Why I dislike rootgrafted plants

I’m pretty much a live-and-let-live person in terms of plant choices (as long as they’re not invasive).  But I’m becoming convinced that oddities grafted onto hardy rootstocks are poor choices, because the rootstock always seems to win.  I posted one of these several months ago (see October 28, 2009 ), but just today have just found the poster tree for my anti-rootgraft movement.

A little backstory.  I’m currently out at the Washington coast, trying to get some writing and seminars done without disruption.  Today I had to make a trip into Aberdeen, the horrors of which will have to wait for another post.  Before going back to my retreat, I tried to renew my enthusiasm for life by seeking out bad plants.  I was well rewarded.

I have to give my daughter Charlotte credit for spotting these lovelies.  There were two of these $50 Betula pendula ‘Youngii’ trees available.  I felt like I’d stumbled upon the next winner of “America’s Next Top Model.”  I took pictures from every angle, full shots and close-ups, for your viewing enjoyment.

Note that the “unusual deciduous tree with pendulous branches” is a grafted tree, evidenced by the differences in girth at the grafting point.  You’ll also note the appearance of vigorous watersprouts emerging from below the graft.  (The bamboo stake to the left lost it function years ago, but is still adds an unexpected pop to the overall composition.)

And here she is in her full beauty!  The “S” curve of the scion is bisected longitudinally by two watersprouts, forming a giant $!  I do have to agree with the tag at this point – it certainly is “an excellent accent or specimen plant” for the Island of Misfit Grafts.

Finally, please enjoy yet a final reason I don’t like grafts:

(Hint:  Note the glue glob.)

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

6 thoughts on “Why I dislike rootgrafted plants”

  1. You hate ALL grafts? Sure, there are a lot of badly grafted plants on the market, but there are also a lot of fabulous ones which never sucker. What about dwarf conifers? Talk about throwing out the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. In the sad land of cacti grafts, the glued on strawflower bloom is even more offensive than irradiated day-glow Gymnocactus grafted on Hylocereus, (who came up with the idea of grafting a rot prone desert cactus to a tropical rain forest cactus anyway?). The poor etiolated Parodia leninghausii in your photo has very nice bright yellow flowers, not pink, and is one of the easiest cacti to get to bloom, since it is very precocious and starts blooming very young.

    The strangest tree grafts I have ever seen, are a row of double grafted Chorisia speciosa ‘Silk Floss’ trees planted in front of our local brew pub. They have Chorisia roots, then a grafted trunk (that looks like it might be a Bombax or Ceiba… neither hardy here) and then at about eight feet up they are re-grafted back to Chorisia. Some mad grafter has created dwarfed Chorisia without the lovely intimidating spines! What is the point of that? Sure the trees flowers are amazing, but the spines are just so cool! The row of grafted trees may be nice and safe to have outside a pub, but looking at the ring of spines at soil level, the graft line and then up at the grafted crown has always made me shake my head. I also have to wonder at the economics of producing such frankenstein trees. And of course being grafted these Baobab relatives have never started to show their normal ‘rubinesque hips” or bottle tree shape. Sad.

  3. @Joseph, I was not slamming all grafts – just the ones where the scion is not vigorous enough to subdue the rootstock. Even for those of us who know to cut out the watersprouts when they appear, it’s an ongoing maintenance issue.

  4. Hap, your comments crack me up! I was looking for the “day glo” grafts but was so happy to find the strawflower cacti instead. If you would like me to post any of your graft photos, just send them to me and I’ll put them up with whatever comments you’d like.

  5. Based on what she wrote above I think Linda is just talking about grafting “oddities” as she puts it. I tend to agree — combining a poorly or hastily grafted plant with an ignorant buyer often results in a mess.

  6. Hap,you’ve cleared up the puzzle for me of why the little grafted cactus (semi-spiny, barrel-shaped bottom, day-glo pink top add-on)did what it did. He bought it at Home Depot on a lark (his first plant ever), and then I took care of it. The top rotted off after about a year, and the bottom has branched out and become almost a vine — and now I get why. Thanks, and thanks for the general discussion, Linda. My fondness for grafts is relatively limited — I love Camperdown elms.

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