Grafting or graftage is a horticultural technique whereby tissues of plants are joined so as to continue their growth together. The upper part of the combined plant is called the scion while the lower part is called the rootstock. The success of this joining requires that the vascular tissue grow together and such joining is called inosculation. The technique is most commonly used in asexual propagation of commercially grown plants for the horticultural and agricultural trades.
In most cases, one plant is selected for its roots and this is called the stock or rootstock. The other plant is selected for its stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits and is called the scion or cion. The scion contains the desired genes to be duplicated in future production by the stock/scion plant.
In stem grafting, a common grafting method, a shoot of a selected, desired plant cultivar is grafted onto the stock of another type. In another common form called bud grafting, a dormant side bud is grafted onto the stem of another stock plant, and when it has inosculated successfully, it is encouraged to grow by pruning off the stem of the stock plant just above the newly grafted bud.
For successful grafting to take place, the vascular cambium tissues of the stock and scion plants must be placed in contact with each other. Both tissues must be kept alive until the graft has "taken", usually a period of a few weeks. Successful grafting only requires that a vascular connection take place between the grafted tissues. Joints formed by grafting are not as strong as naturally formed joints, so a physical weak point often still occurs at the graft because only the newly formed tissues inosculate with each other. The existing structural tissue (or wood) of the stock plant does not fuse.
- Precocity: The ability to induce fruitfulness without the need for completing the juvenile phase. Juvenility is the natural state through which a seedling plant must pass before it can become reproductive. In most fruiting trees, juvenility may last between 5 and 9 years, but in some tropical fruits e.g. Mangosteen, juvenility may be prolonged for up to 15 years. Grafting of mature scions onto rootstocks can result in fruiting in as little as two years.
- Dwarfing: To induce dwarfing or cold tolerance or other characteristics to the scion. Most apple trees in modern orchards are grafted on to dwarf or semi-dwarf trees planted at high density. They provide more fruit per unit of land, higher quality fruit, and reduce the danger of accidents by harvest crews working on ladders. Care must be taken when planting dwarf or semi-dwarf trees. If such a tree is planted with the graft below the soil, then the scion portion can also grow roots and the tree will still grow to its standard size.
- Ease of propagation: Because the scion is difficult to propagate vegetatively by other means, such as by cuttings. In this case, cuttings of an easily rooted plant are used to provide a rootstock. In some cases, the scion may be easily propagated, but grafting may still be used because it is commercially the most cost-effective way of raising a particular type of plant.
- Hybrid breeding: To speed maturity of hybrids in fruit tree breeding programs. Hybrid seedlings may take ten or more years to flower and fruit on their own roots. Grafting can reduce the time to flowering and shorten the breeding program.
- Hardiness: Because the scion has weak roots or the roots of the stock plants are tolerant of difficult conditions. e.g. many showy Western Australian plants are sensitive to dieback on heavy soils, common in urban gardens, and are grafted onto hardier eastern Australian relatives. Grevilleas and eucalypts are examples.
- Sturdiness: To provide a strong, tall trunk for certain ornamental shrubs and trees. In these cases, a graft is made at a desired height on a stock plant with a strong stem. This is used to raise 'standard' roses, which are rose bushes on a high stem, and it is also used for some ornamental trees, such as certain weeping cherries.
- Disease/Pest Resistance: In areas where soil-borne pests or pathogens would prevent the successful planting of the desired cultivar, the use of pest/disease tolerant rootstocks allow the production from the cultivar that would be otherwise unsuccessful. A major example is the use of rootstocks in combating Phylloxera.
- Pollen source: To provide pollenizers. For example, in tightly planted or badly planned apple orchards of a single variety, limbs of crab apple may be grafted at regularly spaced intervals onto trees down rows, say every fourth tree. This takes care of pollen needs at blossom time, yet does not confuse pickers who might otherwise mix varieties while harvesting, as the mature crab apples are so distinct from other apple varieties.
- Repair: To repair damage to the trunk of a tree that would prohibit nutrient flow, such as stripping of the bark by rodents that completely girdles the trunk. In this case a bridge graft may be used to connect tissues receiving flow from the roots to tissues above the damage that have been severed from the flow. Where a water-shoot, basal shoot or sapling of the same species is growing nearby, any of these can be grafted to the area above the damage by a method called inarch grafting. These alternatives to scions must be of the correct length to span the gap of the wound.
- Changing cultivars: To change the cultivar in a fruit orchard to a more profitable cultivar, called top working. It may be faster to graft a new cultivar onto existing limbs of established trees than to replant an entire orchard.
- Maintain consistency: Apples are notorious for their genetic variability, even differing in multiple characteristics, such as, size, color, and flavor, of fruits located on the same tree. In the commercial farming industry, consistency is maintained by grafting a scion with desired fruit traits onto a hardy stock.
- A practice sometimes carried out by gardeners is to graft related potatoes and tomatoes so that both are produced on the same plant, one above ground and one underground.
- Cacti of widely different forms are sometimes grafted on to each other.
- Multiple cultivars of fruits such as apples are sometimes grafted on a single tree. This so-called "family tree" provides more fruit variety for small spaces such as a suburban backyard, and also takes care of the need for pollenizers. The drawback is that the gardener must be sufficiently trained to prune them correctly, or one strong variety will usually "take over."
- Ornamental and functional, tree shaping uses grafting techniques to join separate trees or parts of the same tree to itself. Furniture, hearts, entry archways are examples. Axel Erlandson was a prolific tree shaper who grew over 75 mature specimens.
Approach grafting or inarching is used to join together plants that are otherwise difficult to join. The plants are grown close together, and then joined so that each plant has roots below and growth above the point of union. Both scion and stock retain their respective parents that may or may not be removed after joining. Also used in pleaching. The graft can be successfully accomplished any time of year.
Bud grafting uses a bud instead of a twig. Grafting roses is the most common example of bud grafting. In this method a bud is removed from the parent plant, and the base of the bud is inserted beneath the bark of the stem of the stock plant from which the rest of the shoot has been cut. Any extra bud that starts growing out from the stem of the stock plant is removed because that would bear the flower of the unwanted original kind. Examples: roses and peaches. Budding is the easiest technique used.
In cleft grafting a small cut is made in the stalk and then the pointed end of the scion is inserted in the stalk. The most common form of grafting is cleft grafting. This is best done in the spring and is useful for joining a thin scion about 1 cm (0.39 in) diameter to a thicker branch or stock. It is best if the latter is 2–7 cm (0.79–2.76 in) in diameter and has 3–5 buds. The branch or stock should be split carefully down the middle to form a cleft about 3 cm (1.2 in) deep. If it is a branch that is not vertical then the cleft should be cut horizontally. The end of the scion should be cut cleanly to a long shallow wedge, preferably with a single cut for each wedge surface, and not whittled. A third cut may be made across the end of the wedge to make it straight across.
Slide the wedge into the cleft so that it is at the edge of the stock and the centre of the wedge faces are against the cambium layer between the bark and the wood. It is preferable if a second scion is inserted in a similar way into the other side of the cleft. This helps to seal off the cleft. Tape around the top of the stock to hold the scion/s in place and cover with grafting wax or sealing compound. This stops the cambium layers from drying out and also prevents the ingress of water into the cleft.
In whip grafting the scion and the stock are cut slanting and then joined. The grafted point is then bound with tape and covered with soft wax to prevent dehydration and germs. Also known as the whip and tongue graft, this is considered the most difficult to master but has the highest rate of success as it offers the most cambium contact between the two species. It is the most common graft used in top-dressing commercial fruit trees. It is generally used with stock less than 1⁄2 in (1.3 cm) diameter, with the ideal diameter closer to 3⁄8 in (0.95 cm) and the scion should be of roughly the same diameter as the stock.
The stock is cut through on one side only at a shallow angle with a sharp knife. (If the stock is a branch and not the main trunk of the rootstock then the cut surface should face outward from the centre of the tree.) The scion is similarly sliced through at an equal angle starting just below a bud, so that the bud is at the top of the cut and on the other side than the cut face.
A notch is cut downwards into the sliced face of the stock and a similar cut upwards into the face of the scion cut. These act as the tongues and it requires some skill to make the cuts so that the scion and the stock marry up neatly. The joint is then taped around and treated with tree-sealing compound or grafting wax.
The elongated "Z" shape adds strength, removing the need for a companion rod in the first season (see illustration).
Stub grafting is a technique that requires less stock than cleft grafting, and retains the shape of a tree. Also scions are generally of 6-8 buds in this process.
An incision is made into the branch 1 cm (0.39 in) long, then the scion is wedged and forced into the branch. The scion should be at an angle of at most 35° to the parent tree so that the crotch remains strong. The graft is covered with grafting compound.
After the graft has taken, the branch is removed and treated a few centimeters above the graft, to be fully removed when the graft is strong.
Four flap (or banana)
The four-flap graft (also called banana graft) is commonly used for pecans, and first became popular with this species in Oklahoma in 1975. It is heralded for maximum cambium overlap, but is a complex graft. It requires similarly sized diameters for the rootstock and graftwood. The bark of the rootstock is sliced and peeled back in four flaps, and the hardwood is removed, looking somewhat like a peeled banana. It is a difficult graft to learn.
Awl grafting takes the least resources and the least time. It is best done by an experienced grafter, as it is possible to accidentally drive the tool too far into the stock, reducing the scion's chance of survival. Awl grafting can be done by using a screwdriver to make a slit in the bark, not penetrating the cambium layer completely. Then inset the wedged scion into the incision.
Veneer grafting, or inlay grafting, is a method used for stocks larger than three centimeters in diameter. The scion is recommended to be about as thick as a pencil. Clefts are made of the same size as the scion on the side of the branch, not on top. The scion end is shaped as a wedge, inserted, and wrapped with tape to the scaffolding branches to give it more strength.
Tree branches and more often roots of the same species will sometimes naturally graft; this is called inosculation. When roots make physical contact with each other they often grow together. A group of trees can share water and mineral nutrients via root grafts, which may be advantageous to weaker trees, and may also form a larger rootmass as an adaptation to promote fire resistance and regeneration as exemplified by the California black oak (Quercus kelloggii). Albino redwoods use root grafting as a form of plant parasitism of normal redwoods.
A problem with root grafts is that they allow transmission of certain pathogens, such as Dutch elm disease. Inosculation also sometimes occurs where two stems on the same tree, shrub or vine make contact with each other. This is common in plants such as strawberries and potato.
Occasionally, a so-called "graft hybrid" or more accurately graft chimera can occur where the tissues of the stock continue to grow within the scion. Such a plant can produce flowers and foliage typical of both plants as well as shoots intermediate between the two. The best-known example this is probably +Laburnocytisus 'Adamii', a graft hybrid between laburnum and broom, which originated in a nursery near Paris, France in 1825. This small tree bears yellow flowers typical of Laburnum anagyroides, purple flowers typical of Chamaecytisus purpureus and curious coppery-pink flowers that show characteristics of both "parents". Many species of cactus can also produce graft chimeras under the right conditions although they are often created unintentionally and such results are often hard to replicate.
The transmission of plant viruses has been studied using grafting. Virus indexing involves grafting a symptomless plant that is suspected of carrying a virus onto an indicator plant that is very susceptible to the virus.
Grafting can transfer chloroplasts (specialised DNA in plants that can conduct photosynthesis), mitochondrial DNA and the entire cell nucleus containing the genome to potentially make a new species making grafting a form of natural genetic engineering.
White spruce can be graffted with consistent success by using 8 cm to 10 cm scions of current growth on thrifty 4- to 5-year-old rootstock (Nienstaedt and Teich 1972). Before greenhouse grafting, rootstocks should be potted in late spring, allowed to make seasonal growth, then subjected to a period of chilling outdoors, or for about 8 weeks in a cool room at 2 °C (Nienstaedt 1966).
A method of grafting white spruce of seed-bearing age during the time of seed harvest in the fall was developed by Nienstaedt et al. (1958). Scions of white spruce of 2 ages of wood from 30- to 60-year-old trees were collected in the fall and grafted by 3 methods on potted stock to which different day-length treatments had been applied prior to grafting. The grafted stock were given long-day and natural-day treatments. Survival was 70% to 100% and showed effects of rootstock and post-grafting treatments in only a few cases. Photoperiod and temperature treatments after grafting, however, had considerable effect on scion activity and total growth. The best post-grafting treatment was 4 weeks of long-day treatment followed by 2 weeks of short-day treatment, then 8 weeks of chilling, and finally long-day treatment.
Since grafts of white spruce put on relatively little growth in the 2 years after grafting, techniques for accelerating the early growth were studied by Greenwood (1988) and others. The cultural regimes used to promote one additional growth cycle in one year involve manipulation of day length and the use of cold storage to satisfy chilling requirements. Greenwood took dormant potted grafts into the greenhouse in early January then gradually raised the temperature during the course of a week until the minimum temperature rose to 15 °C. Photoperiod was increased to 18 hours using incandescent lighting. In this technique, grafts are grown until elongation has been completed, normally by mid-March. Soluble 10-52-10 fertilizer is applied at both ends of the growth cycle and 20-20-20 during the cycle, with irrigation as needed. When growth elongation is complete, day length is reduced to 8 hours using a blackout curtain. Budset follows, and the grafts are held in the greenhouse until mid-May. Grafts are then moved into a cooler at 4 °C for 1000 hours, after which they are moved to a shade frame where they grow normally, with applications of fertilizer and irrigation as in the first cycle. Grafts are moved into cold frames or unheated greenhouse in September until January. Flower induction treatments are begun on grafts that have reached a minimum length of 1.0 m. Repotting from an initial pot size of 4.5litre to 16litre containers with a 2:1:1 soil mix of peat moss, loam, and aggregate.
In one of the first accelerated growth experiments, white spruce grafts made in January and February that would normally elongate shortly after grafting, set bud, and remain in that condition until the following spring, were refrigerated for 500, 1000, or 1500 hours beginning in mid-July, and a non-refrigerated control was held in the nursery. After completion of the cold treatment, the grafts were moved into the greenhouse with an 18-hour photoperiod until late October. Height increment was significantly (P 0.01) influenced by cold treatment. Best results were given by the 1000-hour treatment.
The refrigeration (cold treatment) phase was subsequently shown to be effective when applied 2 months earlier with proper handling and use of blackout curtains, which allows the second growth cycle to be completed in time to satisfy dormancy requirements before January (Greenwood et al. 1988).
Grafting is often done for non -woody and vegetable plants (tomato, cucumber, eggplant and watermelon). Tomato grafting is very popular in Asia and Europe, and is gaining popularity in the United States. The main advantage of grafting is for disease-resistant rootstocks. Researchers in Japan developed automated processes using grafting robots as early as 1987. Plastic tubing can be used to prevent desiccation and support the healing at the graft/scion interface.
History, society and culture
Grafting with detached scions has been practiced for thousands of years. It was in use by the Chinese before 2000 BC, then spread to the rest of Eurasia and was well established in ancient Greece.
In the Christian New Testament, grafting is used as an image to illustrate the relationship between the Jews as a chosen people and the evangelisation of the gentiles, e.g. in Romans 11:17 and 11:24.
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- Step-by-step grafting demonstration with photographs - courtesy of Providence Farm Ornamentals
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- Asexual Propagation (with diagrams)
- grafting methods (with diagrams)
- grafting methods (including four flap graft) with diagrams
- Meet the TomTato: Tomatoes and potatoes grown as one - CBS News (September 26, 2013)