Friday, January 30, 2015

Grafting a mulberry tree

The mulberry tree (Morus nigra) in my front-yard food forest has proven to be a less-than-exciting variety. Here it is:

It makes decent fruit but they're not all that big and they're not nearly as prolific as my "Illinois Everbearing" tree out back.

However, the tree has grown well for the last four years and has some good roots beneath it at this point so there's no way I'm taking it out.

Instead, I've decided to multi-graft it with more exciting varieties.

I started this project on Wednesday of this week.

First, I decided to take off the top of the tree. It was getting too tall for easy harvesting.

Then I took off some of the branches that were growing too close to the ground.

Once the tree was cleaned up a bit, it was time to start grafting. I picked a good branch for my first graft and made a cleft in the middle with my trusty Leatherman:

Then I sharpened up a couple of scions of "6th Street," a prolific black variety. When they were trimmed nicely, I popped the first one in.

You need to put them in carefully so you don't snap the long, thin wedge. Using the blade of a knife helps.

After that, I added the second one.


Next I tied it up tightly to pull the cambium layers together.

Your main enemy when grafting is having the graft dry out, killing the scion before it can join to the root stock. This is why you wrap it up tightly or paint the wound with tree sealer. Or both. In this case, I wrapped everything with parafilm.

And here's the final graft, labeled with an aluminum tag:

I also added a few scions of "Saharanpor Local Mulberry," a long-fruited white type, to another branch on the tree, this time using "whip and tongue" grafts to match like-sized wood.

Over time I'm going to keep adding varieties to this tree. Since my space is limited, I can just use this tree as a source of propagative material for my nursery as well as for fruit. Instead of planting all the varieties of mulberry I carry, I can graft on branches and later use them for cuttings I can add to the mist house.

Of course, there's really no reason at all for doing the following... except for SCIENCE!

What is that graft, you say?

It's a Brown Turkey fig I whip-and-tongued onto this black mulberry.

Will a fig on mulberry graft work? I have no idea, but the trees are cousins so I'm giving it a try. I got a really tight fit with that graft, then wrapped it up after the photo was taken. I think it would be crazy cool if I was able to grow figs on a mulberry tree...

The winter has been so warm I just couldn't wait to start grafting. I've got quite a few experiments going and if any of them succeed I'll be quite pleased.

Other than the mulberry, today I added nectarine, sweet cherry and plum grafts onto Chickasaw plum, sweet cherry and nectarine onto a Flatwoods plum, and sweet cherry onto a wild black cherry tree (Prunus serotina). I'm curious to see if they'll take. All are cousins... so the chance is there.

I'll keep you posted.

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At January 30, 2015 at 7:45 AM , Blogger Derek the Grower said...

Good luck man! It seems it will be an interesting growing season coming up for you. I haven't yet grown the testicular fortitude to try tree grafts. I tried cactus once and failed but I know what the problems were so when I try again I will succeed! Looking forward to seeing what works out for you!

At January 30, 2015 at 11:57 AM , Anonymous David The Good said...

There really isn't much to lose when you're not cutting the entire tree back. At the worst, you just lose a branch. Give it a go again!

At January 30, 2015 at 12:48 PM , Blogger Nickolas Sexson said...

Have you ever seen someone graft successfully to a Carolina cherry laurel? I have several cut back around my house and as a prunus I suspect you might be able to graft plums or cherries to it. Maybe if I can get my hands on some plum or cherry scions I will give it a go. Would be nice to take advantage of some good 5-7 year root systems. These things grow like weeds around my house too.

At January 30, 2015 at 12:56 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

I've never seen it but that doesn't mean it isn't possible. I have a little sweet cherry budwood here you can have.

At January 30, 2015 at 6:12 PM , Anonymous Sarah said...

That is going to be a fun tree!

At January 31, 2015 at 10:15 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Aww yeah. It's the party tree!

At February 1, 2015 at 2:44 PM , Anonymous Remy said...

I just wonder if the grafted fruit (ie cherries, plums, nectarines) will have enough "cold hours" being in FL. Cold hours or lack thereof is what precludes growing most if not all stone fruits in FL. I know because I grew up in St. Petersburg and my family owned citrus groves.

At February 1, 2015 at 8:16 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

You're correct. They have to be "low-chill" types. The cherry scions were from a Minnie Royal (150 chill hours), the plum from a Gulf Ruby (250 chill hours) and the nectarine wood was from a Sunraycer (250 chill hours).

At April 9, 2015 at 5:49 PM , Blogger Sher A. Hart said...

Cool! I want to know if the sweet cherry grafts work and if the fruit isn't all diseased because of the summer rain. That's what's holding me back from trying a Stella here in Crestview, FL where we usually have over 1000 chill hours. I want a sweet cherry so bad I can taste it, but at least I finally got a Spring Satin plumcot on Guardian, and that has a great chance of doing well here.

Our mulberry trees planted last year (bought from, south of Tallahassee), are already growing fruit. I'm sad that the Pakistan variety freezes in Crestview because the fruit is supposed to be non-staining. We had one before we moved from Fort Walton Beach, and I never found stains on anything. The fruit was so delicious, I hope these new varieties taste as good. One Wacissa, one Illinois Everbearing, and one mystery, plus 5 "Tice" named for where the variety originated in Florida. If you ever find out what variety the latter is, pure or white mixed with red or whatever, please let me know. I'm curious, and the mature size will help me decide where to move them from the temporary spots I planted them to shade the new pawpaws.

This whole farming adventure is heavy on the research aspect, and your blog is proving to be very helpful. Since I emailed you, I found some purple sweet potatoes and some cassava, and I'm exited to get them planted. Thanks!

At July 13, 2015 at 4:48 PM , Blogger Taylor said...

David--how is the fig/mulberry graft going?

At July 13, 2015 at 4:57 PM , Anonymous David The Good said...

It failed. We had a frost after this post, which may have played a part - but my bet is just that they were incompatible.


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