The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Economics of grafting fruit trees

Grafted plum

Grafting is an easy choice if you're trying to propagate a fruit-tree variety that's not available for sale, either because it's too rare or because you bred the variety yourself. On the other hand, if you're just trying to save money with grafting, then your success rate will determine whether or not you should pull out the knife.

Grafted apple treeWith apples, grafting is generally a no-brainer for me. Even when I set out my new graftees in too shady of spot this past spring, I still saw a 90% success rate, meaning I would've ended up paying only about $3.33 per tree even if I hadn't gotten the rootstocks ultra cheap as part of a grafting workshop. Usually, my apple grafts take closer to 100% of the time.

My pear success rate was considerably lower (40%) this year, mostly because I put a third of the baby trees too close to a rhubarb plant that promptly shaded them out and then forgot to weed the rest for half the summer. Even so, the resulting trees cost only $7.50 apiece, which isn't bad for an heirloom variety.

Plum graftI did considerably worse with my plums, though. I dormant-season grafted instead of using the recommended summer bud grafting on these stone fruit because I was trying to save two plum trees that were splintered by heavy snow falling off the barn roof last winter. The good news is --- the tree that entirely perished will remain on our farm after all since its grafted scionwood survived and thrived. The bad news is --- with a success rate of only one tree out of five, I probably would have been better off just buying a replacement tree.

Stooled plum

Plum stoolThat said, I love having useful skills, so I plan to persevere and try to get better at grafting stone fruits. And the second damaged plum tree told me she'd be glad to help fund the endeavor. While the top of the tree completely broke off after its snow deluge, the roots sent up copious new growth, which I then stooled over the course of the summer. And, sure enough, the buried portion of the new growth promptly grew roots, turning each sprout into a potential new rootstock for future trees.

Good thing too since the surviving plum tree wiggles when I push it with my hand --- not a good sign for its long-term prospects. I plan to try a few different grafting techniques this year with my copious plum rootstock and will hope I work the kinks out of the procedure in the process. No matter how I cut it, though, I might as well try. After all, any trees that result from this experiment will be 100% free.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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