One of my longer-term projects is to try to get some own-root fruit trees established. These are produced by persuading a cutting from your chosen variety to produce some roots, instead of the normal method of grafting it onto the roots of another variety. The usual method is to use a ‘nurse graft’, in which the cutting is grafted as normal but the graft union is planted underground so that the top can produce its own roots. Once it does so, the rootstock roots are cut off, giving an ungrafted tree. I have had no success at all with this method: my grafts take all right, but no roots are ever produced from the top.
Then I discovered this: what looked like little rootlets at the base of a branch of one of my established trees (I have since looked around and discovered that this is not uncommon). I decided to try air-layering, a method that involves putting some moisture-holding material around a shoot to encourage root production. I have previously tried it with both plums and apples without any success, but thought that if the tree was already thinking of producing roots I might be able to encourage it. I tied on some moss using an old bandage, then wrapped the lot in plastic – the plastic open at the top and tight at the bottom to try to funnel water in.
A week ago, I decided to see what the result was, and unwrapped my Christmas present a little early. Success! Nothing spectacular, but there was definitely root growth. The next stage will be to cut the branch off, prune it heavily and plant the rooted section to create a separate tree. Once this is established, it is meant to be much easier to produce further clones simply by taking root cuttings.