Maybe You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks – The Science & Art of Grafting!


This old dog at 58 is learning a new trick, and if 58 is the new 48, perhaps I’m still a pup. I’m feeling more inspired about my future after learning that my associate, Bruce Van Dyke, is thirty years my senior (89 is the new 79) and continues to teach his specialty, grafting. Bruce and I became Certified Arborists in 1987, both motivated by our mutual friend, former Santa Barbara City Arborist, Dan Condon. Grafting is a fascinating practice in the art and science of trees. The desirable qualities of a plant (visual, smell, and taste) that are genetically embedded in a bud or cut twig are implanted into the vascular system of a favorable rootstock.My arboriculture class and I had the honor of an engaging and educational experience with Bruce. That dude is amazing. One Saturday, he shared his extensive experience and skill in the world of grafting trees. He boasts of his 250 grafts per day record when grafting compound was a buck a gallon (now $18 per gallon). Wow, grafting as full time job- I’ve never considered that!

Bruce Van Dyke teaching his grafting techniques

More importantly, Bruce imparted his knowledge and experiences to twenty-five of my students, young adults to not-so-young adults, plus myself, one passionate instructor. He related his scientific knowledge about tree biology to the practice of whip, cleft and bark grafting (the latter being his preferred technique). he remarked about the simplicity of the process but emphasized to pay attention to the concepts of grafting, including how to avoid cutting off your hands.

Bark graft
Whip graft

Don’t miss an opportunity to see Bruce at La Sumida Nursery in Santa Barbara each winter at one of his fruit tree pruning or grafting workshops. You can also check out these alternative links (below) for videos and an excellent publication by ANR, Orchards and Deciduous Fruit Trees. [Note: citrus, avocados, roses, and many other trees are commonly grafted]. So, this old dog is learning a new trick. Now, I just have to practice for the rest of my career and see if I can turn it into a skill. Grafting trees offers opportunities to:

  • grow multiple fruit varieties in a limited space by grafting them onto one rootstock
  • conserve a high quality variety on a declining tree by grafting it to a healthy rootstock
  • spread out your harvest period by grafting different varieties that ripen at different times on the same rootstock
  • insure that you have a cross pollinator for specific species
  • boast among your friends

The practice of grafting is a cool craft. And if you’re an old dog like me, take charge of your yard, read up, sharpen your knife and wear gloves. How can I help you with your trees? Treemendously Yours, Bill SpiewakLinks:

Preview of The Home Orchard (publication #3485) to buy from UC Cooperative Extension. Please support UCCE.  But if not able to….preview page 99+ at next link
Preview of The Home Orchard on Google Books:
You Tube video on grafting from Dave Wilson Nursery.  There are others on You Tube and at his web site.
 The Lighter Side of Trees
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9 Comments

  1. This is fabulous! I am so jealous that you were able to be among such skill and passion for trees and the secret world of grafting. Thank you for sharing this experience with us, and we look forward to seeing some of your grafted trees and the fruit they bear. Also, can you ship me one of those money trees! All best, Lisa Smith

    1. Lisa,
      You mean you haven’t grafted the money tree yet. Just carefully slice the nickel, dime, quarter, and dollar bill, and glue it to a Eucalyptus globulus, and watch your money tree grow. Better yet, reinvest it in your consulting practice and hopefully it produce a better return. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Hi Bill,

    I enjoy reading your blog and your perspective to tree care. This blog on grafting is fascinating. Old dogs need to learn new tricks; at 62 I am firmly convinced that the brain will atrophy without the benefit of new tricks!

    Thank you much,
    –walt fujii

  3. Great article. Let’s stop talkin’ old at 58! You may be not be in the prime of your youth, but I consider 58 young (I’m 47!). Science has already proven that our brains are plastic in that our neuroconnections and even DNA is alterable by our lifestyles and our thoughts!!

  4. Hi Bill, I missed this posting the first time. Great web site and great post. Local grafter, Ed Hatchfeld, and I top grafted 21 varieties of apples on an existing Ein Shimer apple a few months back. Eighteen grafts took well and most now are vigorous and pushing.

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