22 February, 2018

A First Graft Conclusion

This is the conclusion to an article that can be found at http://www.lagardenblog.com/2018/02/grafting-introduction-part-1.html

Patience my be called a 'virtue' for most of mankind, but for a grafter it is essential.” The quote originally said “gardeners” but it is more than applicable to grafters. It's my quote, I can do with it what I please.

Before I let my students actually graft a tree in class, we find some wood from an apple tree and we work on it, making straight cuts – which are useful, if not essential – for eventual grafting. You will want to be able to control the knife in making a clean, straight and even cut. It must be straight up and down, no bows or bumps, and straight across, no twists or turns, and it must be the correct length in total.

Once you have found a piece of apple wood – or other deciduous fruit - and your knife is sharp, its time to begin your practice. We are going to work with a simple Cleft graft. The down end of the scion is cut to a “V” shape and the rootstock is simply slit down the middle. I actually prefer to switch these roles where the rootstock holds the “V” shape and the scion is split down the middle. The feeling I have is that the “V” on the bottom might collect moisture and rot at some point down the road, but there are many enthusiasts that will say “that's never happened to me!” So which is up and which is down can be a matter of preference. If “simple” is your only criteria, then the “V” should be on the scion.

Cutting the “V” is important and presently you will see how many ways it can be screwed up. You would like to make it with as few strokes of the knife as possible – two strokes is perfect – but three is not uncommon. You want to avoid the “whittling” of the wood if at all possible. Once you have sliced off one portion, a lot of what has been written above will make more tangible sense that it did before.

You want a piece of wood that has a very fine point on it with both sides cut straight – no dips and/or turns in the blade as it goes through. This is harder than it sounds. Resist the urge – you will feel it – to turn the scion around, using the thumb on your right hand to brace the knife cutting the wood! I know the knife appears stuck, but when it comes unstuck, it will slice right through the wood and on into your thumb. Keep the knife blade pointed away from yourself and gently rock it back and forth. Presently it will become unstuck and you can finish the cut bloodlessly. Patience. 

A good, clean and straight cut. Note the green cambium.

A poor cut, it is not straight and there is no way to make
the cambium of this with the rootstock.
Practice this cut as many times as needed to build confidence with your ability to handle the knife. It is normal to have to sharpen your knife mid-project as needed. You will want the “V” to be a very sharp angle. Making the slice in the opposite piece to this equation, is very straight forward: as near to the center, simply rock your knife to make a straight cut about as long as your “V” on the other piece of wood.

Before you begin to put them together, begin to wrap the rootstock with the Parafilm. Pull the Parafilm tight as you wrap, stretching it out and binding it to itself until you reach the beginning of the nascent graft. Place the the two wood pieces together. Inspect for cambium to cambium connection – this is the essential part of the graft. Wherever the cambium of these two pieces meet is the beginning of your new tree. If they don't meet, you have wasted your time and the tree's resources. Once you are certain you have the most cambium meeting you can, hold that graft very tightly while you finish wrapping the Parafilm over the graft. You can simply pull hard on the Parafilm and it will break where you end.

The receiving end for the cut's above.  Fitting the straight edge into
this piece of rootstock will be a piece of cake while
the curved cut will fail.
If the tip of your scion was cut, you should also wrap that in Parafilm. Remember, loss of water and cambium not matching are the two major causes of graft failure. Parafilm is relatively cheap, so use more than less!

Your graft, if done properly, will show signs of taking in 3 to 4 weeks, sometimes more, occasionally less. The weather has a lot to do with it. If you failed, don't worry. You've just joined the very large majority of grafters that have failed once or twice. Or more.  Whether or not your graft takes, make sure you examine the whole process and evaluate how well you were prepared and what parts of your technique needs refinement and work with yourself to improve your chances.

And know that every year, you must revisit these skills anew. I usually set aside a couple of one hour slots for a few weeks before grafting to get my skills into top shape.

Remember to remind yourself that grafting, while a science, is also an art. Some are gifted grafters, while the rest of us must work at it. But practice does make perfect.

This is your first graft to learn – there are more. I'll be doing an informal series on grafting over the next few months. Stay tuned and if you don't understand something – ask questions! I'll answer them for everyone's benefit.

The motto for all grafters should be:


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