The scion is above this graft union. The rootstock is below.

There are not many Californians of my generation who do not remember growing avocado trees from seeds when we were kids. We simply impaled the big seeds around the middle with three evenly spaced toothpicks to suspend them from the rims of Dixie cups partly full of water. If just the bottoms of these seeds remained properly submerged, they grew roots and a stem with a few leaves, all they needed to grow into trees that were producing too many avocados by the time we got to high school.

Yet, I and others of my generation have always heard that avocado trees need to be grafted to produce fruit. (Grafting is the union of two or more compatible but different plants. The ‘scion’ is the upper portion that forms a trunk, branches and foliage. The ‘rootstock’ is the lower portion that provides roots.) Well, this is obviously not true, but does make us wonder about the advantages of grafted trees.

They myth of seed grown trees being unproductive probably originates from the tendency for seed grown avocado trees to be unproductive for the first few years during the juvenile stage. Scions of grafted trees are taken from adult growth that is ready to bloom and fruit immediately; although even grafted trees need a few years to grow large enough to produce more than just a few avocados.

Many plants are juvenile while young, in order to better compete in the wild. While juvenile, avocado tree seedlings grow vigorously enough to compete with other trees. Adult habits of blooming and fruiting would only slow them down. Besides being fruitless for many years, citrus seedlings are very thorny through their juvenile phase, to avoid getting eaten by grazing animals. Scions of grafted citrus trees are from relatively thornless adult growth that is immediately ready to produce fruit.

The primary advantage of grafting fruit trees though, is keeping the many different cultivars (cultivated varieties) ‘true to type’, since many seed grown plants exhibit at least some degree of genetic variation from their parents. For example, avocados from seed grown (ungrafted) trees tend to be much larger, but often less flavorful than the fruit that the original seed came from. No one really knows what the fruit will be like until it actually develops. Some seed grown peaches are indistinguishable from their parents, but most are very different. However, most pecans and chestnuts are actually produced from ungrafted seed grown trees.

The secondary advantage of grafting fruit trees is the ability to graft onto dwarfing rootstock. Although few avocado trees are dwarf trees, almost all citrus trees for home gardens are grafted onto dwarfing rootstock that keeps them more compact and proportionate to home gardens. Most deciduous fruit trees are similarly grafted onto semi-dwarf rootstock.

2 thoughts on “Grafting fact and fiction

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