Grafting can lead to interesting garden

February 15, 2017

During a political corruption trial, the witness was asked "Did you take $25,000 to compromise this case?" When the witness acted as if he hadn't heard the question, the judge leaned over and said: "Please answer the question." The startled witness replied, "Oh I thought he was talking to you."

In politics when money grows on trees, it's a sure sign that graft is involved. If financial graft is the diversion of wealth, then horticultural graft can be thought of as the diversion of the wealth of one plant to another, forming a single, better plant. 

Grafting is simply joining the tissues of plants so they grow together. The top part of the plant is called the scion, and the rooting section is called the rootstock. This lets you literally combine the best of both plants, choosing the one with the best root system, cold hardiness and drought resistance to be the rootstock, and you can choose the desired fruit or flower without regard to hardiness, drought tolerance or cold hardiness. 

To successfully graft a plant, the vascular cambium tissues need to come in contact with each other. The trick is to keep both tissues alive until the graft heals, which can take several weeks. 

Grafted joints are not as strong as naturally formed joints, so the grafting site can become weaker than the rest of the plant. To overcome this, always provide a good support or trellis. 

Grafting can lead to some interesting garden plants. While an Angel Trumpet (Brugmansia) in full bloom is stunning, imagine pink, yellow and white fragrant flowers from a single plant. Many nurseries now grow grafted three-in-one Angel Trumpet plants. This blend of three colors is like a pre-arranged bouquet. As a bonus, each three-in-one Angel Trumpet plant can have hundreds of blooms at a time. 

Outdoors you can grow three- in-one grafted Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) for fragrant blooms in lavender, magenta and white, or red, white and purple, depending upon the grower. With a name like Butterfly Bush, it’s no wonder that butterflies swarm to this plant. The three colors hang on familiar thin, arching branches in the late-summer perennial garden. While flowers are often multi-grafted as novelties, fruit trees that are multi-grafted serve a real purpose. By combining many varieties of apples on a single tree, you not only extend the harvest season and add variety, but this allows cross-pollination. If you only have room for one tree, you can get five varieties of apples (Malus domestica) or peaches or pears. In fact some nurseries offer "fruit cocktail" multi-grafted fruit trees with nectarines, peaches, plums and apricots all grafted onto a single tree. 

These "fruit cocktail" trees are self-pollinating and the springtime blooms cover the tree, making it an ideal landscape specimen. Seems there are many interesting things in the garden and in the courtroom, thanks to graft.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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