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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Nov 09


Posted on November 9, 2017 at 1:01 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

A friend dropped by the house the other day and, glancing at the books in my library, remarked that I must really be into landscaping. Giving a glimpse in the same direction, I noted the overwhelming subject glaring back. Many of the books are cherished rare plant diagnostic books that belonged to my husband's father. Many others came from our old nursery days, and yet others are new and detail subjects such as winter gardening, plant propagation, and native plants of northeastern California.

After my friend left, I gravitated to the book on plant propagation. I recalled that my grandfather frequently grafted various types of fruit trees. He was from Italy and, ironically, lived just a stone’s throw away from where my father-in-law grew up in Switzerland. It made me wonder if grafting trees was a common practice in Europe, or if both of these men just happened to possess the love and passion for plants that I do.

grafting trees
In this experiment, scions from the old plum (top) will be grafted onto the unruly root stock (bottom). Stay tuned for the results.
Grafting is a subject that is relatively new to me, and that book is prompting me to slice deeper into this world. I know the time is ripe to begin the process of creating new plants. The old plum down by the old barn on this property is the best ever—or so I’ve been told. I wouldn't know as either the squirrels are stealing the produce or those passing by are savoring the fruit before I can get to it. Either way, by all appearances the tree where these tasty tidbits grow must be close to a hundred years old, if it was planted the same time the old barn was built. 

Coincidentally, when I moved to Lassen, I purchased a plucot tree and planted it by the greenhouse, even though I knew I was pushing the envelope in terms of this type of tree surviving the cold. The outcome of that experiment was finding a dead tree in spring, but a healthy root stock that has since suckered and turned into a wonderful shade tree for the dogs to sleep underneath on a hot day. It seems I had the perfect host plant to begin a new experiment.

Grafting requires joining two types of closely related trees. In other words, a plum to a plucot will work. A nectarine to a peach would also work. Even an Amur maple to a Trident maple—wow, would that be stunning in the fall! But I digress. Apples to apples, pears to pears, and so forth, would make perfect matches as well. Come to think of it, an Asian pear to a common pear would be a dream. My mind continues to conjure up the possibilities.

The trick for a successful marriage between two trees is to maintain contact between the cambium (the green layer located under the bark) of the host plant and of the stem you are introducing. Start by finding the root stock or host tree, then choose the source tree that you wish to duplicate. From the source tree, carefully remove healthy tips of branches (known as a scion) in clean, sharp diagonal slices using a very sharp knife or X-Acto blade. Then cut a matching but opposite diagonal slice in a similar size branch on the host plant. I can almost envision placing the two stems side by side when making the cut to assure uniformity. Bind the scion tightly to the host plant using tape, grafting rubber or Parafilm. If done correctly, the cells in the cut region of the two plants will divide and the vascular tissues will grow together, forming a healthy branch on the host tree. 

There are a few other means of grafting to try as well, but this gardener is willing to take on one at a time. Will you give it a go with me? Or better yet, grafting experts are welcome to share their skilled experience with those of us novices!


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