Fruit tree propagation

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Fruit tree propagation is usually carried out through asexual reproduction by grafting or budding the desired variety onto a suitable rootstock.

Perennial plants can be propagated either by sexual or vegetative means. Sexual reproduction begins when a male germ cell (pollen) from one flower fertilises a female germ cell (ovule, incipient seed) of the same species, initiating the development of a fruit containing seeds. Each seed, when germinated, can grow to become a new specimen tree. However, the new tree inherits characteristics of both its parents, and it will not grow 'true' to the variety of either parent from which it came. That is, it will be a fresh individual with an unpredictable combination of characteristics of its own. Although this is desirable in terms of producing novel combinations from the richness of the gene pool of the two parent plants (such sexual recombination is the source of new cultivars), only rarely will the resulting new fruit tree be directly useful or attractive to the tastes of humankind. Most new plants will have characteristics that lie somewhere between those of the two parents.

Therefore, from the orchard grower or gardener's point of view, it is preferable to propagate fruit cultivars vegetatively in order to ensure reliability. This involves taking a cutting (or scion) of wood from a desirable parent tree which is then grown on to produce a new plant or 'clone' of the original. In effect this means that the original Bramley apple tree, for example, was a successful variety grown from a pip, but that every Bramley since then has been propagated by taking cuttings of living matter from that tree, or one of its descendants.

Contents

Methods

The essentials of our present methods of propagating of fruit trees date from pre-Classical times. Grafting as a technique was first developed in China from where it was imported to Greece and Rome. Classical authors wrote extensively about the technical skills of fruit cultivation, including grafting techniques and rootstock selection. The oldest surviving named varieties of fruits date from classical times.

The simplest method of propagating a tree asexually is rooting. A cutting (a piece of the parent plant) is cut and stuck into soil. Artificial rooting hormones are sometimes used to assure success. If the cutting does not die of desiccation first, roots grow from the buried portion of the cutting to become a complete plant. Though this works well for some plants (such as figs and olives), most fruit trees are unsuited to this method.

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