If you've ever purchased a tree from a nursery than you have seen a graft. Grafting is the art of surgically combining the root system of one plant with the a fresh growing stem of another. Many varieties of trees, flowers, and fruit can be grafted and the results are always beneficial. The best way to identify if a plant is grafted is to look for a "knot" toward the bottom of the stem; this is where the delicate procedure occurred.
No one is sure exactly how grafting originated, but it is theorized that the first grafts occurred naturally with trees living so close together that their branches merged through wind and friction. The English utilized grafting in the 18th century for apple and pear trees. In early America, journal entries by Thomas Jefferson discuss his grafts of cherry trees. In more recent history, the first recorded pecan graft was done in 1846 on the Oak Alley Plantation.
Grafting allows the spread and cultivation of plants that otherwise would only grow in isolated regions. Through grafting, locally grown roots that thrive in that particular region's soil can be joined with otherwise frail plants to produce a new plant with the strength of the local roots and the beauty or fruit of the frailer plant. In California, grafting is actually being used to ensure the survival of its native oak trees that otherwise would parish in their annual fires.
Farmers use grafting to prevent diseases and shorten the time it takes their crops to grow. In fact, most grafted fruit trees are capable of producing fruit within three to five growing seasons. Whereas fruit trees grown from seeds can take upwards of eight to ten years to produce fruit.
Grafting further ensures that those farmers with particularly successful crops can have that same success for years to come, as grafting is much more accurate than sexual reproduction in trees. Finally, grape and citrus farmers are able to completely change the variety of their crop through cutting away the growth of the old trees and grafting on the stalks of new trees.
Grafting is an expensive and risky endeavor for those who are inexperienced. When considering grafting, it is very important to be aware of grafts that will fail and avoid attempting them. For example, with grapevines, certain varieties cannot be combined due to particular diseases. For the greatest chances of success in grafting, always consult a gardening expert.
Grafting is done during the spring when the bark on the trees is slipping. Depending on whether the graft is occurring on young rootstalk or an established tree, grafting will either occur through whip grafting or bark pocket grafting.
A whip graft is where the young root stalk and an equally young budstick from another plant are combined with each being cut at a diagonal and tied together to heal. A bark pocket graft occurs when an entire branch is sawed away and young two to three young budsticks are placed at the cutting point under the bark and then sealed in place with grafting wax.