Grafting: the good, the bad and the very, very wrong. Part One: Fruit trees.

Today I want to look at the weird and wonderful world of grafting. It’s been with us for a couple of centuries, but recently modern technology has taken it into a whole other world.

In this post I’ll look at fruit trees; the next one will explore the slightly murkier world of vegetable grafting. Some of it is fantastic. Some of it’s playing at Dr Frankenstein.

Traditional grafting is used with fruit trees, especially ‘pome’ fruits like apples (and roses which, bizarrely, are closely related to apples).

Apples NEVER grow true to their parent tree, because each of the little stigmas (pollen receptors) inside the individual blossoms leads to a different ovary. They also have several stamens (pollen distributors) inside them.

Insects visit hundreds of blooms, unwittingly brushing against different stamens, then visit different stigmas, giving each ovary a different distribution of pollen. It’s nature’s way of preventing inbreeding.

This means that even within a single apple, every pip will create a different tree. Most of them will be rubbish – unexciting crab apples. Every so often, though, one breaks through as an outstanding fruit – big, tasty, lovely.

A classic cider apple at Sheppey’s Cider Farm

When these are found, someone cashes in by grafting bits of the original tree onto a new root, which can be from any old tree, as it will never fruit. Classic examples are Granny Smiths and Bramleys.

It’s quite a fiddly process but basically the top of the good tree is bound into the root of a strong basic tree until they fuse.

ALL commercial apple trees are grafted.

While they’re about it nurseries choose the ‘root stock’ to fit different garden situations. They might use a very ‘vigorous’ stock in a large orchard or a ‘dwarfing’ stock for a patio plant. There’s a little more to it than that, but basically you choose the apple you want to eat, then choose the size of root for your garden situation.

The only thing you need to remember when planting the tree is to keep the graft point (a little bulge a few inches above the root line) ABOVE the ground, otherwise the top part will try to take root and you’ll get little offshoots called suckers.

Brogdale at East Malling, Kent, holds the national collection of apples.

Later on I’ll explain how modern grafting makes veg growing a very interesting thing…

Okay, this is plum blossom. Shoot me.

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