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The arts and grafts of fruit trees

Probably the most important part of grafting is to be sure to align the cambium layer of the scion with the cambium layer of the root stock.
Courtesy of UC Regents
Master Gardener 2-9-11
Probably the most important part of grafting is to be sure to align the cambium layer of the scion with the cambium layer of the root stock. Courtesy of UC Regents Master Gardener 2-9-11

This is an art that does mend Nature. - William Shakespeare

Q. My neighbors have an apple tree that produces delicious fruit. Can I grow the same tree in my yard if I plant the seeds from one of their apples? - Ann Conway, Arroyo Grande

A. While you can grow an apple tree from a seed, there is a 99 percent likelihood that its fruit will be inferior to the apple from which you took the seed. That is because the size, flavor, color and other characteristics of the apple fruit come from the genetic code of the tree, but the genes in the seeds come partly from whatever happened to pollinate the apple blossom. The only sure way to reproduce an apple tree exactly is to clone one by grafting.

Grafting is the process of joining a small cutting with dormant buds called a “scion” from a desired variety to a compatible rootstock. The rootstock provides the root system and part of the lower stem, and the scion provides the upper stem and branches. As this new tree matures, its fruit will be identical to the fruit of the tree from which the scion came.

Grafting has other advantages as well. Rootstocks with desirable traits like vigor, disease-resistance, or suitability to different soils may be joined with desired scions whose natural roots are not so hardy.

For the backyard orchardist, grafting can solve another problem. If you don’t have room for a second apple tree in your backyard but would still like to have two or three different kinds of apples that ripen at different times of the year, all you really need is a knife, some pruning shears, a little bit of knowledge, and a neighbor willing to contribute a twig from his apple tree.

For a fun demonstration of how neighbors trade twigs and how they are grafted on rootstocks, you could attend the California Rare Fruit Grower’s annual Scion Exchange on Saturday, Feb.19, at 1:30 p.m., at the Cal Poly Crop Unit at the corner of Highland and Mt. Bishop Road. You will see many varieties of pomes and stone fruits being grafted — maybe even one you want to take home and plant yourself.

Got a Gardening Question?

Contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners: at 781-5939 from 1 to 5 p.m. on Monday and Thursday; at 473-7190 from 10 a.m. to noon in Arroyo Grande; and at 434-4105 from 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesday in Templeton. Visit the UCCE Master Gardeners Web site at groups.ucanr.org/slomg/ or e-mail mgsanluisobispo@ucdavis.edu.

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