Do Citrus Trees Need To Be Grafted?

Grafting a citrus tree

We have a sweet lemon tree that produces amazing fruits, so naturally, I wanted more of them. I tried planting some of the seeds and although they germinated, they didn’t grow all that well. After I did some research, I found it could take up to 10 YEARS for them to mature and fruit properly. That is unless I took a graft from our mature lemon tree. So, is growing citrus trees from seed really that impractical? Do citrus trees have to be grafted?

Citrus trees don’t have to be grafted, but there are many advantages. Not only will grafted citrus trees grow faster, but they can have increased disease and frost resistance, as well as having fruit that’s “true” to the parent tree. While grafting seems complex, it’s a good and reliable way to clone citrus trees.

Grafting seems like some skill that only master gardeners can perform, but it’s really something that anyone can do with just some pruning shears and some grafting tape. But, what is grafting exactly, and what do citrus trees need to be grafted onto? Let’s take a closer look.

Why Are Citrus Trees Grafted?

Citrus trees are grafted as a reliable way to clone other citrus trees. By taking a scion from a mature tree and grafting it onto a young rootstock, citrus owners and farmers can achieve a hardier, more productive tree that shares the same fruit as the parent tree. The majority of citrus trees sold are grafted trees.

On the other hand, when you grow a tree from a seed, the seed has a slightly different DNA from the parent tree (just like us and our parents). The plants from these seeds will need as much as 10 years to fully mature and bear fruit. Along with this, there’s a strong likelihood that the fruit will be different than the tree the seed came from.

Grafting is a process that can take just a few minutes once you know what you’re doing. But how does grafting work exactly?

How Does Grafting Work?

Grafting is the practice of joining two plants together into one plant. Generally, you create a wound in one plant and insert a piece of the other into it. If the graft takes, the two plant’s tissues fuse and will grow together as one.

There are two parts to a graft. The scion and the rootstock.

The Scion

Scion grafting

The scion is a piece of a branch, or budwood, from a mature citrus tree. By taking the scion from a mature citrus tree, you are effectively borrowing the DNA from the mature tree and fusing it onto a younger tree (the rootstock).

The Rootstock

grafting rootstock

Citrus tree scions are grafted onto rootstocks, which are what they sound like–roots. A popular rootstock to use is a sweet orange rootstock. Orange trees are typically hardier than lemon trees, so they can outlast frost and pests much better. This makes them the preferred choice for rootstocks.

We’ll explore more about how to graft later on, but for now, what are the full list of benefits to grafting?

What Are the Benefits of Grafting?

While results can vary, grafting is a fairly reliable way to grow hardy citrus trees that can bear fruit in as little as 2-3 years. Let’s take a look at some of the other benefits.

  • Increased disease resistance
  • Increased frost resistance
  • Grows the same fruit
  • Increased time to fruit
  • Better self-pollination

We’ve already touched on the increased disease and frost resistance (especially if you’re using orange tree rootstocks), but what about the others?

Well, since grafting uses the DNA from a mature tree, the new branch that grows out of the rootstock will have been grown from the tissue of the more mature tree.

The result? The fruit from that branch will also be from the more “mature” plant tissue.

Not only does this mean a faster fruiting time (only 2-3 years compared to up to 10 years when grown from seed), but the fruit is exactly the same as the original tree that you took the graft, or scion, from.

Grafted citrus trees are also commonly self-pollinating, which means you don’t need to worry about keeping multiple citrus trees around or encouraging cross-pollination.

To see a list of self-pollinating citrus trees, check out my post on citrus tree pollination.

So, as you can see, there are quite a few benefits of grafting citrus trees. If you’re wanting original fruit at a much sooner rate, it’s often a good idea to learn how to graft or find grafted trees to purchase.

Do Citrus Trees Have To Be Grafted?

Citrus trees don’t have to be grafted, but you’ll be missing out on the many benefits that grafting has to offer. However, if you prefer simplicity, and don’t mind slightly different variations of fruit, planting from seed is a viable way to grow citrus trees. Keep in mind, it can take up to 10 years to grow from seed.

Do You Need Two Citrus Trees To Produce Fruit?

Grafted citrus trees are often self-pollinating, so they won’t need another tree to produce fruit. However, even though they can fruit on their own, they can still benefit from cross-pollination. These benefits include a better fruiting rate, and at times, larger fruits.

So, if you have multiple citrus trees, it’s a good idea to keep them within range of each other to increase their pollination rates.

If you’d like more information about the distance needed between your citrus trees, I spent a few hours of research and put together a guide. Check out my post on how far apart to keep your citrus trees.

How To Easily Graft Citrus Trees

“T” Graft

A T graft is when you graft a scion into the side of the rootstock’s trunk, or terminal shoot. When you perform this type of graft, you train the grafted shoot to grow upwards, providing multiple branches from a single scion.

T grafting is more beginner-friendly and a good way to start grafting. If you’d like more of a challenge, then see cleft grafting below.

To see how to perform a T graft, check out the video by FruitMentor.

Cleft Graft

A cleft graft is when you split a branch or stem from the rootstock down the middle. You then wedge the scion into the cleft and if the graft takes, it will form a new branch.

Cleft grafting is a bit more complex, but it’s a great way to graft multiple citrus varieties and branches onto the same rootstock. These are called fruit cocktail trees and are a cool way to have two or more different kinds of fruit growing on the same tree!

To see how to perform a cleft graft, you can check out the video below by FruitMentor (they seem to have the best videos out there on grafting).

Final Thoughts

Instead of growing a lemon tree from seed, we ended up purchasing a grafted Meyer lemon tree. The benefits far out-weighed the costs. Getting a mature and fruit-bearing lemon tree in a fraction of the time was more than enough to convince us. However, grafting is something that we’ll start to do ourselves soon when we expand our citrus orchard.

Whether you’re looking at grafting to clone your citrus trees, or simply to provide a hardier tree, it’s a good practice to get into when managing your citrus trees. If you’re going to be doing the grafting yourself, start with doing T grafts and waiting to see if they take. If the scion turns green after a few weeks, then it’s worked!

Tyler Ziton

After years of fatigue and declining health, Tyler found that good, fresh food was his answer. He learned more about healthy food by obtaining a certification in health coaching, and from there decided to grow his own food and become more self-sufficient. From gardening to learning about living off-grid, homesteading has become a good fit and pairs well with Tyler's odd childhood dream – to one day own a goat. Read more.

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