Scion Wood for Grafting
Successful Fruit Tree Grafts Require Live Scions
By Al Derrick, Sonoma County Master Gardener
Do you enjoy more varieties of fruit than you have room for trees in your yard? Have you ever considered grafting a branch of a friend’s apple tree onto your own tree, even though the varieties differ? Did you know that you can graft several varieties of the same type of fruit onto one tree, effectively having a one-tree orchard? Grafting, while not something that the average backyard gardener often undertakes, is surprisingly straightforward. With a bit of patience and the willingness to learn the technique, you can maximize your enjoyment of your fruit trees. This is the first in a series of articles on how to graft – be the first one on your block to learn and amaze your friends!
Grafting is simply inserting a portion of one plant (usually a shoot – the ‘scion’) onto another – the ‘host’ so that they grow together to make a single plant. Grafting is very common in commercial horticulture – virtually all mass-marketed roses are grafted onto a vigorous rootstock of a different variety – many fruit trees and other ornamentals are treated similarly. For our purposes, we will be discussing grafting shoots of one fruit tree onto another, so that you may enjoy different varieties of pears, for example, on the same pear tree. The first stage in the process is collecting the scion wood from the tree or tree that you wish to ‘add’ to your own. Once collected and stored, this scion wood will be grafted in the Spring onto your host tree.
Scion wood is normally collected as the dormant fruit tree pruning is being done, for most of us here in Sonoma County that’s in January. Too often the scion wood is treated in a haphazard manner, not respecting its being alive and the fact that the energy contained in the wood will be needed if the completed graft is to grow.
Usually you know which trees you will want to save scions from – whether they are your own or your neighbor’s! When preparing to prune, as you collect the tools you will need, it is a simple matter to also prepare the one gallon size zip-lock baggies to collect the scions. Label each baggie with the name such as “Bartlett Pear” with the date “Jan. 15, 08”. Inside each baggie I have a paper towel wet, with the water squeezed out. Normally I just stuff them in my jacket pocket as I head for my orchard. Usually I will save between 10 and 20 scions in each bag and will need a container to keep them in as I go from tree to tree. I have found that a small picnic-sized ice chest works great.
When selecting scions from the pruned wood (usually you will have plenty to choose from!), vegetative growth buds will be a better choice than flower buds. If you can’t tell the difference, remember that the more vertical growth will seldom contain many flower buds. It should be easy to tell last year’s growth, which is preferred for scions.
If you prune the tree and then go around and pick up the pruned material to cut into proper length scions to fit inside the one gallon baggies, you have probably already stepped on most of them. When preparing scions you will only need two or three buds on each. It is better as you prune you also prepare that portion of the branch into scions putting them right into the baggie. No matter how it is done it will take the same time and effort, doing it this way will result in the best possible scion. When time for lunch take your sealed baggies to the refrigerator. Ordinary refrigerator temperatures, 35 to 40 degrees will keep your scions dormant and alive ready to use when the trees to be grafted have begun their spring growth.
When it is time to graft, it is better to be a little late than to be too early. In Sonoma County, late March is probably the safest time. When your graft has been made, the scion, exposed to warmer air temperatures, will come out of dormancy and will need to have the moist nutrient flow from the tree feed the emerging buds. If this does not happen soon, the scion will expend its stored energy and die before the tree comes out of dormancy. So, you want to wait until the weather has truly begun to warm before grafting.
For further information, check the Sonoma County Master Gardener’s website periodically for upcoming lectures and articles, call the help desk at 565-2608 (Sonoma City 938-0127) and visit the Master Gardener table at the Farmers Markets when they start up again in the spring.
©Sonoma County Master Gardeners