Plant grafting is a propagation method dating back thousands of years where a stem (scion) is fused to a rootstock to create a new plant. Find out how to get started grafting fruit trees and rose bushes for your garden.
Grafting is one of 5 Essential Propagation Methods for Gardeners.
What is Grafting?NEW! Click play to listen:
Want apples just like the ones on your mom’s tree? Grafting is the right propagation method for that.
Grafting means to connect two (or more) living pieces of plants in a way that will join them together to grow as one plant.
A mature, actively growing stem cutting or bud is fused onto a related, established rootstock forming a new plant with several possible benefits.
Many of us have seen examples of (somewhat rare) naturally-occurring grafts where different tree trunks or branches have fused together and grown as one but it’s deliberate, human- controlled grafting that provides most of the fruit trees at plant nurseries.
Grafting fruit trees in North America has been popular for hundreds of years but humans have been at this for much longer. There are written records of plant grafting dating back 2500 years and we have evidence of grafting for many years prior to that.
Why We Graft Plants
There are many different grafting methods and the choice of method and plant stock used depends on the desired outcome.
- Create new plants from the ones you have
- Grow a new plant with specific desired traits including type of fruit or flowers
- Control the size (for a larger or smaller plant)
- Change appearance (shape and style of tree)
- Improve disease resistance or resist stress or drought
- Add a pollinizer for trees that require cross-pollination by a similar tree
- Improve root anchorage
All of which can ultimately save time and money for commercial producers.
You may also be familiar with grafted fruit trees grafted with multiple varieties of the same species on one rootstock.
We have one tree in our garden that grows six varieties of apples, providing an array of flowers and fruits, each at slightly different times in spring, summer, and fall.
How Grafting Works
To create a grafted plant, you need a shoot and a root.
The shoot is called a scion. This is a mature (but not too old) branch or stem that can produce flowers and fruit.
The base is the rootstock.
The two are bound together in such a way to allow the exchange of water and nutrients, with direct contact between their cambium regions. It’s a living union.
Depending on the method, this may involve inserting a scion or bud into a stem, branch, or root area of the rootstock.
Techniques include cleft, side, bridge, veneer, and whip or tongue grafting.
But, before you start experimenting, keep in mind that it’s a fairly narrow range of scions and rootstocks that can be successfully grafted together.
Plants from the same species are nearly always compatible. This doesn’t mean they always work; it just means it is biologically possible.
Different species in the same genus will usually work, but not always. A viable example includes tomatoes and potatoes which are both from the Solanum genus.
In the Video section below, there is a tree with 40 varieties of stone fruits growing on one rootstock.
Moving up the biological classification chart, plants from different genera but within the same family are usually not compatible and plants from different families can almost never be grafted successfully.
That said, grafting success is not strictly yes or no even within known compatible pieces: there are degrees of compatibility and it can take years to determine whether a particular combination will work. Disease and stressors can also interfere.
To avoid disappointment, find an expert or trusted resource guide to ensure you are starting with the right plants at the right time using the optimum method.
Examples of Grafted Plants
Grafting is a good option for a fruit tree that does not grow true to seed and does not grow easily from cuttings.
In the domestication of apple trees, grafting made it possible to speed up the production of fruit by skipping over the juvenile stage of the plant’s development, which otherwise can take years before flowering and setting fruit.
As long as the scion (the shoot that is being grafted) is mature, the resulting grafted plant will be mature as well.
Indoor poinsettia plants are another popular type of grafted plant. These plants grow naturally as mid-size trees but a grafting technique discovered years ago allows growers to graft the stems onto other more compact rootstock to create houseplants.
In addition to just about every commercially-produced outdoor fruit tree (apple, peach, pear, plum, apricot, nectarine, almond, cherry) and rose bushes, smaller potted houseplants like avocado, lemon, and orange are also grafted.
Once you become aware of how common grafting is, it’s fun to look for grafts when plant shopping, often revealed by a distinct (but healed) line or variation in bark between parts.
- How to Make a Poinsettia Rebloom
- How to Grow a Citrus Tree From Seed
- How to Grow an Avocado Tree From Seed
Is Grafting Sexual or Vegetative Plant Reproduction?
Flowering plant pollination is an example of sexual plant reproduction where male gametes are transferred to female ovules and fertilization can occur (ovules grow into seeds).
While grafting also combines two plants, it is still asexual plant reproduction because the genes from the two plants are not combined. Each retain their genetic identify.
Any new shoots will be genetically identical to the original scion(s) so grafting is considered asexual vegetative reproduction.
There are lots of resources available for learning to graft. Choose whatever combination suits your learning style. If you prefer hands-on learning, check for local workshops or courses through horticultural societies or colleges.
- Gardening 101: An Introduction to Grafting | University of California Botanical Garden at Berkley
- Basic Grafting Techniques | Mississippi State University Extension
- Grafting and Budding Nursery Crop Plants | NC State Extension
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛