Everything Is Coming Up Roses

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Grafting combines good scions with understock.

When an individual rose shrub blooms with two distinct types of flowers, it seems to be doing a little extra. It provides the big, bold and strongly stemmed roses that it is grown for, along with daintier dark red roses. Eventually though, the small red roses become more abundant, and can crowd out the more desirable roses.

Almost all of the older roses that are grown for cutting are grafted. This means that the stems that provide such excellent flowers above ground are attached to genetically different roots. When such plants were young, the graft union was more obvious, where the canes branched out from the single stem just above the roots.

The stems above the graft union are known as the ‘scion’. The roots below are known as the ‘understock’ or ‘rootstock’. The two are grafted together because the scion blooms so well, and the understock develops stronger and more efficient roots. Scions are not expected to grow roots any more than understock is expected to bloom.

Adventitious stems that develop from the understock below the graft union are known as ‘suckers’, probably because they suck resources that should go the scion. They should be removed as soon as they get noticed, before they can dominate the scion. They become more difficult to remove as they mature.

If possible, fresh new suckers should get broken off from their origin instead of simply pruned away. It sounds violent, but is actually more effective. Stubs left from pruning are much more likely to develop more suckers later. Suckers that get pruned back repeatedly can develop into significant burls.

Old rose shrubs that were planted with an abundance of organic soil amendments tend to sink into the ground as the soil amendments decompose. If a graft union gets buried, it can be difficult to distinguish between suckers and good canes that develop above the graft union.

‘Tree’ roses have two graft unions. The branched scion on top is grafted onto a straight stem of a different variety. The straight stem is grafted onto the understock at ground level. The trendy carpet roses and some other modern roses are not grafted, so will not develop suckers.

No One Likes A Sucker

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Citrus have been bred for centuries.

Citrus trees that are grown from seed take a few years to mature enough to produce fruit. As they mature, the juvenile stems are outfitted with thorns that are even nastier than thorns on adult growth! Because most citrus has been extensively bred, seed grown trees are very likely to exhibit genetic variations. This is why citrus trees are cloned from stems of stock trees.

Cloned trees are genetically identical to their parents, so will always produce the same fruit. They are cloned from adult growth, so do not need time to mature from juvenile seedlings. They can therefore bloom and produce fruit as soon as their roots are ready. Also, their thorns are less dangerous.

Cloning citrus is not as simple as rooting them from cuttings though. With few exceptions, citrus trees are grafted onto genetically different rootstock. Most citrus trees in home gardens are grafted onto dwarfing rootstock that limits the size of the trees when mature. Orchard trees are grafted onto rootstock that allows them to get significantly larger.

The graft union, where the upper part of a grafted tree is attached to the rootstock, is typically visible just above the ground. The base of the trunk below the graft union is typically a bit more stout than the relatively lean section of trunk above the graft. Trunks of old trees are often more furrowed below the graft union than above it.

Sometimes, the rootstock tries to do more than provide roots. It can produce stems from below the graft union, known as ‘suckers’ that can potentially compete with the grafted portion of the tree above. Unfortunately, understock grows more aggressively than most types of citrus, so can overwhelm and shade out the desirable parts of an otherwise healthy citrus tree.

The most common understock for citrus produces suckers that are outfitted with unusually big and wicked thorns that are not to be messed with! If fruit develops, it seems to be humongous and disfigured lemons that lack flavor. Before they overtake good citrus trees, suckers should be pruned neatly away as they develop, without leaving any stubble to regenerate more sucker.