Which Fruit Trees To Graft Together (And How to Do It)
Have you seen trees that offer 2 or 3 different types of apples? Or maybe a peach and plum tree at your garden store and wondered just how they do that?
It’s all done by grafting branches onto an existing rootstock, and it’s something that you can do at home. Today we will go over different varieties of fruit trees that can be grafted together, and how to do it.
Generally speaking, there are lots of different fruit trees you can graft together, like stone fruits such as peaches, plums, and nectarines.
You can also graft various citrus fruits on one tree such as oranges, lemons, and limes. The trick to grafting is to use trees that are similar to one another! It can get pretty wild.
My family once had a citrus tree that carried 5 different citrus plants on one tree. Limes, lemons, oranges, tangerines, and Meyer lemons, but it was a very expensive tree. You too can graft such a tree yourself all while saving valuable yard space and money. Keep reading to learn how you can do it!
What Even Is Tree Grafting, Anyway?
Grafting is the process of taking a branch or a few branches and attaching them to a different tree to get either different colors of flowers—think roses—or different kinds of fruits on the same tree.
The process takes small branches, also known as scions, and inserts them into either the trunk or other branches of an existing tree, known as the rootstock. When successful, the new branch is grafted onto a tree and from there it gains nutrients and water from the tree and will eventually produce fruit or flowers, becoming part of the tree!
Sometimes grafting is used to keep a certain type of tree alive, or to keep a tree producing the same quality fruits. If you plant seeds from a tree, you never know if they will grow into mature plants, or if they will produce the same quality fruits.
With grafting, you can take the high-quality fruit tree, graft a branch and grow it into an exact copy of the parent plant that still produces the same great fruit. It helps to take away the guesswork and saves time compared to growing trees from seed.
Why Should You Graft Different Trees?
There are several reasons why grafting trees might make sense. Grafting will save space in your garden and offer variety. Maybe you have a few fruit trees, but one is doing really well in producing plenty of fruit, while a few more just never seem to produce much.
If you have a lot of trees and want to keep them growing, grafting can be a way to keep the same tree growing indefinitely. Grafting can also save time compared to growing fruit trees from seeds and waiting for them to be mature enough to start producing fruits.
Some plants, especially fruit trees cannot be economically reproduced by seed. This is because hybrid fruit seeds will grow back into their ancestral trees.
Meaning the lush, fleshy, full apples you get from the market, will most likely grow into hard, small, and nearly inedible fruits if you plant them straight from the seed. In this way, grafting is essential to keep growing the same high-quality fruits we are accustomed to.
Graft To Save Space In Your Garden
Say you have a granny smith apple tree in your yard that makes some great apple pie or cobblers, but they are a bit too tart to eat straight off of the tree. Instead of buying a honey crisp tree, a golden delicious tree, or other varieties and taking up your entire yard with different apple trees, you could graft a few branches to your granny smith tree and still have different varieties of apples from the same tree.
It also makes sense to graft your own trees rather than buying pre-grafted trees from your garden center. You get to choose what varieties of fruits you are looking for and what you will be more likely to consume.
Don’t have a garden? Never fear, just bring your tree indoors! Check out our article on the 7 easiest fruit trees to grow indoors.
Keep Your Tree Growing, Even After Its Prime
Trees don’t live forever. They can live for hundreds of years, but most fruit trees only produce fruit for 10 to 20 years. If you remember that apple tree in your grandmother’s yard, it may not be producing good fruit any longer.
If it was grafted, however, it could continue to produce fruit and live on as a new tree producing the same fruit you remembered as a child.
You can do the same to your own fruit trees. If they look like they’re about to reach the end of their fruiting careers, take a cutting from that tree and graft into a newer rootstock and you basically have a new clone of your old, fading tree.
Grafting Saves Time
Compared to growing fruit trees from seeds, grafting can save years of time. When planting trees from seed, you could possibly be waiting 10 to 20 years for that tree to start producing fruit, and even then, the fruit it produces might not be very good.
When you graft branches from a mature tree, you know what the fruit will be like, and it only takes about 2 to 3 years before it starts producing fruit.
I know, you’re still looking at a handful of years and a lot can happen in that time, but compared to waiting decades, I can wait a few years for homegrown fruits in my own backyard.
Grafting Offers Variety
Although we already touched on this, it bears repeating. Also, you don’t only have to stick to apple trees to have different varieties. You can even graft some varieties of pears to your apple trees.
Do you have a peach or plum tree? Why not have both? If you have a stone fruit tree you can potentially graft any other stone fruit to that tree such as apricots, nectarines, white peaches, or other kinds.
What Fruit Trees Can I Graft Together?
Don’t get too carried away here and think you could have a ready-made fruit salad tree! You won’t be able to graft citrus, apples, plums, cherries, and mangoes together. The trees do have to be in the same family and have similar cell structures or they won’t take.
Most woody plants (trees and shrubs) will take to being grafted, but it can be difficult without the proper amount of skill and education.
Graft Citrus Together
Remember the citrus tree with five different fruits on it? They were all citrus trees, that’s why they worked so well. There are a lot of varieties here, you could have grapefruit, pummelos, kumquats, or tangerines, mandarins, and navel oranges. Whatever you could think of, as long as they are still citrus trees.
Learn more about citrus tree care by taking a look at our article all about pruning your orange tree and other care tips.
Apple Trees Varieties Are A Match
You go to the local farmer’s market or grocery store and notice an ever-increasing lineup of apple varieties, well, these can all be grafted together too. You’ll know if a graft takes because after a few weeks, either it will take and start growing, or the scion will die off.
Stone Fruit Trees Get Along Well
These trees include soft, fleshy fruits that contain hard, stone-like pits in the middle, encasing a seed. Peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and cherries, are all considered stone fruits, and they can be grafted interchangeably.
Graft Multiple Types Of Pear Trees
You can graft all kinds of different pears to each other including Asian pears, and quince. You might be able to graft apple and pear trees together as well but that requires some experimentation.
You Can Even Graft Persimmons
Persimmon trees can produce a lot of fruit, but unfortunately, they can only be grafted inside the family of other persimmons. You do still have variety here as you can graft American persimmon, Oriental persimmon, and the date-plum together.
Can I Just Graft Any Old Trees Together?
This answer is both yes and no. Whereas you can graft nearly any of the same two trees together, you won’t be able to graft say a pine tree with a fig tree.
You can graft apples to apples, oranges to oranges, and figs to figs, but don’t get excited thinking you’ll be able to create a mashup of an avocado and a mango tree I’d affectionately call an “avocango” tree!
If you’re grafting at home, keep your experiments to trees of similar types to prevent a lot of disappointments.
Another thing to take into consideration when you decide to start grafting is your hardiness zone. You’ll still need to stick to trees that grow well in your zone. For example, if you live in the south where the summers can be quite hot and humid, your cold-loving plants most likely won’t survive the harsh heat and vice versa.
How To Graft Your Trees The Right Way
There are several different ways to graft your trees, but we will keep it limited to three of the most popular and easier ways.
Grafting overall isn’t particularly easy, but once you get the hang of it, the biggest obstacle will be seeing if the pieces accept each other. There may be many things that keep your graft from growing properly and we will go over some of these possibilities.
The Right Time To Start Your Graft
You want to start grafting in the early spring after frost is no longer a threat, right about when your rootstock is starting to sprout new leaves. This gives the tree time to heal before summer sets in and all growing slow down. The spring is when trees do most of their growing and a great time for them to heal.
Pick Your Tree To Graft
You want to start with a rootstock that isn’t too young or too old, but this also depends on how you are going to graft your tree.
This is assuming you have a tree that is established, is at least 5 to 10 years old, and possibly bearing fruit already.
You can graft an entire, sapling, or tree to a root ball, but that’s a bit advanced and has a higher chance of failure, so in the interest of keeping things simple we won’t go into that in this article.
When choosing your tree, you don’t want to start grafting the fruit tree you just purchased from your local garden center. You should have a tree that is established for a year or two.
When you plant a new tree, it really needs time to settle in, get its roots into the ground and be a well-established tree before you start cutting wounds into it.
Pick Your Scions
When picking the scions (branches) you will be using for grafting, you should do this before the tree comes out of dormancy. This is usually done before you start grafting, and you will need to store them properly for a few weeks.
Look for straight branches that do not have any other branches going perpendicular. They need to be about pencil thick in diameter, and about 12” to 18” long. Water sprouts work great for scions, and since they normally get cut off during trimming, why not place them where they will be useful?
Since it’s probably too soon to graft them into place, you’ll need to store your scions. Use food-grade storage bags to store them and add a damp paper towel or damp sphagnum moss in the bag with the scions, and place them in the refrigerator; the crisper drawer works great here.
You’ll have to store these until your rootstock begins to open up and fluff out their new leaves. Depending on where you live this could be as early as March or into late April. Just make sure your scions are not too wet or get dried out.
Materials Needed For Grafting
When you begin grafting you’ll need a few tools to get started.
You’ll need things such as:
- Sharp pruning shears
- Loppers or fine-toothed saw
- Razor knife
- Grafting tape or electrical tape
- Wax tree sealant (optional depending on what kind of grafting you are doing)
You can use the MESTUDIO Grafting Tool Set, it has literally everything you need to start grafting on your own, including professional grafting pruners and grafting tape! For your sealant wax, we recommend using Walter E. Clark Trowbridge’s Grafting Wax, which has great reviews and will be perfect for your grafting projects.
A quick note here about taping your graft. Grafting tape works the best here because you won’t have to go back and cut it loose. It is made to hold long enough for the graft to fuse together, then it begins to deteriorate and fall off.
If you use something like electrical tape, you will have to remember to cut it loose so that it doesn’t act like a tourniquet and strangle your new graft.
We’ve got even more for you to learn along your tree journey! Check out our article: Full Mango Tree Lifespan (And How To Grow Them)!
Before cutting into your trees or removing scions, we want to make sure all of your cutting tools are clean, rust-free, and have been disinfected, this will ensure a clean and healthy cut.
A cleft graft is probably the easiest grafting technique to do. In a nutshell, you cut your rootstock branch straight and flat, cut a cleft into it, whittle down your scion, and shove it into the cleft, then seal everything up.
With a cleft graft, you could potentially graft a few different branches into the same rootstock, if your rootstock is much bigger than your scions but we will stick with one right now. Once you have the hang of it and become a seasoned professional, you can attempt the multi-cleft graft.
First off, find a branch about an inch thick on your rootstock where you will add your graft. Using sharp loppers or a fine-toothed saw, cut the branch off as clean and straight as you can.
Next, using your razor knife, carefully cut a straight cleft into the rootstock about an inch and a half deep. Take care here not to cut yourself or slice a large chunk off of the tree. If you rock your blade back and forth, you will have more control in your cleft cut.
Now you’ll take your scion, using your sharp knife, cut the end of your scion into a flat wedge. Cut on one side, then the other side evenly to make a flat wedge shape. This end you will insert into the cleft you made into your rootstock. You have now grafted your tree, but you’re not done yet.
Use your sealing wax to seal the wound, then wrap it well with your grafting tape.
Now you can stand back and admire your handy work.
Depending on the size of the tree, if you’re willing to keep going you could graft another place or two onto the same tree.
Be sure not to do more than 3 or 4, just to keep from opening up too many wounds on your tree, especially if it’s a younger specimen.
Whip grafting is done at the same time in the growing season as cleft grafting is done, but this works with branches that are about the same size in diameter. Whip grafting typically does less damage to the tree than cleft grafting.
Start off by finding a branch on your rootstock that’s the same diameter as your scion, then you have a couple of options here. You can cut it straight off with a single slice, or you can cut a v-shape into it, but your scion has to be cut to fit into the v-shape.
Either way, once you have your rootstock and scion cut and the pieces meet up together well, wrap them together with your tape nice and tight so that the scion doesn’t bend, or fall off. The better they connect, and stay connected, the better they will mend.
There is no need for sealant wax here, as the tape wraps everything tight and keeps the area free from the elements.
You’ll need a steady hand and a sharp knife for bud grafting. Here you will be cutting out a small section instead of cutting out an entire branch, then replacing that section with a bud from your donor tree.
This method works well with citrus plants.
On your rootstock, you’ll cut a shallow slice where you want the graft to go. You’re cutting just below the bark area in a shape as close as possible to your bud piece and vice versa. Also, leave a small flap of loose bark that the bud will be tucked into.
From your scion or donor tree, find a section that has a bud starting off but not opened up yet. Patience and precision are key, as you want to slice a small piece of the tree, including the bud off of the donor.
Start above the bud, slice down past the bud, but not all the way through. Next at the bottom where you stopped cutting cut the bud free leaving a little wedge at the bottom of the bud piece.
The bottom should be able to rest inside the loose flap of bark on your rootstock. This helps to hold the bud graft in place.
Be careful not to touch the open, cut areas of the bud graft. Also, you don’t want to break off the tender bud, because it won’t grow back.
We know you got this though! You want to make sure your pieces line up as close as possible. Trim them if needed. Once they fit well, wrap it with your grafting tape.
Wrap the entire piece up with several layers of tape. Keep the wrapping snug but not terribly tight, you don’t want to damage the bud. Keep this area and the tender bud in the shade for a few weeks if at all possible as this keeps the sun from drying out the graft.
Then after three or four weeks, remove the tape and check your progress. The tree should have swollen up and incorporated the bud into the branch.
Where Can You Get Grafting Scions?
If you don’t have a wide array of fruit trees to experiment with, it might be hard to start grafting your trees, so where can you go to find viable scions? Your local garden superstore might not appreciate you “trimming” their fruit trees and buying several trees just to get some foot-long scions could get expensive.
Seek out friends and family if they have fruit trees they’d be willing to share with you. Maybe you could trade scions, then you’d both have some hybrid fruiting trees. You might be able to find some viable options in the wild, but I wouldn’t hold my breath looking for fruit trees in the wild.
Did you know you can find viable scions and even rootstock online? Do a quick online search if you have no other options, or check with your local nursery. They might even be willing to sell you a few if they have them in stock.
Just be mindful of what kind you purchase, and make sure your scions are either native to your area or are hardy in your growing zone.
How Long Does It Take The Tree To Heal?
It may take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks for your graft to heal, and most of the growing season for it to truly strengthen. During that time, it’s best not to trim your tree. Let it grow on its own, and you can always trim it next year if it needs it.
During this time, the tree could certainly benefit from a dose of fertilizer to help stimulate more growth. Look for organic fertilizer that is safe for fruits and vegetables, since you will be eating the fruits once they are ripe and ready.
Another consideration to think about, when grafting, you might want to tag your branches so you know what fruit will be coming from those branches, and just in case you forget and trim the grafted branch too much. We don’t want all your hard work gone in one accidental snip!
Read all about the full timeline of growing a lemon tree in our article to get better sense of how long you’ll have to wait to enjoy the fruits of your labor!
There You Have It!
You want to keep the varieties of trees you graft together as close to the same family as possible, also while keeping the rootstock and scions to your hardiness zone. It may take a few tries to get the technique down, but with practice comes perfection.
Now you know all about grafting; why it’s done, the practical uses, which fruit trees you can graft, and even how to graft fruit trees yourself. Go out there and start experimenting; make your own Franken trees with different fruits and have fun!
Want to learn more about trees along your tree journey? Check out our article 7 Best Fruit Trees for Rocky Soil (And How to Plant Them)!
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