HOME FRUIT GROWING-- Making More Plants

(Note:  this is the revised chapter on plant propagation from the original Fruits and Berries book that, due to space considerations, was unable to be included in the Fruit Gardener's Bible.)

           I once saw a classified ad in the newspaper asking if anyone had a Yellow Transparent apple tree. Someone wanted permission to dig up a sprout from it to start her own tree. I’ve often wondered if she found one and, if so, what the results were.

            Beginning growers are sometimes puzzled about how fruit trees get their start. Some plant seeds fom their favorite apples, expecting they will grow into trees that will bear fruit exactly like the original apples. Others, like the woman in the ad, believe they can dig up the suckers that grow around the trunks of larger trees in the orchard, and eventually these will grow into trees that produce the same kind of fruit. Both are likely to be disappointed.

            Over the centuries fruit trees, like humans, have accumulated a great many ancestors, all of whom have influenced their genes. An apple seed can take on any combination of all their good and bad characteristics. Seedlings are most likely to resemble their “wild” ancestors, and their fruits are apt to be small in size and inferior in flavor.

            This genetic inheritance doesn’t mean that all fruit trees grown from seeds are worthless. Some produce fruit suitable for cooking, jelly-making, or cider. Occasionally, a chance seedling is very good, and even more rarely, one produces fruit equal or superior to other existing kinds. This lucky chance on nature’s roulette wheel is the primary way that we get new fruit varieties. Still, these are exceptions.

            A fruit tree’s seedlings are used mostly as rootstocks upon which good varieties are grafted. The suckers growing from the roots of grafted cultivars are not going to bear the same kind of fruit as the cultivar.



            You can easily grow trees from seeds. The seeds from any locally grown, vigorous fruit trees will usually grow into small trees that make good rootstocks for grafting. They will be acclimated and hardy, but you should be aware they will produce full-size trees even if you got the seeds from a dwarf tree. If you like to gamble, you may want to plant a few seeds from a choice fruit, and try for the long shot that it might result in that one-in-a-million super cultivar.  Starting trees from seeds from fruit you eat is a good activity for kids too.

            Plant the seeds or pits as soon as the fruit ripens in the fall. Plant three or four in a pot, and place it in a sunny window. If you want a lot of seedlings, plant them in a flat indoors or in beds outdoors. Use a sterile starting mix (available in most farm and garden stores) instead of soil, so plant diseases are less likely to be a problem. If you plant the seeds in an outdoor bed, scatter a few mothballs throughout the bed to try and protect the seeds from mice and squirrel pilferage. Cover the bed with a mulch to prevent frost from heaving the seeds out of the ground over the winter.

            The seeds planted indoors should begin to grow within a few weeks and the outdoors ones by early summer. Allow them to grow a year where they are, whether in pots or in the ground. Then, the following year in early spring, transplant them to a suitable spot where they will have room to grow. In another year or two they should be large enough for budding or grafting, or to grow into your own “mystery” trees.

            The search for superior seedlings can be a hobby as fascinating as searching for that overlooked treasure in antique shops, searching out first editions at book sales, or panning for gold in mountain streams. Begin your search when the fruits are ripening by looking where seedling trees are likely to be growing — in old orchards around abandoned farms, along country roads, and even farther out in the wilds where birds, deer, picnickers, or hunters may have dropped seeds that sprouted. Look for fruit with especially fine appearance and taste or any other superior characteristic. Finding a fruit that is just “good” is not enough. There are already lots of good fruits.

            You can also plant seeds, the way that Johnny Appleseed did, if you don’t mind being patient. People have told me that one out of every ten seeds in an apple would grow into a tree that would be exactly like the one that produced it. Actually the odds are not nearly that good, and most seeds, if planted, would grow into trees that produced fruit that was good only for cider. Only one in hundreds could compare favorably with the parent, and only one in many thousands might be superior.

            Although it takes time to grow seedlings, it always surprises me how fast a small seed can grow into a sizeable tree. It can be frustrating to wait for it to bear fruit, however. I suspect that a lot of good trees have been cut down because the experimenters thought there was no merit in a tree that took eight or nine years to produce its first crop. This timespan is not unusual and is called the “youthful factor” or, in scientific terms, the "juvenile stage" of the tree. Grafted trees always bear in a much shorter length of time, often within two to four years. Since seedling trees take so long to bear, another way to test their fruiting quality much earlier is to graft limbs from dozens of different seedlings onto one large tree so you can compare the fruits of many different seedlings years earlier and in much less space.

            Since casually planting seeds leaves a lot of chance, hybridizers who are sure about their goals are more scientific in their research and try to combine qualities from many different fruits into what they hope will be a winning combination. Rather than just planting the seeds from good fruits with no knowledge of what tree furnished the pollen, they try to double their chances for success. They make sure that both the flower that supplies the pollen and the flower that receives it are on trees with some of those characteristics they want in their new fruit. You can do this, too.

            Put a bag over a flower bud cluster on both of your chosen trees a few days before the blooms open. This will keep out any ambitious bees that might mess up your plans before you get to work. After the blooms have opened, remove the bag from the blossoms on the pollinator tree, and collect some of the yellow pollen. Transfer it to the blossoms of the tree you want to bear the fruit.  An artist's paintbrush is one of the best tools for this.  Pick off all blossoms in the cluster except the ones you are pollinating and mark the limb carefully, so you can easily find the fruit in the fall. Keep a written record of all your activity, too. Don’t lose your records while you are awaiting the first fruits of your new baby. If an exciting new variety appears, horticulturists will want to know all about its ancestors.

            When the fruit is ripe or slightly overripe, pick it and plant the seeds. Then await the results. Hopefully, your selected seedling will be something special, but keep Mendel’s law of heredity in mind, too. You may have to wait another generation or two for the elusive characteristics that you want to show up.

            If you think fruit trees take too long to bear and you want to work with plants that show faster results, experiment with small fruits such as grapes and berries that are usually propagated by means other than seeds. They will often produce results within only three or four years from seed. Use the same hand-pollination procedure you would for fruit trees, and be just as careful that the bees don’t beat you to it. 

            Plant berry seeds quite shallow in the soil, mulch them lightly, and keep them moist. Even if your discovery doesn’t make a big splash nationally, you may have something of local interest, or even just a conversation topic with fellow gardeners. Horticulturist George Aiken, who later became a prominent U.S. Senator from Vermont, developed the Green Mountain strawberry that became a popular variety for many years in the Northeast.  We have developed some very good seedlings of gooseberries, black currants, and elderberries, but none of them are outstanding enough to register. Other small fruits that we feel are worth hybridizing are raspberries, blackberries, currants of all colors, blueberries, saskatoons, kiwis, and grapes.      Layering

            Other ways to make new plants are referred to in the trade as "vegetative" or "asexual" as they make copies or clones of the plant, so what you propagate is what you get.  One way to start a plant that is “true to name,” or the same as its parent, is by layering.  Layering works well with gooseberries, currants, grapes, filberts, quince, black raspberries, elderberries, and certain other fruits, all of which often root within a few months. It is likely to take at least a year before plums, peaches, apples, blueberries, and cherries form good roots, and pears may take several years. All you need is a tree or bush with branches close to the ground.

            Bend down one of the branches after you have loosened up the soil beneath it, and bury a section of the middle part of the limb. If necessary, place a rock over it so it won’t pop back out. Stake the end of the branch so it is pointed straight up (see figure). Roots will eventually form on the section of the limb that was buried. When enough roots have developed to support the plant, cut it from its parent, but leave it to grow in the same spot so it can develop a strong root system. The following spring before growth tarts, dig up the new plant and transplant it to where you want it to grow. Another variation is to just bury the tip, as with brambles, from which a new plant will root and grow (see figure). You can hasten the rooting process by scraping a bit of bark from the bottom part of the limb that is to be buried in the soil, and dusting the wound with a rooting compound, available at complete garden stores, before burying it.        

            Be sure to let your spouse and other members of the family know what you are doing. Soon after we were married, my wife “rescued” all the layered limbs of a currant bush by carefully pulling them up, thinking something drastic had happened to them.



            Dividing the parent plant is one of the easiest ways to propagate many small fruits. By the time a berry bush is several years old, new plants usually have started to form around the original one. If you want to start as many new little bushes as possible, the best way is to dig up the entire plant and split it with your axe, knife, or pruning shears. Just make sure, before you cut, that each division will have a good clump of roots on it. If you want only two or three new plants, you can sometimes sever them from their parent with a quick thrust of a sharp shovel without greatly disturbing the main plant. The best time to make divisions is in early spring just as new growth starts, or just prior. The brambles (raspberries and blackberries) are especially easy to divide.

            Some bush fruits — currants, elderberries, and gooseberries, for instance — can be started by dividing the large plants. Blueberries can also be divided, but, except for the lowbush kinds, they do not form offsets as easily. You can get the bush fruits to produce large numbers of new plants by cutting back the top of the bush to about 6 inches in height, and piling rich soil or compost over it, completely covering it. New shoots will grow through the soil, and roots will form on their stems. Replace any soil that may wash away in rains, and, the following spring, dig up the entire plant, cut the new plants apart, and transplant them. This process is called "stooling" the plant.



            When I was a child, I overheard someone say that if you took a small branch off an apple tree, stuck it into a potato in the early spring, and planted it, it would grow. Even then I was anxious to start replacements for our diminishing old orchard, so I stuck twigs into potatoes left and right. Then I planted them in a long row and waited. The “expert” was right. But he had carefully not said what would grow. We had a beautiful crop of potatoes that year, with a dead apple branch in each hill.

            Cuttings are one of the fastest ways to increase many plants. Flower growers are familiar with the practice of taking slips from geraniums or chrysanthemums and using the small tips to start new plants. Most of us also know of people who started weeping willow trees by sticking branches into moist ground. Over the years I have tried many methods to start fruit trees from cuttings. Most have not been very successful, but I have had great luck using this method with some small fruits.

            Three types of cuttings are commonly used: hardwood stem cuttings, softwood stem cuttings, and root cuttings. Currants, grapes, elderberries, and quinces start well from either hardwood or softwood cuttings. Gooseberries, saskatoons, and blueberries are more easily started from softwood cuttings.

            Hardwood cuttings. Take hardwood cuttings from the tips of branches when the plant is dormant in the winter or early spring. Make them 6 to 15 inches long, and store them for three or four weeks in slightly moist sawdust or vermiculite in a cool root cellar or refrigerator. By planting time, a fleshy callus should have formed over the cut ends.  Make sure when placing in the moist material to put the bottom ends down.  I've seen folks wonder why their cuttings never rooted.  They turned out to be upside down!

            Dust the callused ends with rooting powder (available in most garden stores), then stick the treated ends of the cuttings about 2 inches deep into fertile, well-tilled light soil, and keep the soil moist. Mulch the cuttings with a thin layer of lawn clippings or moist sawdust to help hold moisture between regular waterings. In a few weeks, both leaf and root growth should start, and this is a good time to give them weekly light applications of liquid fertilizer or manure water for several weeks. Allow the cuttings to stay in the bed for a full year, and transplant them the following spring.

            Softwood cuttings. Take these in early summer when the plant is growing vigorously.  A variation between this and hardwood, as often used for brambles, is semi-hardwood cuttings.  These are taken in mid-summer when the growth is no longer soft, and just starting to harden and become slightly woody. 

            Make each cutting 4 to 10 inches long from the new, soft sprouts, and root it in moist sand, perlite, vermiculite, a mix of perlite and vermiculite, or sphagnum moss in a small pot. Provide the high humidity the cuttings need by enclosing them in a plastic bag and by sprinkling them frequently. I use small bamboo stakes to keep the bag above the plants.  Rooting should take place within a few weeks. Commercial propagators use a system that intermittently sprays mist over the cuttings, and smaller versions of these are available for hobby gardeners who want to start lots of plants. These are generally available from hobby greenhouse suppliers.

            After the cuttings have formed good root systems, move them gradually from their humid mini-climate into an ordinary environment. Shade them at first on sunny days, and water them frequently to prevent wilting. After each cutting is well established in its pot, transplant it into a larger pot to grow into a husky plant that can later be transplanted to a permanent location.

            Root cuttings. These are a fast way to grow large numbers of blackberry and raspberry plants, and can also be used for starting blueberry, elderberry, currant, and gooseberry plants. They are also useful for propagating dwarf rootstocks, such as the Mallings, for grafting purposes.

            To make root cuttings, either dig up the whole plant or, if you want only a few and don’t want to greatly disturb the parent plant, cut down close to the main stems of the plant with a sharp shovel and dig up a mass of roots. With a knife or pruning shears, cut them into pieces about 2 inches long. Plant these about 4 inches apart in a well-prepared bed, and cover them with about {1/2} inch of a mixture of compost, sand, or soil. Water them frequently.  A commercial grower I know just puts the cuttings in a plastic bag of slightly moist mix, then removes and pots them when they begin to root.

            It will be tempting  to dig up the buried cuttings from time to time to see if they are sprouting, but resist. They never will grow if you disturb them too much. After a few weeks, sprouts should appear and a new bush will start to take shape. After the plants have grown for at least a year in the bed, transplant them to their permanent location.


Tissue Culture

            Plant tissue culture is no longer a laboratory experiment but has become a standard method of propagation for commercial growers, and the cloning of plants in huge numbers has become routine. Some plants frequently propagated in this manner are blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, and dwarf fruit tree rootstocks used for grafting. Kits are available for hobby gardeners to use on houseplants and perennials (www.hometissueculture.org), but the tissue culture of woody plants is very demanding and requires expensive equipment and skill.

            Simple stated, technicians place a small piece of a plant, usually a growing bud or piece of plant tissue, in a special solution in a test tube where it begins to grow. Then, they divide it and put the divisions into larger jars with a different solution where the divisions develop stems and roots. Workers must maintain a hospital-like sterility throughout the entire operation, and everything — the cuttings, containers, tools, water, and even the air entering the area — is carefully sterilized. Temperature, pH, and humidity also must be carefully controlled. Once the new plants form roots and shoots, they must be gradually acclimated over stages to the real world outside the jars.

            The advantages of tissue culture are many. Huge numbers of plants can be started without having large amounts of stock plants on hand, since the culture can be stored and plants started as needed.  This is one way lots of a new introduction are made available in a short time.  Each plant is completely free from all diseases, including the viruses that are so difficult to control, so everything produced can be certified as disease-free.



            Grafting, the method most often used in propagating fruit trees, hybrid nut trees, and certain grapevines, is simply the joining of two different plants by surgery. Some people still consider grafting a mysterious and somewhat magical process that a few gifted individuals perform on inferior fruit trees to make them produce bushels of good fruit. For some reason, they suspect that the grafting ability is a borderline science somewhat like faith healing, water dowsing, and the ability to bend spoons by telekinetic energy. Or they think you need specialized training, as a doctor would get, for such precise surgery.  The truth is, grafting is merely the transplanting of one plant upon another, and anyone can do it. All it takes is a little patience and knowing the most simple basics of how plants grow.

            Over the years, so many wild stories have been told about grafting that it’s no wonder people have a fussy idea of what it is all about. Old-timers used to tell me with complete honesty about seeing, in their youth, large trees that were completely loaded not only with different kinds of apples but with peaches, plums, pears, cherries, and even tomatoes and squashes. Since all scientific knowledge points to the impossibility of such a spectacular event, I suspect someone was either pulling a fast one with some wire, or time had embellished the memory of the storytellers.

            Contrary to the wild stories, only plants that are closely related can be grafted together. Most, but not all, kinds of apples can be grafted upon each other. Most stone fruits — cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines, and apricots — can be grafted on each other and on wild stone fruits. Pears can be grafted on quinces, and vice versa. Pears can also be grafted on apples, but the resulting tree is likely to be short-lived. Tomatoes can even be grafted on potatoes since they are closely related members of the Nightshade Family (Solanaceae).

            Grafting is the best way to propagate most tree fruits, for several reasons. It is a fast method to start large numbers of trees of the same cultivar. It also allows the orchardist to choose from a variety of rootstocks that will determine whether the tree will be dwarf, semi-dwarf, or full-size. Grafting also can determine the age that a tree will begin to bear, and how well it will adapt to your soil and climate.

            Rootstocks sometimes affect a tree in other ways, in addition to changing its growing habits. They can also alter the quality of the fruit. I once grafted a branch from a Yellow Transparent apple tree onto a seedling grown from a wild, hard green apple. When the new tree began to bear fruit, instead of the soft, mild Yellow Transparents, the apples were firm, kept longer, and had a zippy flavor. When I grafted a McIntosh on a similar wild seedling, the apples it produced ripened late and were rather sour.

            Another time I grafted a branch from a Waneta plum onto a wild chokecherry. The graft was successful, but the roots suckered so badly and were so determined to grow into a cherry bush that the union was completely impractical. Certain apple rootstocks also tend to sucker very badly, as do many wild plums.

            Now and then someone tells me they have an apple tree 20 or 30 feet high and they wonder if I can graft it so it will produce good fruit. They are discouraged when I tell them that in order to do this, one would have to cut back and graft a few different limbs each year until they were all done, which would take many years. Even though it is possible, it is far more practical to start with a new tree.

            There are several types of grafting, depending on what parts of the top (scion) and bottom (rootstock) plant are used.  These go by names such as cleft, bud, bark, whip, splice, side-tongue, and side veneer.  Sometimes you'll even see an interstem placed between the rootstock and scion, so 3 plants are involved and 2 graft unions.  Bridge grafting is used to repair damage from mice girdling the tree, joining above and below the chewed bark with stem sections grafted with one end to the top and the other to the bottom.   For home fruit growers, cleft grafting and bud grafting (budding) are the most common methods.

            Cleft Grafting. For a home gardener, cleft grafting is the most practical and easiest of the many types of grafting. You can use it to graft small trees or to graft new cultivars on the limbs of large trees, a process known as “top working.”

            The best time to cleft graft is in early spring, just as the leaf buds are swelling and beginning to turn green. Sap is flowing at that time, so scions are not as likely to dry out before they begin to grow, as they would if grafted earlier or later. For cleft grafting you’ll need a high-quality, sharp knife, some grafting tape, wax, or tree compound to cover the wounds, and, of course, the scion and the tree to be grafted. Choose a tree or limb {1/2} inch to 2 inches in diameter for best results.

            First, cut off the tree that you’re using for the rootstock a few inches above the ground, or, if you are doing a branch on a larger tree, cut the branch off wherever you want to put the graft. Make the cut as smooth as possible. Next, with a sharp knife or grafting tool, split this cut end in the middle about {3/4} to 1{1/2} inches deep, depending on the size of the branch. Don’t let the knife get away from you, though, and cut too deep.

            Now prepare the scion. Cut a piece from the branch of the fruit tree you want to propagate. A scion from 2 to 5 inches long with not more than two or three buds is about the right size. It should be about the same diameter or slightly smaller than the limb or stem it is to be grafted upon; it should never be any larger.

            Never let your scions dry out before the operation. I like to gather them the day before and put the cut ends into a pail of water so they will be turgid. As insurance against the scions’ drying out after being grafted, some gardeners dip the entire scion except for the bottom cut end into melted grafting wax before it is attached to the rootstock.

            After splitting the rootstock, sharpen the cut base end of the scion into a wedge (not a point), using a sharp knife so the edges will be smooth. Don’t drop the scion or allow the cut edges to touch anything that could infect it, not even your fingers.

            Next, pry open the split part of the rootstock with your knife and slide the wedge-shape scion down into it. Since your scion and rootstock are not likely to be exactly the same diameter, carefully align the cambiums (green layers under the bark) of both on one side. Exact alignment is necessary so the sap can flow from the root stock to the scion. You’ll need a steady hand, so don’t be nervous. The tree won’t scream during the operation.

            When the scion is solidly in place, cover the wound to keep the air from reaching it and drying it out. Regular grafting wax is the conventional way of sealing the wound, but it is a bit messy to melt and brush on. There are various imported waxes that are soft enough to ply in the fingers, but many of us prefer to use one of the tree compounds formulated just for this, or to wrap the juncture with strips of rubber electrical tape, available in most hardware stores. The plastic electrical tape is not as good, because, unlike rubber electrical tape, it doesn’t expand, and thus constricts growth.

            Some people gather the scions one to three weeks before they plan to graft, and keep them sealed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. The advantage of this technique is that the scions are still dormant but the rootstock is coming alive, and the sap can immediately flow into the dormant scions. This makes them less likely to dry out before growth starts. If you do this, don’t keep the scions in cold storage for more than a few weeks, or they may have trouble breaking dormancy.

            After growth starts, keep the sprouts that emerge on the tree trunk below the graft rubbed or cut off so all the plant’s energy will be directed into the scion. Stake the new tree as it grows, because the graft union will be fragile at first and can easily break off in the wind. Label all grafts and keep a written record in a safe place. It will be several years before your new trees begin to bear, and you’ll want to know what they are.

            Be patient. A new graft is likely to begin to grow a week or more after other buds. Not all grafts start at once, either. Give them all several weeks before giving up on them, and don’t let failure discourage you. Even experienced grafters always start more than they need, knowing that there is no guarantee of 100 percent success.

            Although I don’t usually advise buying the 3-in-1 or 5-in-1 trees advertised in fruit catalogs, I think it is fun to create your own orchard on a single tree. Follow these grafting instructions and you can have early, midseason, and late apples all together, or a combination of red, yellow, and green. And how about grafting one limb of a red-flowering crab to sit amidst all the white blooms of an apple tree?  If you only have one apple, this is one way to get a source for cross pollination. You can also make a collection of stone fruits all on the same tree. Plums, cherries, peaches, apricots, and nectarines can all be grown on a plum or peach tree, to make a delicious curiosity. A downside it that multiple grafts pose a problem at pruning time. You must have a good memory, or be able to mark the limbs in some way so you don’t lop some of your different fruit types off when it comes time to prune.

            Budding or Bud Grafting. Cleft grafting is a precision operation and requires considerable care in lining up the cambium layers perfectly. Bud grafting is less exacting, however, and therefore easier for a beginner. I prefer it, too, because it requires no wax and can be done over a longer season.

            To bud graft, you insert only a single, tiny bud, rather than a scion, into the tree to be grafted. Since budding is a mid- to late-summer operation, the bud you use is actually the start of the next season’s leaf. You’ll find this little bud under the current year’s leaf, at the spot where the leaf stem comes out of the branch.

            The budding season varies year by year and may be as early as June in the southern states, and as late as August in the North. You must wait until the bud you want to use has grown large and fat, but it is essential to insert it into the rootstock before the sap flow ends. Begin bud grafting as early as possible in your location, so that if the first bud you insert doesn’t “take,” there will still be time to put in another. Like cleft grafting, budding can also be done on limbs of larger trees if you want to change the limbs to new varieties.

            The day before you plan to use them, cut your budwood sticks from the cultivars you plan to use. The branches should be 8 inches or more in length, cut from growth that has been made during the current season. Pinch off the leaves on the bud stick leaving about {1/2} inch of the leaf stem on each one. These stems will make convenient handles when you insert the bud. Put them in a cool place with the cut ends in a pail of water to allow the buds to fill with moisture.

            To bud graft, first cut a {T}-shaped incision in the bark of the tree to be budded. Do this as close to the ground as you can conveniently work, so there will be less trunk space for suckers to grow. Remove the bud from the bud stick by cutting a small shield-shape piece that includes the new bud, the leaf stem handle, and a thin sliver of bark and wood underneath the bud. The fat buds in the middle of the branches are the best ones to use. Make the cut with a sharp knife, and use a sliding motion so the cut will be smooth with no rough edges. Don’t touch the cut edge. As in cleft grafting, all operations should be sanitary to avoid possible infection.

            Next, pull open the flaps of the {T}-mark on the bark, and use the stem handle to insert the shield-shape bud, making sure it is right side up, the way it was growing originally. Line the top of the bud tightly against the top of the {T}. Let the flaps close back around it, and tie the bud in place. Tying used to be done with raffia or ordinary wool yarn, but rubber strips made especially for the purpose are much better and don’t need to be removed, because the rubber will rot away as the tree grows. Wrap the rubber budding strip bandage-style around the new bud, completely covering the entire incision but not the bud itself. The flaps must hold the bud tightly so the sap will stay in and the air out. In order to shade the graft from the sun, some propagators insert the buds on the north side of the tree, or cover them with a small piece of cloth or loose-fitting black plastic.

              If the bud still looks fat and green after a week or two, it has “taken” and all is well. If the bud shows no sign of life after this length of time, put another bud in the same tree, but in a different place.

            Allow the tree to grow naturally the rest of the season while the bud just sits there doing nothing. The following spring, cut off the top of the tree with a slanting cut about {1/4} inch above the new bud. The bud should then grow into a completely new tree, the cultivar of your choice. As in grafting, rub or pinch off all the sprouts that grow below the new bud to prevent competitive growth from the rootstock.

            With the top gone and the root system intact, the new sprout should grow fast. Stake it to prevent undue strain on the new union, and within a few months the rootstock and top should become firmly attached. Leave the stake in place for a year or more to encourage a straight-growing tree.

            It is certainly not necessary to know how to graft in order to raise good fruit. You can probably find the cultivars you want by studying nursery catalogs. Still, it is nice to know how trees are started, and grafting can be a fascinating, practical hobby.


Standard Methods to Make More Plants

Types of cuttings are hardwood (H), semi-hardwood (SH), softwood (S), and root (R)


Standard trees (own root)….. seeds

Tree fruits…………………..  grafting

Dwarfing rootstocks……….  cuttings (R)

Quince ……………………    cuttings (H,S), layering

Saskatoon …………………   cuttings (S)

Nut trees…………………… seeds, grafting (hybrids)

Blueberries…………………  division, cuttings (S,R), layering

Brambles…………………...  division, cuttings (SH,R), layering

Bush fruits…………………  division, cuttings (H,S,R), layering

Strawberries……………….   division (alpine--seeds)

Grapes …………………….   cuttings (H,S), layering, grafting



Sports or Mutations

            For reasons that remain a mystery, a limb may suddenly begin to produce a different kind of fruit from that on the rest of the tree. For instance, a tree that formerly produced all yellow apples with red stripes may “sport” a branch that has solid red fruit.

            Such a mutation also may produce fruit that is noticeably different in size or quality as well as color. The fruit may be better or worse than the fruit of the rest of the tree. Sports are not common, although they happen more often in some varieties of trees than in orders. I mention them here only so you’ll be aware of them if they occur, and so that when you are gathering grafting scions or making cuttings that you’ll be sure to get them from limbs that haven’t changed for the worse.

            Not only limbs, but occasionally whole trees may change. Some nurseries advertise “pedigree” trees, claiming that their grafts are selected from trees that produce better fruit than is usual with that particular cultivar. In 1963 the Stark Brothers Nursery paid Elon Gilbert of Yakima, Washington, the sum of $51,000 for the rights to a sport that appeared in his orchard. It became the Starkspur Golden Delicious apple.  Some horticulturists feel, however, that “superior” characteristics are more likely to be due to soil nutrients. Sports are rare in fruit trees, and most of us have never encountered one.  Sports are to only exciting to find but they can be profitable to the finder.


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