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Grafting and Pruning Fruit Trees
Homegrown fruit gives you fruit with a depth of flavour that the supermarkets couldn’t even begin to achieve with their early-picked, rock hard, chemical-sprayed offerings. However, it is important to remember that a fruit tree is a long-term investment in time and money. Adding a few skills to your repertoire can greatly add to the quantity and quality of the fruit from your garden.
© Scott Hitchins
Grafting involves taking a piece of a named variety of fruit tree and attaching it to some rootstock. This will give you a fruit tree that produces fruit identical to its parent tree e.g. a Granny Smith apple or a yellow Queen peach. However, you also have a choice of rootstock that will give your new tree other qualities such as resistance to disease or pests, or keeping the tree to a smaller size.
The two main types of grafting are Bud Grafting and Scion Grafting. Bud Grafting, mostly done for stone fruit, involves slicing a single bud from a young piece of wood from the parent tree and inserting it into an incision in the bark of the rootstock and then taping it with grafting tape until the wound is healed. This is mostly done in late summer / early autumn while the tree is still actively growing. Scion Grafting, which is usually done in winter while deciduous trees are dormant, involves attaching a ‘stick’ of approximately 15cm to the rootstock. This is the preferred method for apples and pears. The attachment is done via matching Whip and Tongue grafts in both the scion and the rootstock. It is important to remember that these techniques, while they tend to work best at the times suggested, it is still well worth having a go if you happen to obtain a bit of suitable wood from a tree that produces the fruit of your dreams.
Bud grafting (image Ministry of Agriculture, Canada)
Whip & tongue scion grafting (image Ministry of Agriculture, Canada)
Pruning is traditionally done in winter, but here in Australia, our main pruning should be done in late summer to reduce rampant warm-season growth and redirect the tree’s energy into next year’s fruit instead of lots of inedible leafy growth. Cut back anything above reach-height to an outward-facing bud, thin out any growth towards the centre and then prune according to tree type: Apples & pears are pruned to maintain fruiting spurs; Peaches to encourage one-year-old wood for next year’s fruit and Plums are pruned to maintain cluster buds and one-year-old fruit. Winter pruning involves the ‘Three D’s’: Removing, Dead, Diseased and Damaged wood and any major shaping, especially of younger trees.