Never Bury The Graft Always Remove Suckers

By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura

Lets plant a grafted fruit tree. The most critical thing to remember when planting a grafted plant is to never bury the graft. I want to tell you about the process of planting a fruit tree or any plant that might be grafted. Dig the whole wide enough to encompass all the roots and mix a nice soil amendment with the backfill then distributing this mixture around the tree and most importantly, position the graft facing north and above the soil grade, To account for settling tamping down the soil then water to help remove air pockets and compacts the soil somewhat. The end result is the graft is not buried and is above the soil. When planting, it is always to plant at the same level as it was originally planted. While at it, other fruit trees or grafted plants that are planted in the ground or in containers examine them to see if there are any suckers coming from below the graft and if they are, promptly remove them.

So what does all this mean: planting above the graft ,do not bury the graft, and removing suckers. What is the graft? What are suckers? How do we identify this structure? Fruit trees, which include Avocados, Citrus, Apples, Pears, all sorts of other fruit trees, roses, and other trees or shrubs that may be grafted. With these types of plants, it Is like their are two plants in one. One type is what you want growing, the other type is what you do not want to grow above the graft. The top growth is known as the scion and the bottom is called the rootstock. Just above the soil grade is the the graft. The graft connects, both the top part and the bottom part. The top portion or the scion is the part that produces the fruit, flowers, leaves, and all the branches. This is the part you want to keep growing. The bottom part, or the root stock is the part that produces the root. Many times plants are grafted onto a specific rootstock that enables
them to grow more vigorously, hardy, stronger, able to be disease and insect resistant.

These superior qualities is what you want. The graft union can be identified as a nodule, a different color, a bump or a protrusion near the soil . It can appear as a knot at the base of a rose bush or a crook in the trunk near ground level of a fruit tree . A lot of growers have decided to graft the plant up higher so that it will be easier for you to identify and not bury the graft . Growth should never occur around or below this part, it should always remain clean at all times. If you do see growth occurring there promptly remove it. You can see from the photos examples of what a graft union and what sucker. looks like.

Burying the graft results in root formation from the graft and it will be a totally different tree and not the desired plant that you were looking for. Growth will be undesirable resulting in growth being not as vigorous, hardy, disease or insect resistant or intolerant to soil conditions. Overall, it may be a weaker plant or not produce good quality, fruit or flowering may be poor. The rootstock will grow its own plant and the scion will grow its own roots. The plant will not be the same once this occurs.

Growth that originates from the graft or below are suckers. Sometimes suckers originate from the soil also. Suckers are usually fast growing as compared to the rest of the normal growth and therefore competes with the rest of the tree for water, nutrients and overall vigor of the plant. Sucker growth may have a different foliage color, size of flower or the fruit that is undesirable. Having suckers results in reduced flowering, fruit, and can eventually kill the main tree and having the rootstock take over w is not a good thing if not taken away in the appropriate amount of time. If the scion (top growth) dies the root stock can still be alive and will send up shoots (suckers).  This growth is not from the scion and will perform very differently.

Suckers can be removed simply by cutting them off as soon as you see them. Sometimes you may have to dig away the soil around the base of the tree where the suckers originate and cut them off from that point below the soil. It is not wise to cut the suckers in half and leave the rest there because they will become thicker and harder to take away later on. Removing suckers should always be part of the routine maintenance of the plant to keep it healthy, strong, and vigorous. I always suggest to remove the suckers as quickly as you can, and don’t let them get big if it all possible.

Because routinely removing the suckers from the plant, It’s a pretty simple and fast project. If the suckers are young enough you can take your thumb and forefinger and pinch them off. With thicker material, use pruning shears and cut them off as close to the trunk as possible but leaving a small stub. without damaging the trunk. A simple way to determine where the graft is, is to take a piece of colored ribbon and tie it around where the graft is when you’re planting it, that way you won’t forget that the ribbon needs to be above soil grade. This ribbon can always be removed after planting. When applying much never apply mulch against the trunk and the graft.

I hope this is helpful for you to have your fruit trees and other grafted plants succeed. Please stop by your favorite Green Thumb Nursery for all your gardening needs.

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