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How to Graft a Citrus Tree to Make a Cocktail Tree

How to Graft a Citrus Tree to Make a Cocktail Tree

If you already have a citrus tree in your backyard, you may benefit from grafting it with another fruit to turn it into a cocktail tree. This may sound like something out of a plant-based Frankenstein film, but it’s actually more popular than you might think.

The ability to harvest your own homegrown citrus is highly rewarding. Below, you’ll find a full breakdown on how to graft a citrus tree to make a cocktail tree.

Preparing To Graft a Citrus Tree into a Cocktail Tree

Cocktail trees are one of the easiest and most rewarding trees to graft and grow at home. And all it takes is a healthy rooted plant, citrus budwood, a few materials, and some patience.

Before you can get started with grafting, it’s important to gather and prepare everything that you will need. The most important materials are going to be your rootstock and budwood (a cutting from a citrus plant).

You will also need a saw, a sharp knife, parafilm, and rubber bands.

Choosing Which Fruit Trees to Graft for Your Cocktail Tree

When grafting trees, it’s important to only choose fruits within the same botanical genus. While other species can easily be grafted together, if you’re not picking them from the same genus, you will run into problems.

So, if you’re going to make a citrus cocktail tree, any species of from the genus Citrus can be used. This includes:

  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Grapefruits
  • Pomelos
  • Limes
  • Kumquats
  • Tangerines

Keep in mind that citrus varieties grow at different speeds. Pairing together fast-growing citrus and slow-growing citrus can result in an unbalanced growing and a lopsided tree. While this isn’t a major issue, your tree may require more pruning in the future to compensate.

Collecting Your Citrus Tree Cuttings

Citrus cuttings have the potential to spread tree-killing diseases to your healthy rootstock. And it’s not always easy to tell whether a cutting is diseased or not. This is why it’s important to source your budwood from a reliable supplier.

Local laws may require that you use registered disease-tested citrus cuttings, so make sure to check the situation in your area before grafting.

Here are some options where you can buy certified citrus budwood:

Keep in mind that some of these places may not ship to your location. You should also check your local nurseries to see if they sell the citrus budwood variety you are looking for.  

Using the Cleft Grafting Technique to Graft onto an Existing Citrus Tree

Your best bet for a successful graft is cleft grafting, a technique that is useful for grafting together two branches of a similar size.

In general, you’ll be taking a target branch and creating a cleft to split the branch. Then you’ll carefully cutting the other tree’s branch to place the two together so they can grow. More details on how this process looks in the section below.

To begin, use a saw to remove the end of your target branch on the tree you will be grafting. Using a saw is preferable over other tools as this will create the least amount of damage to the branch.

To create the cleft, use a sharp knife to create a middle split at the end of the branch. Be careful when doing this, and move slow. The cut should be about 1.5-2 inches long.

Next, take the flattest side of your cutting and cut the end into a tapered point. You will then insert the tapered scion into the split on the target branch. Your goal is to line up the cambium (the thin layer of tissue between the bark and the wood) of the scion and the rootstock. If the cambium layers don’t touch, the branches will fail to graft.

Once you have the graft in place, wrap them to together with a layer of parafilm-M followed by a rubber band and then a second layer of parafilm. You’ll want to make sure that all exposed areas of the budwood are wrapped with the second layer of parafilm. This will hold the graft together and keep it from drying out as it heals.

After about 2 to 3 weeks, removed the wrapping to check the bud. If the graft is successful, the stem should still be green and show no signs of drying.

Caring for Your Cocktail Tree After Grafting

Once you’ve removed the wrapping and have a healed graft, there are a few care instructions you’ll want to keep in mind.

Be on the lookout for shoots growing out of the rootstock. The rootstock can be more of an aggressive grower than the grafted scion and might try to reshoot for the first couple of years. If you see any shoots growing from below the grafted area, they should be removed. Individual leaves are fine and can help the plant grow.

Other than that, making sure the soil drains well and that it is getting enough sunlight should keep your tree happy and healthy.

Final Thoughts

If you’re running low on space, making a cocktail tree is a great way to add more citrus varieties to your garden without having to plant extra trees. Hopefully, this guide on grafting citrus trees was helpful and gave you the confidence to try it out yourself.