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A day in the Life -The Art of Grafting

A Day in the Life: Paul Fitters, Teagasc College of Amenity Horticulture, National Botanic Gardens, explains the art of grafting. You’ve probably heard of tree surgeons, but did you know that here in the National Botanical Gardens we even perform transplants on trees? It is called grafting.


So what is grafting?

It is the act of placing a portion of one plant (small shoot/bud called the scion) on a root-system of another plant (the rootstock). If all goes well, a union will be formed and the partners will continue to grow as one. The scion will form the above ground part of the plant and the rootstock the root system. It is a bit like transplants for humans where a person might get a kidney from another person.

There can be many reasons you might want to graft: The main one commercially is to get a mature tree quickly. Sometimes it is the only way to achieve that, for instance, if taking cuttings does not work. Other good reasons could be to produce dwarf trees (for instance small apple trees for easy pickings) or to repair damaged trees.

Luckily with plants it is a bit easier than with humans, but a close genetic relationship is equally important for the grafts to take. If they do take, it will give the grafted shoot a ready-made root system!

How to graft

Grafting is generally done in January/February when the plant material is dormant. The cuts should be straight and clean, and tied in tightly so a union can form. To prevent infection and drying out, the grafted plant is dipped in warm wax to seal it in. If all goes well the newly formed tree should grow away happily in spring.

I find that grafting is a great skill to learn but a bit harder to teach. Health and safety comes to mind as you are working with sharp knives and unexperienced hands. In the end, however, it is worth it when you end up with a new cultivated plant to bring home! I have now a few 15 year old trees that I grafted myself in my garden and many students have something similar in theirs!

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