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Grafting A Citrus Tree

By Ellen Brown

Q: I would like to know how to graft onto a citrus tree. I have a satsuma tree that froze down to it's original root stock and ever since makes lovely blooms, but the fruit is nasty. I just got a cutting from a naval orange tree. I am wondering if it would be possible to graft the cutting onto the Satsuma and hope for better fruit eventually. I am not cutting the Satsuma down and starting fresh. I love the blooms and shade.

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Hardiness Zone: 8b

Linne from Marianna, FL

A: Linne,

Anything is possible and you have nothing to lose. Why not give it a try? To graft one variety onto another, choose a healthy 6-inch-long branch with leaf buds to graft onto a 1/4 to 1-inch branch from your Satsuma that is within easy reach. You'll ultimately be cutting a bud from the cutting branch and inserting it into a cut in your Satsuma tree. Avoid using branches with flower buds, which are usually larger and fatter than leaf buds.

To prepare the graft site on your Satsuma tree, choose an upright branch and strip the leaves from the current year's growth at the point where you want to make the graft. Make a T-shaped cut in the center of the branch (close to the point where new growth started in spring) using a very sharp knife.

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Cut through the bark and the cambium. Make a vertical cut first, then a horizontal cut. The vertical cut will be about 1 inch long and the horizontal cut about 1/2 inch long. Use your knife to pull back the bark flaps when you're ready to insert a bud cut from your cutting.

You're going to want the bud from your cutting to fit neatly inside the flaps of the T-cut. Cut the bud loose from the cutting by making a cut 1/4 inch above the bud and a cut 3/4 of an inch below it. Now slice the bud off, bark and all, starting from the lower cut and angling up until you reach the upper cut. You should end up with a bud surrounded by a shield-shaped piece of bark.

Peel back the flaps on the T-cut and insert the bud into the cut on your Satsuma tree. Once the bud is in place, wrap the area above and below the bud with rubber budding strips (available at garden centers) to hold the flaps together until the wound heals. Check the graft in three weeks to see if it still looks healthy. The leaf stem will have dropped off and the bark should be a normal color. If all looks good, congratulate yourself!

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If not, try again (you can graft more than one branch at a time to increase your odds). Just before the grafted bud starts growing in the spring, cut off the Satsuma branch above the new bud and make a slanted cut 1/2 to 1 inch away above the bud that slopes in a direction away from the bud. This will encourage growth of the new branch that will eventually contain your oranges. Good Luck!

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

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November 24, 2009
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