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I receive many questions every year and teach many classes on plant propagation. Many different aspects of plant propagation can be fascinating, but I probably receive more questions on grafting than any other propagation method. Why would someone graft rather than propagate with other common methods such as division, seeds, cuttings, or layering? The main reason is to propagate plants that can not be readily maintained with those other methods. For example, many trees such as peach, apple, pear, plum, and pecan are grafted in order to maintain the cultivar characteristics that may be lost if seeds of these crops were planted. In addition, these plants do not root well, as do blueberries, blackberries, muscadines, and figs. However, there may be other reasons to graft even when a plant can be easily maintained with a method such as rooting.
Before grafting can be done, you will need to collect scion wood in advance. Scion wood are the shoots collected from the plant you are trying to propagate. This can be collected after the tree goes dormant from healthy shoots of the previous season's growth. Scion wood can be collected anytime during the dormant season, but make sure you collect it before the buds start swelling in early spring. I usually like to have scion wood collected no later than February 15. Once collected you need to keep them moist and dormant until time for grafting. This is accomplished by putting the scion wood in an air tight container such as a freezer bag along with some damp wood shavings or wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in a refrigerator. Some people even double bag the scion wood to ensure they will not dry out.
The other thing you will need is a rootstock. There are many nurseries that grow rootstock specifically for grafting purposes, but they can sometimes be hard to get in small quantities. Sometimes the best thing to do would be to plant seeds of some crops such as pecan or persimmon to be used later for grafting. Along with maintaining cultivar characteristics, grafting to different rootstocks can reduce the mature height of plants such as apples and provide nematode resistance in peaches. Tomatoes, roses, dogwood, camellia, and many other plants are grafted for different reasons as well. Make sure the rootstock you are using is providing the benefit you are after. Many hobby gardeners will purchase a plant on the rootstock they want, then they will graft the desired scion onto the rootstock. I will continue with more on grafting in my next article. If you need information on grafting now you can find a publication titled 'Budding and Grafting Fruits and Nuts' on our website at www.aces.edu, or you are always welcome to contact your local Extension Office.
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