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Grafting new varieties onto a pear tree

Grafting onto pear treeAlthough the flavor of our Kieffer pear was disappointing, I didn't want to waste four years of vigorous and disease free growth.  The solution?  Graft some new varieties onto the tree so I get tasty pears.

Step one is choosing varieties.  Yup --- I meant to use that plural.  As long as you stay within the same species (meaning, grafting pears onto pears), you can graft as many varieties onto a tree as you have branches to graft to.  After four years of growth, I've got plenty of limbs to be converted to tastier fruits.

The factors most important to me in pear tree variety selection are taste ("dessert quality" is the word to look for), disease resistance (focusing on fire blight), and time of bearing.  Checking with your local extension service is a good way to find varieties that work well in your neck of the woods.  Here are the varieties I selected (all of which are fire blight resistant):

Step two is finding scionwood.  Scionwood is basically a twig cut off of another tree that I will graft onto my existing pear tree.  As long as the graft takes, all further growth on that limb will be the variety of the scionwood, not of the tree being grafted onto.

NCGRThe holy grail of pear tree scionwood is the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.  (There are two other branches of this government funded program that specialize in other types of fruit.)  It's a bit tough to tell from their website, but I'm 95% sure that they will send two cuttings of any variety selected to just about anyone for free --- I've put in my order and will know more about the process in the winter when the scionwood (hopefully) arrives.  Requests for pear scionwood have to be made by December 1 to be shipped this winter.

The Clean Plant Center of the Northwest (part of Washington State University) has a slightly less staggering but still pretty good selection of scionwood available as well.  They charge $5 per "budstick", each of which generally has ten or more buds on it.  For simple grafts, you need two buds apiece, and you can also graft a bud at a time, so a single budstick goes a long way. 

In the commercial sphere, several nurseries offer small selections of pear scionwood, but Nick Botner is the best source if you want something even moderately unusual.  Unfortunately, Mr. Botner has no internet presence (beyond folks mentioning his amazing selection), so you have to mail your order to 4015 Eagle Valley Road, Yoncalla, OR 97499 or call him at (503) 849-2781.  I've uploaded his 2009 variety list for your perusal, but you should be aware that internet rumors say he put his farm on the market this past summer, so Mr. Botner may no longer be selling scionwood.

Step three is grafting.  But I have to wait until early spring for that step, so I'll stop here.

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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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Great idea to make use of the tree itself to grow different varieties that will taste better. Once you graft on the new wood, will the tree still put out Kieffer branches? About how long will it take for these grafted branches to produce fruit?

And thanks for the info on where to get scionwood. I've never looked into it, but would have never guessed there were these sources for graftable wood.

Comment by Greg S. Thu Oct 6 09:00:24 2011

Keep in mind that a couple of grafting workshops are my only source of information, so take this with a grain of salt... (I plan to do more reading before grafting this winter.) However, my understanding is that I might get fruit from the grafted branches as early as two years from the date of grafting --- since the tree is mature and the scionwood tends to come from a mature tree, it just needs a year to get established before blooming.

You do have to label the scionwood carefully so you know which is the part you want to keep, because the tree will tend to send out shoots of the old variety (known as the interstem). But you have to do that anyway since rootstocks will often send out shoots, and you need to clip those off. So, yes, the tree will put out more Kieffer twigs, but careful pruning will soon make it change its energy to the new scionwood.

Comment by anna Thu Oct 6 13:24:18 2011
It's great to see so many of those resources are in my neck of the woods here in Eugene OR. We go to a great fall seed swap that also has buckets and buckets of free scion wood. You can buy root stock for just a few dollars or graft to your own tree. Maybe I'll actually try some grafting this year.
Comment by fostermamas Thu Oct 6 17:05:51 2011
I always mean to do more grafting, but the sticking point is --- where to put all those new trees?! That's why I love the idea of grafting multiple varieties onto a problematic pear.
Comment by anna Fri Oct 7 14:56:53 2011

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