The last Saturday of every January a grafting workshop is held, which, for most people, represents the first and only time they will enjoy the experience of grafting woody plants. In this program, each grafter gets a feel for the knife and can put two plants together cleanly with the help of Horticulture expert and Propagator Richard Larson. Each participant takes home several grafts they make in class, and we hope their efforts will ultimately translate into a few new and exciting plants for their gardens. Check out Richard’s description of grafting below.

Grafting is an ancient form of asexual or clonal propagation whereby two distinct plants are joined together to form one unique plant. The lower portion of every graft is termed the rootstock or understock. This usually consists of a seedling grown for this purpose that is botanically similar to the above portion of the graft. The above portion of every graft is referred to as the scion and may originally consist of a tiny, single bud or a stem several inches in length. The point at which the rootstock and scion are joined together is called the graft union. Grafters refer to a successful graft as a “take.” New grafted plants incorporate desirable characteristics of rootstock and scion.

Grafting is a time consuming and expensive method of reproducing plants that requires considerable skill in handling the grafting knife and experience in the aftercare of young grafts. In addition to the expense of labor, rootstock must be grown or purchased and cared for throughout the growing season in preparation for winter grafting. With the exception of bud grafting, grafting is performed during the winter months and into early spring while temperatures are cool and scions remain in a dormant condition. Young grafts, therefore, require a heated structure or greenhouse to maintain a suitable environment for healing and growth of scions.

Because of the expense involved in grafting, grafted plants command a higher market price than plants reproduced through seed or by cuttings. With this mind, grafting is never the most efficacious method or method of choice but is done only when other cheaper and easier methods cannot be employed. For example, virtually all nut species like oaks (Quercus sp.) and beech (Fagus sp.) must still be clonally propagated via grafting.

Prior to advances in the techniques of cutting production beginning with the advent of mist and fog systems and, most recently, the use of micropropagation to reproduce difficult to root taxa, grafting played an integral role in most wholesale nurseries. However, today it plays only a minor role, and only a small number of quality grafters exist worldwide and remain largely employed by specialty nurseries featuring rare and unusual plants. It is truly becoming a lost art form.

Much more will be discussed during the class, and I entreat readers to sign up early and discover the immense satisfaction of performing this relic art of plant propagation.

Rich Larson, Propagator