One of America's most interesting native fruits, the pawpaw grows naturally to a manageable size of about 20 feet in height. Though the soft fruit ships poorly and shelf life is short, the pawpaw compares to mango or banana in flavor and texture. Pawpaws grown from seed often produce fruit of poor quality. Grafting productive cultivar scions to seedlings creates dependable orchard trees economically.
Collect scion wood from grafted pawpaws or wild trees with good fruit quality. Use pruning shears or limb loppers to cut small branches of last year's new growth. Cut scions in late winter before spring growth begins. Store scions between layers of damp paper towels in zip-top plastic bags and refrigerate until needed.
Graft scion buds to seedling pawpaws when buds and stems show their first green. Pawpaw seedlings of pencil diameter or larger make the best hosts for chip bud grafts.
Select a scion of slightly smaller diameter than the seedling to receive the graft. On a smooth section of the seedling's stem between 4 and 8 inches from the ground, carve a notch to receive the graft. Cut straight across the stem at a 45-degree angle downward and only 1/8-inch deep. Make the notch on the shady north side of the stem.
From 1 1/4 inches higher on the stem make a straight and flat cut to the bottom of the stop cut. On the scion wood select a resting bud--small and flattened--on the side of the branch. Make a 45-degree stop cut 1/4 inch below the bud. Matching the length to the notch in the seedling, carve a chip containing the bud and separate it from the scion. Don't touch the cut surfaces.
Place the bud chip in the notch. Beginning 2 inches below the chip graft, wind the polyethylene tape around the stem almost to the breaking tension of the tape. Scion cuttings properly stored under refrigeration should still be dormant. Resting buds may be covered completely. Taping over swelling buds could cause damage. Tie the tape 2 inches above the graft with a half hitch around the stem.
Remove poly tape after the grafted bud begins to grow--about two weeks after cutting the graft. Use the grafting knife to carefully slice through the tape on the opposite side of the stem and remove the tape.
Cut back the seedling's top when the scion shows vigorous growth. Make the cut from one to two feet above the graft and leave at least six functional leaves. Remove any competing buds on the rootstock by rubbing with a finger to break them loose.
Cut the top back to 10 inches above the graft when the scion grows a foot long. Use masking tape to lightly tie the scion to the stump of the old top. Remove any leaves remaining on the old stem and rootstock.