Will a multigraft fruit tree suit you?

Multigraft fruit trees are kind of awesome.

A multigraft apricot tree with two varieties
A multigraft apricot tree with two varieties

This is a great example — an apricot tree with both Katy and Trevatt apricot branches. Katy is an early apricot that is a bright orange colour, firm texture, slightly oblong shape and terrific flavour that combines sweetness and tartness. It’s also a reliable cropper.

Trevatt is a more common apricot that you may have heard of — it’s a heritage variety (dating from the 1900s, developed in Mildura), and is completely different to Katy. It ripens about a month later, it has pale lemony-orange skin, and is a super-sweet apricot with very little tartness. It also has a much different texture, ripens from the inside, and is much softer — it can even go a little mushy if allowed to get overripe.

So, will a multigraft suit you? They’re much less well-known, and many gardeners are a little hesitant to try them out.

It’s almost a no-brainer that a multigraft is a better use of the space in your garden, unless you have space for a LOT of fruit trees and would prefer to have whole trees of each variety. Considering that a mature tree can easily yield up to 40 or 50 kg of fruit (or more) in a good season, it usually makes sense to spread the harvest over a longer period, rather than have a massive glut to deal with all at once.

There’s a couple of other great reasons that multi-grafts can work well:

  • pollination: in this example both varieties are self-fertile, but even self-fertile trees can benefit from having pollen from another variety close by, and this can help to increase yields;
  • spreads the risk: apart from the issue of gluts already discussed, some seasons just don’t favour some varieties. For example, if you happen to get a frost just at the time when the Katy are at full bloom, the Trevatt may be later coming into bloom and might therefore have less frost damage. Another scenario we’ve seen many times is rain affecting one variety that is almost ripe, causing it to split, while another variety that is still a month away from picking can escape relatively unscathed — so the more varieties you have, the better your chance of at least getting some fruit every year!
  • disease resistance: different varieties may be more vulnerable to particular diseases, like blossom blight or brown rot, either because of the difference in their ripening times, or just the natural resistance of that variety.
A fruit salad tree with a plum and two apricots
A fruit salad tree with a plum and two apricots

A fruit salad tree is like a multi-graft on steroids!

This extends the concept to include different types of fruit on the same tree, rather than just different varieties of the same type of fruit. In the example we’ve included here, you get both!

This tree has three varieties:

  1. Katy apricot (described above) – ripens late Nov
  2. Trevatt apricot (described above) – ripens late Dec
  3. Angelina plum – an early season European plum, very sweet, with beautiful dark purple skin with the traditional dusty-looking ‘bloom’ on the skin. These plums are incredibly delicious and versatile – you can eat them fresh, dry them, bottle them, jam them or make them into wine, just to name a few. They’re also a favourite for the classic European plum dumplings, or plum cake. They’re a really good plum to include in the garden.
Beautiful Angelina plums
Beautiful Angelina plums

Angelinas ripen in January – so with just one tree you’ve already extended your harvest over three months, as well as given yourself a pretty good variety of fruit to enjoy and preserve.

We love creating multi-grafts in our on-farm nursery (called Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery), and have quite a lot of different combos on sale this year — you can see our selection of multi-grafts here.

At the moment we’ve limited it to apricots and plums (though we have plans to extend it to apples, pears and peaches), but there’s heaps more you can do in your own garden, by learning how to graft new varieties onto existing trees.

It’s such a brilliant and easy way to extend your fruit season and increase the variety of fruit in your diet that Grow Your Own Fruit Trees for Free
is one of our favourite short courses, and probably the best one to start with if you’re new to grafting. We also have specialist courses on individual grafting techniques when you’re ready for them.

There can be a couple of drawbacks with multi-grafts though.

One of them is that the trees can come out of the nursery a slightly unusual shape (as you can see from the photo above), and so require a bit of careful management to establish as a useful ‘vase’ shaped tree.

The other main issue is that one variety may dominate the tree, and again, may need some attention when pruning to help keep the tree balanced. A handy tip is to plant the tree with the weakest branch pointing north, where it will be favoured by more sunlight.

But really, the management issues are usually handled easily during the regular “getting to know you” phase of your relationship with the tree, and once established, they usually settle down and crop beautifully.

10 thoughts on “Will a multigraft fruit tree suit you?”

  1. Love the idea of these. Would a tree with 2 grafts be suitable for espalier? I’m guessing you would have to have each variety going up in a vertical , then the laterals coming off each. Would that place too much pressure on the grafts?

    1. Hi Erin, yes they suit espalier perfectly, and the design you propose would work fine. Espalier actually come in many different shapes and designs, so whether you start with horizontals, verticals, or a fan with multiple branches (for example) is one decision, separate to which branches will be which varieties. No, it won’t place too much pressure on the grafts, as if they’ve made a good graft union they usually heal very strongly.

  2. Great article.
    I’m wondering if this kind of grafting is suitable for very mature trees? I have 2 very established plum trees and I’m always thinking about how I can extend their life.
    Nicole

    1. Yes, it certainly is! It’s a brilliant thing to do with mature fruit trees Nicole to turn them into much more useful members of your garden. Good luck with it!

  3. This is great but wondering if it’s too late to do it with a medium sized tree? Does it have to be right from the start? Didn’t do any budding on my apricot as need someone to re- show me but now wondering about grafting some other varieties onto it. Anyone got some of the varieties mentioned in this multi graft article that I could get scions from? Katy and Trevatt

    1. Hi Chris, no it doesn’t have to be done right from the start, you can ‘retrofit’ an existing tree. Here’s an easy way to do it: 1. in winter, cut off some or most (but not all) of the branches, 2. then over spring and summer the tree will grow a lot of new shoots – select the best of them to make up the correct shape of tree you’re aiming for, and remove the rest, 3. in late summer use summer grafting (budding) to graft your chosen varieties into the new shoots, 4. the following winter/spring – cut back to the bud (as long as the grafts have ‘taken’), and voila, your tree now has new varieties! You could instead use winter grafting techniques, which is a slightly different process.

  4. Hi Chris, yes it’s a beautiful shot isn’t it? And you’re right – fruit fly is more of an issue with the late ripening varieties, so is one of the factors you need to consider when choosing the varieties for your garden. Cheers!

  5. I have 5 apple rootstocks which I have pruned off a badly neglected potted dwarf apple and they all went into my new espalier orchard last season. I was quite surprised that the rootstock have not only survived but thrived, so this winter I think I’d like to try my hand at grafting some more additional heritage apples to add to my collection. As some of the root stock have already started being shaped in classic chandelier espalier, I had wondered if I could graft more than one variety? Do you have any recommendations? I also have one spot in the orchard free. I thought of a multi graft plum. I already have 4 plums green and purple gage, coes golden and splendour, but this season my daughter discovered blood plums and has been begging for one of those trees. Are blood plums only Japanese or are any pollinated by European plums? A dual graft might then solve this issue. Do you have any?

    1. Hi Kelly – what a beautiful garden it sounds like you’re creating! First the apples, congratulations for striking some new rootstocks – it’s such an easy way of getting new trees for free. As long as you sure you’ve pruned them from the original rootstock, they’ll also be dwarf trees – if the cuttings came from above the graft, they may turn out to be bigger trees. Either way yes, you can graft multiple varieties onto them. It’s hard to recommend specific varieties without knowing what apples you already have – but essentially, just go with varieties you like to eat, and it’s always a good idea to spread your harvest as much as possible with early, mid and late varieties. Re the plum – yes, blood plums are all (mostly, there might be the odd exception) Japanese-type plums, and they need another Japanese-type to pollinise them. Depending on where you live there are often enough plums as street trees or in nearby backyards, or getting a multi-graft is a great option. I’d probably recommend the Autumn Giant/Mariposa, as Mariposa is an excellent and reliable blood plum, and Autumn Giant is a lovely, sweet late-season plum (we pick it in April at our place).

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