hat is the difference between a ‘grafted’ fruit tree, and one that was grown from a seed? Are grafted fruit trees better, or worse than seedlings? In this article we will compare the two types of trees, and discuss the benefits of buying a grafted fruit tree, as opposed to a seedling (i.e. grown from seed). Firstly, what is grafting and how does it affect the tree?
What is a Grafted Fruit Tree? Is it worth it?
Fruit trees must perform well in two key areas. Firstly, they must have good upper section (in order to produce good quality fruit/flowers). Secondly, they must have a strong root system for gathering nutrients and water efficiently from the soil. In other words, the best fruit trees have the ability to produce high quality fruiting branches that are nourished by strong roots. So how can we ensure our trees have these 2 good traits? Seedlings are often strong in one area only (i.e. they have either good roots, or good fruits, and sometimes neither). Seldom do they perform well in both areas. Enter grafting.
Grafting is the process of bringing together the tree with the strongest roots, and marrying it to the one with the best quality fruit. So we get a win-win situation. A piece of the tree with known good “upper” characteristics (ie. good fruit, leaves, flowers etc.) is physically joined to a selected seedling (with a strong healthy root-system).
In this way, we can preserve the fruiting qualities of a good tree that would have otherwise “died out”. The good qualities of the parent tree are preserved and used to propagate millions of trees that will bear exactly the same fruit (since they share the same genetic DNA). The rootstock often conveys other beneficial traits including enhanced disease resistance, and adaptability to different soil types.
The end product is a fantastic specimen tree with strong roots and quality fruits.
Benefits of Grafted Fruit Trees
- Quality fruit
- Highly productive
- Starts fruiting earlier
- Disease resistant
- Adaptable to different soil types
With a seedling tree, you never know what you are going to get. My children look like me (mostly). But are they the same? Well, sort of. In the same way, a seedling may be like it’s parent, or may be a kickback to some earlier set of genes provided by a grandparent. It’s a game of chance. Starfruit seedlings can sometimes bear fruit with a brown coloured core. Not very appetising. Custard apple seedlings may be full of seeds with not much flesh.
Grafted fruit trees (that are cared for) always produce consistent quantities of high quality fruit with excellent flavour, texture, keeping quality, and other desirable characteristics. If you have limited space, always consider planting grafted fruit trees.
Most farmers only plant grafted trees for a reason. Their bottom line. It’s hard to make good profits if your trees are not bearing to their full potential. Grafted trees can produce more kilograms per hectare than seedlings and make more sense from a profitability standpoint.
Starts Fruiting Earlier
On average, a grafted fruit tree will start to bear fruit about 3-5 years earlier than a seedling. Most grafted trees fruit after 1-4 years. On the other hand, most seedlings bear after 3-10 years plus. For example, avocado seedlings can take anywhere up to 12 years or longer to begin fruiting (and some may never fruit at all). In comparison, grafted avocados bear after 2-4 years. Grafted citrus often fruits in it’s first season after planting.
In addition to strong root systems, the rootstock can also confer immunity against various soil-borne diseases that would otherwise affect a seedling plant.
Adaptable to Different Soil Types
The rootstock can also be better adapted to varying soil conditions (eg. clay, sandy, loam etc.). This can be a major advantage for a grafted trees survival.
Back a Winner
In most cases, grafted fruit trees are generally a better choice than seedlings. Seedlings can sometimes be hardier in marginal climates, and can be useful for making selections from (if you are a plant breeder). However, in most cases you are better off with a grafted plant for the quality of the fruit is guaranteed to be a winner. Seedlings are good for someone on a budget who is willing to take the chance. Every so often, a new seedling emerges that is superior to anything that has come before. These seedlings are used as the next generation of grafting material (to make new grafted trees). However, the chances are slim. Grafted trees may cost over twice as much as a seedling to buy, but they are well worth the investment. You get what you pay for.