Yes you can actually grow different varieties of apples on an existing tree! Over grafting simply explained – a must watch!
Multiple cultivars of fruits such as apples are sometimes grafted on a single tree. This so-called “family tree” provides more fruit variety for small spaces such as a suburban backyard, and also takes care of the need for pollinators. The drawback is that the gardener must be sufficiently trained to prune them correctly, or one strong variety will usually “take over.”
Grafting or graftage is a horticultural technique whereby tissues from one plant are inserted into those of another so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together. This vascular joining is called inosculation. The technique is most commonly used in asexual propagation of commercially grown plants for the horticultural and agricultural trades.
In most cases, one plant is selected for its roots and this is called the stock or rootstock. The other plant is selected for its stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits and is called the scion or cion. The scion contains the desired genes to be duplicated in future production by the stock/scion plant.
In stem grafting, a common grafting method, a shoot of a selected, desired plant cultivar is grafted onto the stock of another type. In another common form called bud grafting, a dormant side bud is grafted onto the stem of another stock plant, and when it has inosculated successfully, it is encouraged to grow by pruning off the stem of the stock plant just above the newly grafted bud.
For successful grafting to take place, the vascular cambium tissues of the stock and scion plants must be placed in contact with each other. Both tissues must be kept alive until the graft has “taken”, usually a period of a few weeks. Successful grafting only requires that a vascular connection take place between the grafted tissues. Joints formed by grafting are not as strong as naturally formed joints, so a physical weak point often still occurs at the graft because only the newly formed tissues inosculate with each other. The existing structural tissue (or wood) of the stock plant does not fuse.
- Precocity: The ability to induce fruitfulness without the need for completing the juvenile phase. Juvenility is the natural state through which a seedling plant must pass before it can become reproductive. In most fruiting trees, juvenility may last between 5 and 9 years, but in some tropical fruits e.g. Mangosteen, juvenility may be prolonged for up to 15 years. Grafting of mature scions onto rootstocks can result in fruiting in as little as two years.
- Dwarfing: To induce dwarfing or cold tolerance or other characteristics to the scion. Most apple trees in modern orchards are grafted on to dwarf or semi-dwarf trees planted at high density. They provide more fruit per unit of land, higher quality fruit, and reduce the danger of accidents by harvest crews working on ladders. Care must be taken when planting dwarf or semi-dwarf trees. If such a tree is planted with the graft below the soil, then the scion portion can also grow roots and the tree will still grow to its standard size.
- Ease of propagation: Because the scion is difficult to propagate vegetatively by other means, such as by cuttings. In this case, cuttings of an easily rooted plant are used to provide a rootstock. In some cases, the scion may be easily propagated, but grafting may still be used because it is commercially the most cost-effective way of raising a particular type of plant.
- Hybrid breeding: To speed maturity of hybrids in fruit tree breeding programs. Hybrid seedlings may take ten or more years to flower and fruit on their own roots. Grafting can reduce the time to flowering and shorten the breeding program.
- Hardiness: Because the scion has weak roots or the roots of the stock plants have roots tolerant of difficult conditions. e.g. many showy Western Australian plants are sensitive to dieback on heavy soils, common in urban gardens, and are grafted onto hardier eastern Australian relatives. Grevilleas and eucalypts are examples.
- Sturdiness: To provide a strong, tall trunk for certain ornamental shrubs and trees. In these cases, a graft is made at a desired height on a stock plant with a strong stem. This is used to raise ‘standard’ roses, which are rose bushes on a high stem, and it is also used for some ornamental trees, such as certain weeping cherries.
- Disease/Pest Resistance: In areas where soil-borne pests or pathogens would prevent the successful planting of the desired cultivar, the use of pest/disease tolerant rootstocks allow the production from the cultivar that would be otherwise unsuccessful. A major example is the use of rootstocks in combating Phylloxera.
- Pollen source: To provide pollinators. For example, in tightly planted or badly planned apple orchards of a single variety, limbs of crab apple may be grafted at regularly spaced intervals onto trees down rows, say every fourth tree. This takes care of pollen needs at blossom time, yet does not confuse pickers who might otherwise mix varieties while harvesting, as the mature crab apples are so distinct from other apple varieties.
- Repair: To repair damage to the trunk of a tree that would prohibit nutrient flow, such as stripping of the bark by rodents that completely girdles the trunk. In this case a bridge graft may be used to connect tissues receiving flow from the roots to tissues above the damage that have been severed from the flow. Where a water-shoot, basal shoot or sapling of the same species is growing nearby, any of these can be grafted to the area above the damage by a method called inarch grafting. These alternatives to scions must be of the correct length to span the gap of the wound.
- Changing cultivars: To change the cultivar in a fruit orchard to a more profitable cultivar, called top working. It may be faster to graft a new cultivar onto existing limbs of established trees than to replant an entire orchard.
- Maintain consistency: Apples are notorious for their genetic variability, even differing in multiple characteristics, such as, size, colour, and flavour, of fruits located on the same tree. In the commercial farming industry, consistency is maintained by grafting a scion with desired fruit traits onto a hardy stock.