagine one perfect fruit tree in your garden — a “fruit salad” tree where peaches, nectarines and apricots all flourish. Too good to be true? Not if you learn the ancient art of grafting. At least 4,000 years ago, Greek and Chinese gardeners recognized that the roots of some plants could make the secondary plant more vigorous and the art of grafting was born.

    Grafting is a horticultural process whereby the vascular tissues of plants are joined so they can continue their growth together. This is accomplished by inserting a section of a stem with leaf buds (a scion) into an established tree (the rootstock).

    There are a number of reasons to graft. Some varieties of trees do not grow “true” from seeds and can only be reproduced by grafting. Grafting also offers an opportunity to utilize a rootstock better adapted to local soil and climate conditions to grow a variety of fruit whose rootstock may not thrive in a certain locale. Selecting appropriate rootstock can help control the size of a tree. It’s also an opportunity to have fun creating your own multi-variety fruit tree.

    Winter is the perfect time to select scions for grafting. Tips of branches (only the past year’s growth) 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter with dormant buds can be collected, carefully labeled and stored in the refrigerator in zip lock bags for six to nine months months. Avid grafters will trade scions at scheduled swap meets that welcome newcomers to learn and experiment.

    The California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. (CRFG) organization (crfg.org) has multiple chapters around the Bay Area and encourages individuals to get involved in growing fruit in home gardens.

    Marin resident John Valenzuela, a professional gardener, horticulturist, consultant and educator, encourages individuals to experiment in their own backyard. The “Fruity Videos and Audio” tab on Valenzuela’s website, cornucopiafoodforest.wordpress.com, offers numerous videos on selecting scions, local exchanges and more. His tweets, listed on the right hand side of the sight, provide up-to-date information for the fruit grower enthusiast.

    I had a fascinating conversation with Valenzuela about grafting. He highly recommends attending a scion exchange to speak with professionals and hobbyists who are happy to lend their expertise. An upcoming exchange, sponsored by the Golden Gate chapter of CRFG, is noon to 3 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Ed Roberts Campus at 3075 Adeline St. in Berkeley. Complete details are available on the CRFG website.

    The Redwood chapter’s exchange is on Jan. 28 at the Santa Rosa Veterans’ Memorial. Details are available on crfg-redwood.org/events/scion-exchanges.

    One of the favorite things I learned from Valenzuela relates to the beautiful pale pink flowers I enjoy in February, filling Homestead Valley with a delicate canopy of blossoms. According to Valenzuela, these are wild cherry plums distributed by local birds. I do recall seeing lots of cherry-size fruit in summer, but I have never really been sure what they are. Birds have carried the seeds of common dark leaf plum trees and distributed them. The great thing about these trees is they provide outstanding rootstock. You may well have one of these trees in your yard just waiting to host a scion of your favorite fruit.

    The new year is a great time to learn a fresh skill to fill your garden with thriving fruit trees ideally selected for your location. Within a limited amount of space, it is possible to grow several varieties of fruit on a few trees utilizing the art of grafting.