Fig trees (Ficus carica) take the command to go forth and multiply very seriously. Anyone sinking her teeth into a luscious, ripe fig knows without counting that each fruit contains hundreds of tiny seeds. And fig cuttings root so readily that branches falling into a river can root far downstream where figs may not be wanted. Most figs are propagated commercially by cuttings, but some rare fig cultivars are grafted onto established, vigorous trees or rootstocks. Trying this at home can make you feel like you're in a class at Hogwarts, but it is not as difficult as it sounds.
Things You'll Need
- Small shovel
- Sharp knife
- Clean rag
- Denatured alcohol
- Grafting tape
- Grafting paint
Graft your fig in early spring when deciduous trees are still dormant. Grafting involved melding two trees by attaching a branch cutting of the fig cultivar, termed the scion, onto the root section of a hardy fig, termed the rootstock. The scion controls the shoot growth -- branch, leaf and fruit -- of the melded tree. The rootstock controls the root growth, determining the tree's tolerance to soil and disease, as well as its size and hardiness.
Dig gently around the base of the rootstock tree -- a young fig with a trunk diameter of about 1/2 inch -- to expose several inches of basal trunk. Wipe the blade of a very sharp knife with a rag soaked in denatured alcohol. Use the knife to slice the top off the rootstock tree just below ground level, in a slanting cut 2 inches long.
Cut a scion from the fig cultivar. Select a branch between 1 and 2 years old with a diameter of about 1/2 inch. Take a cutting about 6 inches long that contains at least three lateral buds. Make the same diagonal cut that you used for the rootstock.
Place the blade of the knife on the cut section of rootstock at a point one-third of the way from the peak to the low point of the slant. Press the knife into the wood about 1 inch without breaking the trunk. Direct the cut so that its angle is halfway between the line of the wood grain and the angle of the slant. This cut is part of a tongue-and-groove arrangement that will anchor the scion to the rootstock.
Cut the diagonal basal end of the scion in the same place and in the same manner as you did the rootstock. Press the slanted cuts of the scion and the rootstock together, slipping the scion's cut "tongue" section into the "groove" section in the rootstock. Fit the pieces together snugly.
Cut a piece of grafting tape and wrap it tightly around the graft connection. Spread grafting paint over the grafting tape. These products disintegrate in time and do not require removal.
Tips & Warnings
- This type of grafting is termed whip grafting and works well for fig trees, according to the California Rare Fruit Growers. You can also whip-graft a scion to a branch of an established tree instead of a rootstock. This is called topworking.
- Figs are best grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10, but some cultivars thrive in chillier areas. The fig cultivar Black Mission (Ficus carica "Mission") is one of the best all-around fig varieties, offering sweet, black fruit in USDA zones 7 through 9, according to the Monrovia website, but the cultivar is only for those with room for a large tree. Vigorous Brown Turkey (Ficus carica "Brown Turkey") is another prolific variety and works well for those living in USDA zones 6 though 9.
- Figs cannot thrive without sun, but they sunburn easily when young. Paint your grafted tree trunk with a 50-50 mix of white latex paint and water.
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