The Grafters Handbook

Going out on a limb

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The winter was awfully hard on your peach trees. The apple trees aren’t looking very good, either, and your entire grape arbor could use some help.

Blame it on the weather, moisture, mice and rabbits, or just old plants, but you’re looking at a lot of replacements. Or can you save those trees, or that vineyard? 

You can, with time and the information you’ll glean from R.J. Garner’s revised and updated version of The Grafter’s Handbook.

Though it may seem like a human endeavor, nature was the first grafter.

Many species are “particularly prone to natural grafting,” especially along wounds and where branches are in constant contact. Climbing vines, uprooted trees, even soil erosion offer ripe areas for natural grafting.

Garner says there are six major reasons why a gardener or horticulturist would want to graft plants: propagation, substitution of parts, joining plants for specific properties, repair, strengthening one plant with another and getting rid of problems. To do any of these, it helps to know about plant structure and growing behavior.

Once you understand how your stock plant will grow, you’ll need to be sure the scion is compatible, botanically speaking.

The easiest grafts are between plants that are the same, although grafts between “distantly related plants” are also possible. This book, for instance, shows a potato-tomato chimera.

Cambial support is the other essential in successful grafting; that is, the inner layers—parts that sustain the plants—must be supported and united to one another until they grow together. A “generous and firm contact” and favorable conditions usually result in “an efficient union” and a successful graft.

There are nearly as many ways to achieve cambial support as there are to cut the scion and the stock to make the graft. Wire, plastic, rubber and raffia are a few of the materials that work for support. Scions can come from rootstock, buds, branches, roots or elsewhere and can be grafted to stock on nearly any of the above. 

But, Garner warns, be sure not to misuse grafting. It’s a tool that can backfire in many different ways.

First written in 1947 and last updated more than two decades ago, this new edition of The Grafter’s Handbook has retained a lot of its original charm, with old black-and-white photographs and quaint language.

Those trifles, however, won’t matter much to gardeners and arborists who want solid how-to information.

Fortunately, this book has that. Though Garner uses technical language that may have newbies running for the (included) glossary, The Grafter’s Handbook is relatively easy to follow. Garner works methodically through the steps and caveats, using line drawings, those old photographs, and stories to support what he offers. He even gives readers a list of equipment to use, so the right tool is at hand.

Still, this is serious, heavy-duty stuff and what’s inside may be a challenge to neophytes in both the garden and grove. But for anyone who truly needs to learn grafting in order to save limb or livelihood, The Grafter’s Handbook is pretty peachy.

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