Pros & Cons of Growing a Multi-Graft Fruit tree
It’s the beginning of June, and we have been harvesting enough peaches to enjoy chopped over cereal every morning for a few weeks. But guess what?! We also have some peaches that are still green and won’t ripen until mid-July. How is it possible that we will have peaches for such an extended period of time? In our case, it’s due to growing four different varieties of peaches in our garden—-all on one tree! This is called a multi-graft tree.
What is a multi-graft fruit tree?
After three years of growing our own multi-graft peach tree, I feel like I have enough personal experience and thoughts to write a short blog about the pros and the cons. Before we begin, I did want to share a few different terms, aka garden-lingo, that might help anyone who is new to this type of tree. First, there are the “multi-graft trees” (which can also be known as multi-bud trees), that we will be discussing today. Essentially, these trees contain multiple grafts of fruit that is the same type of fruit (ie. all apples, all peaches, all cherries, etc). Second, there are also “fruit cocktail” trees which contain multiple grafts of fruit from the same family—-like peaches with nectarines or plums with apricots. My mom actually has a citrus fruit cocktail tree that has oranges, lemons, limes, etc.
Our Multi-Graft Peach Tree
The peach tree I am going to share with you today is a multi-graft/multi-bud tree from Dave Wilson Nursery. Well, it’s created by Dave Wilson, but purchased at our local Armstrong nursery. I’ve said this before, but Sam is my fruit guy. Because I plan the majority or our annual crops, perennials, and flowers, Sam is in charge of researching the fruit tree specifics. Now, I do chime in and say ‘I’d like a nectarine’ but essentially Sam will then do a deep dive into the types that flourish here, ripening dates, and so much more!
Back when we decided we wanted to grow peaches, Sam became obsessed with choosing peach varieties that would stagger our harvest dates and allow us to have peaches for three months instead of just one month. For example, instead of harvesting all our fruit in June, he would research what peach trees ripen in May, June, July, and so on. Now, you can do this all individually, but professionals (like Dave Wilson) also provide multi-graft trees that have basically done this work for you too. The 4-in-1 peach tree we have from Dave Wilson Nursery is their “multi-bud low chill peach.” As the name implies, all the varieties on this tree have low chill hour requirements which is important because of our Southern California microclimate. If you’re curious about chill hours and other important fruit tree criteria, check out my post about Things to Consider Before Buying a Fruit Tree. The multi-graft peach tree we are growing has Desert Gold, Flordaprince, Mid-Pride, and Eva’s Pride Peaches. Pretty cool, huh?
The Varieties on Our Multi-Graft Tree
Desert Gold: End of May to early June
Flordaprince: End of May to Mid June
Eva’s Pride: End of June to Early July
Mid-Pride: Early July to end of July
Why would anyone want a multi-graft tree? The pros….
There are a few reasons I love growing our multi-graft peach tree. First, I really enjoy it’s small footprint. Essentially, this tree looks like a single fruit tree and only takes up as much space as one tree. Now, there is a backyard orchard method that Dave Wilson also advocates that allows you to grow two, three, or even four trees right next to each other. In fact, my Dad actually did this with some of our trees growing up. It totally works! But, it looks like many trees in a clump. Is that bad? Not at all! I think it’s just really up to personal preference. Our multi-graft peach tree is growing in the front yard and I really like the look of one trunk in this area.
Second, multi-graft trees are pretty darn cool when espaliered. For example, we have a 6-in-1 apple tree that is espaliered (PS: it came that way). It definitely takes up less space than six trunks lumped together, and it’s growing flat against a wall! Interestingly, this apple purchase was an impulse buy because I’m pretty sure it was sent to the wrong nursery (all the apples aren’t really low-chill) and there was only one available. Of course, I LOVE experiments and the price was cheap so I bought it. As of now it hasn’t fruited, but this year we have some fruit set on three varieties.
The cons of growing multi-graft fruit trees
I’m gonna be honest, the cons of growing multi-graft fruit trees might outweigh the pros, except for specific situations (or if you’re just a curious gardener that likes to experience things hands-on).
First and foremost, it is more maintenance to keep the tree (and each, individual graft) healthy and thriving. If one graft is allowed to takeover, it could possibly cause the death of the other grafts if it shades the other grafts too much or takes all the growing energy. Honestly, I can already see this happening on our multi-bud tree. One of the grafts (the Flordaprince) just took off and is growing vigorously. In fact, after the second year I was pretty sure we lost the Mid-Pride and Eva’s Pride Peaches. The entire ends of their branches died off to the point where I didn’t know if there was any living tissue left. You can see in the photos how one side of the tree is larger and more healthy than the other.
Thankfully, this year we actually got some life (two fruit to be exact) from both the weaker varieties. It seems that they didn’t die completely, but are just weaker right now. It will be our responsibility to prune the Flordaprince properly and ensure the other grafts get what they need. Maintenance and balance for multi-graft trees must continue for years!
Aside from the maintenance, there’s also potential for less fruit because some varieties might not fare as well as others in your climate or in that specific spot. For example, half of the tree isn’t doing that great whereas the other half is going great (the Flordaprince and Desert Gold). Imagine if this tree was only Flordaprince. We probably would have tripled the amount of fruit we harvested!
Longevity of the tree could also be a concern. The grafts are higher on the tree, exposed, and could easily break or be weak points. In cold winter areas, grafts are definitely more in danger too. Obviously, we haven’t had the tree long enough to be able to attest to the longevity, but it is a concern I have. Although, if we do lose a graft, it is possible to re-graft a different variety at some point ourselves.
What I find most fascinating
This year we will get to taste all four varieties of peaches on this tree for the first time! I still worry about the two weaker grafts, but for now I look forward to getting to compare the flavors of these low-chill peaches. What I find the most fascinating is being able to watch the staggering of ripening dates all in one tree. It’s like witnessing garden science up-close and personal. In spring, you can see ¼ of the tree flower first, and the flowering continues around the tree clockwise. Right now I can harvest a Flordaprince while seeing that the latest ripening variety (mid-pride) is still almost green and hard. It’s truly cool to watch this happening side-by-side!
So what do you think? Would you try a multi-graft tree? For me personally, I think it taught me what does well here and what I like. If I’m looking for a singular, high performing peach for another part of the garden I’d definitely plant a Flordaprince or Desert Gold. It’s been fun, and also I can’t complain. I’m harvesting homegrown, delicious food right in my front yard….it’s delightful regardless!