The Benefit of Grafted Plants
In this blog I’ll reveal the benefit of grafted plants to the gardener.Because nurserymen put in the hard graft so that gardeners benefit from better plants to grow! Let me explain.
A Plant of Two Parts
Many garden plants that we love and grow are actually made up of two different plants that have been skillfully joined together by the grower.
This grafting has overcome many a propagation problem. But it has also given us the opportunity to grow a far greater range of plants in our gardens.
This is the benefit of grafted plants to the nurseryman and also to the gardener.
Why not propagate another way?
It is all very well finding a new variety as a side shoot of a plant but, if that little piece will not grow roots as a cutting, then the opportunity to propagate it will be lost. And the opportunity to share it will be lost too.
You might think that the answer is to wait for that desirable piece of the plant to produce seeds. Sadly few plants will be exactly the same when raised from seed. That’s because they will have reverted to the original unimproved mother plant. Or will have hybridized into something quite different!
An ancient skill
So for hundreds of years, both gardeners and nurserymen have been practicing the age old technique of taking a little piece of a plant and very skillfully attaching it to another. If successful it grows as one plant.
The root part of the plant is called a ‘root stock’ and the little piece that is attached to it is the ‘scion’.
The kind of plants that we take for granted that are regularly grafted include most roses, virtually all fruit trees, many ornamental garden and street trees and a fair few of the most desirable garden shrubs!
It is very important to match the vigour of the roots to the vigour of the top part and in the past sometimes nurserymen have got that wrong as this tree at Dyrham Park illustrates.
Of course roses can be grown on their own roots. They will root as cuttings. But they are more vigorous and healthy if grafted to another rose plant.
With roses just a single bud is taken from that prolific blooming and sweetly scented variety to be attached to the rose rootstock!
Imagine fruit trees that were only grown from pips!
We might end up with a good apple but the chances are that the resulting fruit is simply not worth eating! And that’s after a wait of at least ten years!
UK bred root stocks have transformed fruit tree growing worldwide. Much of that development work was done at Long Ashton Research Station in conjunction with Kent’s East Malling!
Imagine going back to huge trees that took years to fruit, needed twenty foot ladders to prune and pick and were virtually impossible to control by pruning!
Thanks to a form of grafting called ‘chip budding’ we can now have a apple trees that, even when full grown, are less than shoulder height!
But other fruits benefit too.
Plums, damsons, pears, quince, medlar and even citrus fruits are all grafted!
Grafting onto disease resistant rootstocks saved a whole industry in the case of vineyards! Just imagine what a catastrophe that would have been if we had lost grapes!
It was a disease resistant root stock from Texas that saved the day for the European wine industry.
On a visit to Texas a few years ago I was struck by how many native vines there were but I hadn’t until recently realised just how important they were to viticulture!
But grafting onto a root system allows us to exploit in-built disease resistance that some rootstocks naturally have.
Tomatoes, peppers, chilies, aubergine and cucumbers are now regularly grafted onto such disease resistant roots!
This results in higher yields, healthier crops and incidentally environmental benefits since there is no need to sterilise the soil between crops.
Hardy Ornamental Plants
The benefit of grafted plants has not been lost on propagators of ornamental plants.
In the case of ornamental hardy plants there are lots of examples of grafted or chip budded plants.
Wisteria are transformed by grafting and that wait of up to twenty years to see the first bloom is shortened to just a few years.
Lilac trees are very difficult propagate from cuttings. Chip budded onto a seedling lilac rootstock that difficulty is overcome.
The Japanese maples that are looking so great in gardens now are virtually all grafted plants.
However, there are a few very skilled propagators who can get softwood cuttings of Acer to grow for them. There’s more detailed information about chip budding here.
Is grafting for you?
Is grafting of plants something that we as gardeners can have a go at?
Well it’s fun to try but there’s no doubting that this form of propagation is a great skill. And sadly one that fewer growers have nowadays.
We need to strive to keep these important skills going because if we don’t, we will inevitably be faced with growing a narrower range of plants.
We will also have less control of some of those core ones, such as apples, that we are so used to growing now.