UF Hack: Multi-Grafted Fruit Trees

Grow many types of fruit in a small space by grafting several different fruit cultivars onto one rootstock.

by Lynsey Grosfield

Grafted tree 

Lynsey Grosfield

There are seven trees in my yard that I have dubbed “the Frankentrees.” These are monstrous chimeras that bear several cultivars of a given species of fruit on a single rootstock. Two of them I purchased already grafted, but as for the other five: They were subjected to amateur tree surgery. So far, the results have been fantastic.

This spring, using online tutorials, a leatherman multi-tool and electrical tape, I taught myself to graft. My greatest successes were with simple cleft grafts (first photo below), as well as slightly more complicated whip-and-tongue grafts (second photo below).

Cleft Graft 

Lynsey Grosfield

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Whip-and-tongue graft 

Lynsey Grosfield

I decided it was high time to learn this skill because I have a limited amount of space, but a collector’s mentality. I can’t just have one dessert pear or one red-fleshed apple; I need to try them all. By purchasing or exchanging scion wood, I top-worked existing trees to include branches with new cultivars.

Grafting works best between a rootstock and scion of the same species, but interspecific and even intergeneric combinations are possible. Most apple cultivars, for example, are of the species Malus domestica, and many (but not all) combinations of well-known cultivars will form healthy unions, so grafting can be experimental. Lesser-known wild apple species, like Malus pumila, Malus sieversii and Malus niedzwetskyana can often be grafted with M. domestica, as well, and vice versa.

Grafted pear tree 

Lynsey Grosfield

Pears are a little more complex: Curvy European pears (Pyrus communis) can be grafted with one another and often with round Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia). Further, these are often grafted on a quince (Cydonia oblonga) rootstock in order to give them disease resistance and a smaller stature. Even more confusing, quince can also refer to Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis) or Japanese flowering quince (Chaenomeles spp.), both of which might be compatible with certain pears and quinces.

Stone fruit (Prunus spp.) is a whole other can of worms: It includes everything from cherries and almonds to plums, peaches and apricots. It would take a whole other article to explain to how these trees can fit together, but suffice it to say, there’s a man in New York who has grafted a “Tree of 40 Fruit” out of Prunus trees, so the number of possibilities is staggering.

Trees are grafted using a knife and tape. 

Lynsey Grosfield

So far, in terms of apples, pears and stone fruit, I have added about 20 new cultivars to my backyard orchard. The benefits of this is better overall rates of pollination (from the genetic diversity of the trees); smaller, diverse, staggered harvests (as opposed to a large harvest of one kind of fruit); and, trees that are something of a conversation piece, especially when exhibiting different-colored and -shaped flowers, leaves and fruits on different branches.

Next year, before your trees come out of winter dormancy, consider going to a scion exchange or purchasing some scion wood and adding a little something new to your existing trees! All you need is a sharp knife, flexible tape, a lot of labels and a little patience.

Grafted trees allow you to grow multiple fruit varieties on one tree. 

Lynsey Grosfield

About the Author: Lynsey Grosfield is the founder of BiodiverSeed, a global seed swap network devoted to the exchange of self-harvested, organic and heirloom seeds with the goal of preserving maximum genetic diversity. Follow BiodiverSeed on Twitter.

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