I once did a horticultural analysis of a property way out in the scrublands. The owner had good clean water, no real neighbors, a great location… and hot, fast-drying, mineral-poor sand that was really, really bad for gardening.
There was no couching it. I had to tell him: this area just won’t cut it for most of your planned annual gardening projects. It will barely support much in the way of fruit or nut trees.
What it did have was a decent amount of native American persimmon trees. They were dwarfed by drought and stress, but they were strong and alive. That said, I saw very few with fruit.
With antive persimmons you deal with a variety of drawbacks. Unlike their cultivated Japanese persimmon relations, they’re dioecious. That means you have male and female trees – and you need both to get fruit. The male won’t make fruit but it does provide the pollen that allows the females to fruit.
Japanese persimmons are self-fertile, plus they make hefty, sweet fruit that’s very worth growing. They’re also regularly grafted onto American persimmon rootstock.
Seeing the wild trees gave me an idea: why not use the existing trees as rootstock for Japanese persimmons? They’re already established and growing in poor soil, making them a perfect support for a higher-producing and delicious variety of improved persimmon!
Sometimes our first observations aren’t the best. You might see a crabapple with lousy fruit in your yard and think “I hate that thing! I’ll tear it out and plant a good apple in its place!”
Step back and think about it: maybe that tough tree is a resource you can use. With grafting you can go nip some twigs off good apple trees and just graft them onto the tree you don’t like. If it’s a happy and healthy mature tree, use it! If you can graft fruit trees, you can grow more food for less money.
Another interesting factoid to consider: you know those stupid ornamental pears people grow for the blooms? You can graft REAL pears onto them. There are folks doing that in California right now by illegally “guerilla grafting” street trees:
Doesn’t that change the landscape a bit? Ornamental trees are generally a non productive liability… productive trees are a serious asset. If you’ve got ornamental pears, plums, peaches, apples, etc… why not switch them up by grafting on some good varieties?
Grafting In Local Woods and Property
Here’s another thought for you.
In my neighborhood there are wild persimmons growing here and there around the block. Some of these are on empty lots and in unused property with absentee owners. We don’t know how bad things are going to get in the future so it makes sense to grow as much food as possible near our houses… even if that food is on other people’s land right now.
Wild persimmon fruit is only found on 50% of the trees (since the other half are male). That fruit is about 1″ in diameter, plus it’s astringent and seedy.
I have Japanese persimmons in my yard that make fruit that looks like this:
That fruit is as large as a beefsteak tomato and just as delicious (if not more so).
Though the legalities are rather grey, I don’t think anyone would really mind if I were to take buds off my Japanese persimmon tree and graft them into the wild trees here and there around the neighborhood. People will find it rather puzzling, sure – but be upset by it? I doubt it. Heck, at the very worst all I’ve done is improve somebody’s tree. Hehhehheh.
Just thinking out loud here. In your local woods you may have quite a few trees growing which could be judiciously improved, turning them into fruit-production machines rather than marginally useful wild specimens.
Grafting Is Easy
I know what many of you are thinking: “All the above is nice, Dave… but I don’t know how to graft fruit trees!”
I understand that feeling. I was in your shoes for a long time. Grafting was something that seemed… complicated. Planting beans? No big deal. Drying fruit? Easy.
Grafting? OMIGOSHNO! THAT LOOKS HARD!
Well… it takes a little whittling experience (unless you go this route)… and a couple of decent tools… but it isn’t really hard. If you’d like a quick illustrated guide, click here. Though it states that wood should be dormant, I’ve been able to successfully graft in summer here in Florida, at least on loquat trees.
One of my favorite (and most successful) ways to graft is called “veneer grafting.” At my site you can see how I saved the genetics of an improved loquat tree hit by a string trimmer by grafting some of its buds onto some seedling loquats.
Don’t worry about messing up. We all mess up. There’s no harm in trying something new.
This spring I grafted a big, sweet improved plum onto a sour native plum tree. I did five grafts – one took:
Now, in the fall of the same year, that branch is about 3′ long. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to have it bear fruit this coming spring.
Get yourself a sharp pocketknife, some pruning shears, a roll of grafting tape and your courage… then start experimenting.
Grafting can help you get food from unproductive trees and lots – harness it and you’ll be just that much more prepared for an uncertain future.