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Learning tree grafting and budding techniques


Manuel Calderon showing participants how to graft Santa Rosa plums. 

"When it comes to grafting, make sure to have proper tools and a first aid kit available nearby.”

I first heard about apple tree grafting as a teenager and thought, “wow! It’s possible to have multiple varieties of apples on one tree. How?” I was not given an opportunity to learn the how (or why) part of my discovery until I attended a free grafting workshop hosted by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) Cooperative Extension in Fresno this month. The 6-hour workshop focused on stone fruit, citrus, roses, and a newer technique: vegetable grafting of tomatoes and eggplant.

About 70 participants, ranging from home gardeners, commercial growers, and other community members interested in answering the same question I had as a teen came together for the unique event. The UCANR Cooperative Extension in Fresno has not hosted a grafting workshop since March 2018 and I was lucky enough to know a GrizzlyCorps fellow (shoutout to Oscar Elias) stationed with them this year who invited me out for the event. Each participant was provided with a grafting knife, razor blades and grafting tape, as requested by the instructors. The demonstrations were also translated in Spanish and Hmong.


Wrapping a t-budded rootstock with grafting tape to allow for healing process.
Bud or graft?

In grafting, you have options. As Maxwell V. Norton, an emeritus farm advisor with UCANR, explained during the introduction part of the event: you can either do tree grafting or budding (technically, another form of grafting). I will try to elaborate on these techniques as much as I could grasp in the little time I have spent grafting; please reconsider reaching out to me as an expert on the topic (you will learn about the extent of my credentials later in the post).


The real professionals, who grafted scions to rootstocks in front of participants in under 30 seconds, are the demonstrators: Manuel Calderon (stone fruit), Rock Christiano, PhD (citrus), Burling Leong (roses), and Dr. Fayrouz Buojaylah (vegetables). Thank you to the demonstrators for sharing their knowledge with us.


Terms to be familiar with: - Scion: part taken from a plant to be used for grafting - Rootstock: part being used for growing the scion after the grafting - Cambium: tissue layer of living cells between the sapwood and bark of plant.

Why graft?

You might be asking; well, why would you want multiple varieties of apples on one tree? The answer varies, but most commonly grafting is used as a tool to grow a plant with desirable characteristics onto another plant, usually with more disease resistance.


Types

During the workshop, we practiced t-budding and chip budding. T-budding required a ‘T’ shape on the rootstock with the cambium peeled back and the scion cut in the appropriate angle to fit into the stock. Chip budding is kind of what it sounds like – creating a ‘chip’ in the rootstock and fitting the scion. Although there are many forms of grafting – the whip, bark, inarch, among others – I found the cleft graft to be the most straightforward technique. It consists of shaping the scion like a wedge, splitting the rootstock, and sticking the scion in. Vegetable grafting is a newer technique compared to traditional grafting and I recommend taking it up if you are feeling experimental. Each grafting method requires consideration for timing as this ranges by technique and individual needs of different species. Most importantly, the cambium of the scion and rootstock must be aligned for the graft to be successful. You want to graft within the same genus with similar or same growth rates, otherwise more maintenance will be required, or your grafting might not be successful.



Safety First.

After I beautifully budded a citrus scion to the appropriate rootstock, I attempted it again with more confidence. This built-up confidence led to me, with the help of another GrizzlyCorps fellow (shoutout to Gisel De La Cerda) exercising the wound cleaning skills taught in our Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training in the restroom. Let’s just say, the grafting knife was not kind to my thumb during that attempt. When it comes to grafting, make sure to have proper tools and a first aid kit available nearby (a humble demeanor doesn’t hurt either). Happy grafting!



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