• September 17, 2014

Grafting lets you grow a rainbow of fruit in a small space

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Posted: Saturday, January 25, 2014 4:30 am

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Most of the year, Drew Bohan can pick fresh fruit from his Carmichael, Calif., backyard. In his quarter-acre garden, he has more selection than any supermarket: More than 70 varieties — and growing.

“I had more than 120 varieties in my little east Sacramento yard,” he said. “When we moved, I tried to bring my favorite trees, but I couldn’t move everything. But that’s OK.”

It’s an opportunity to try new combinations: Six peach varieties on one tree or eight different apples growing together off the same trunk. Or how about an all-in-one peach-plum-nectarine tree?

That’s the magic of grafting; multiple varieties can grow in the same space.

Scions are branches that can be attached or grafted to rootstock or existing tree trunks. That budwood will grow true to its variety regardless of what fruit the roots or trunks originally bore. Grafting can turn a peach tree into a nectarine or an apple into a quince. It also can add multiple varieties to one tree.

The popularity of growing food in suburban gardens has extended into fruits and nuts, said Bohan, the chapter’s president. But lack of space limits what many gardeners can produce.

Through grafting, that limit can be stretched — a lot.

“Take peaches,” he said. “Most people have a peach tree and the whole harvest comes in two weeks. It’s boom, then bust the rest of the year. I grafted several varieties of peaches onto the same tree. My harvest starts in early June and I’m still picking peaches in November. That’s five solid months of peaches off one tree, not just two weeks.”

More than 200 gardeners showed up at last year’s exchange, he added. “More and more people are interested in this. Anybody can do grafting. I’m completely uncoordinated with my hands, but this is very very easy and it’s fun. The biggest benefit is you can get all these varieties with flavor.”

For example, Bohan had a Golden Delicious apple tree — nice, but kind of boring.

“Golden Delicious is the sweetest-tasting apple,” he said. “I thought it would be fun to graft on a Granny Smith, one of the tartest apples. Then, I added a couple more apple varieties and a quince. It became a really neat conversation starter; all these different fruit growing together on the same tree. I called it my cocktail party tree.”

Scion exchange

At a recent scion exchange in Sacramento, Calif., gardeners had a choice of more than 100 varieties of fruit. The scions were free.

“All these people milling about; it’s a madhouse,” Bohan said with a chuckle. “We have many conventional varieties but also some rarities. What people want is all over the board.”

Some gravitated to the peaches. (July Elberta is Bohan’s favorite.) Others clustered at the cherries. (Rainier is consistently good.)

“Cherries are another crop that can be extended through grafting,” Bohan said. “You can have months of cherries on one tree.”

For beginners, Bohan recommends apple, peach, nectarine and cherry varieties. They’re easy to work with and grafts grow onto the host tree or rootstock with little effort.

“You can do those with one eye closed,” he said. “Some can be difficult. I’ve had lousy luck with pomegranates; the bark is too thin and it can be hard to (take hold). Plums can be difficult, too. But the others can be grafted in under 90 seconds.”

In addition to getting scions and rootstock, gardeners also will find plenty of fruit-growing advice from these experts. Living up to their society’s name, California Rare Fruit Growers cultivate just about everything from avocados and citron to jujubes and walnuts.

“My goal is to get more people interested in growing fruit,” said Bohan, the father of two small children. “My kids are fascinated by it. They’re ages 6 and 4. They’ve already learned how to check to see if it’s ripe instead of just pulling it off. They love fruit.”

And they know where to find it — right outside their back door.

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