When to Graft Citrus Trees?

Written by angela ryczkowski
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When to Graft Citrus Trees?
Grafting is a popular way to capture desirable citrus tree characteristics. (Citrus tree with fruits image by Olga Khopshanosova from Fotolia.com)

Grafting is a type of vegetative propagation, often practised with citrus and other fruit trees, where a stem of the desired cultivar is attached to a separate rootstock plant. The stem, called a scion, is positioned on the rootstock plant so the living, green cambium layers just underneath the bark of each touch. This and other factors such as seasonal timing must be observed in order for a citrus tree graft to be successful and fuse to grow as one plant.

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Spring Grafting

Grafting is usually most successfully performed in spring when the bark can be easily separated from the wood to expose the cambium. Grafting should occur when the plant is actively producing new leaves and shoots, typically between early spring and late May. Whip grafting, a technique suitable for small-diameter rootstock, can be performed in spring or fall.

Fall

If spring grafting is not a possibility, citrus grafting may also be done in fall when the bark can again be easily separated from the wood. Grafting should occur at a time when ample warmth will ensure a good union. Fall graftings will generally need to be protected from cold weather and frost.

Indications of Slippage

Grafting is most successful when the bark can be easily peeled, or there is ample bark "slippage." This is generally indicated by new tree growth and leaves. To be certain slippage is occurring, choose a point above where the graft will occur, make two narrow cuts that form a "V" and use the tip of the knife to lift the point in the cut bark. Peel the bark from the wood -- if the bark comes cleanly with little effort, the bark is slipping and the graft can be made. If not, wait a week or so and perform the test again.

Inlay Grafting

Texas inlay bark grafting, a method used often for pecans, is also suitable for citrus, according to Texas Cooperative Extension horticulturists. This method makes a cut to fit one or more scion branches, with cambium exposed on one side, into a larger rootstock plant. The joint is covered with aluminium foil and wrapped with polythene film to keep in moisture. This grafting system can be used successfully in stressful drought, heat or wind conditions. Inlay grafting is best performed in spring, but may be attempted in summer with limited success.

Cleft Grafting

Citrus can be grafted year-round with cleft grafting, a technique that involves cutting the scion into a point and inserting it into a split rootstock. The graft union should be wrapped with several layers of polythene tape or film, but buds should remain uncovered to avoid rot. Although this method can be used year-round because it does not require slipping bark, wintertime grafts must be kept warm to facilitate growth.

Budding

Budding, like grafting, is a vegetative propagation technique. With budding, a small patch of bark with a bud is removed from the scion and inserted under the bark of the rootstock plant. As with other types of grafting, budding is most successful if performed when the bark on the rootstock is slipping. Like grafting, it can also be performed in the fall. However, the bud takes six to eight weeks to heal in the fall, whereas spring buddings will heal in just three to four weeks.

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