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Multigraft fruit trees are kind of awesome.

These three trees below are great examples. The one above is a 5-way apple grown by Grow Great Fruit members Clare and Win. It took them a few years to get it to this point, but it now provides them with a wonderful array of different apple varieties over a couple of months.

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The next one is a multi-graft pear with both Packham (green leaves) and 20th Century Nashi (red leaves) on the same tree.

A multigraft pear tree growing two varieties of pear
A multigraft pear tree growing two varieties of pear

The one below is an apricot tree with both Katy and Trevatt apricot branches.

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

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 from Katy. One of the main differences is that it ripens about a month later.

Why grow a multigraft?

Multigrafts are much less well-known than single-variety trees, so 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, particularly if you have a small space. If you have space for a LOT of fruit trees you may prefer to have individual trees of each variety.

Multigrafts also help to spread your harvest. 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.

Growing more than one variety on the same tree means you may grow as much fruit overall, but smaller quantities of a larger range of fruit. This means you’re less likely to end up with a massive glut to deal with all at once.

More reasons to love multigraft trees

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

  • pollination: in the example above both varieties of apricot 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 is at full bloom, the Trevatt will be later coming into bloom and might therefore have less frost damage. The same principle would apply to the Nashi and Packham. 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. The more varieties you have, the better your chance of 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.

Are fruit salad trees the same as multigrafts?

A fruit salad tree is like a multi-graft on steroids! It extends the concept to include different types of fruit on the same tree, whereas a multigraft has different varieties of the same type of fruit.

A fruit salad tree with a plum and two apricots
A fruit salad tree with a plum and two apricots

The example we’ve included here has two types of fruit (plum and apricot), and three varieties:

  1. Katy apricot (described above) – ripens late November
  2. Trevatt apricot (described above) – ripens late December
  3. Angelina plum – an early season European plum – ripens in January.
Beautiful Angelina plums
Beautiful Angelina plums

With just one tree you’ve already extended your harvest over three months. You’ve also given yourself a pretty good variety of fruit to enjoy and preserve.

Will a multigraft suit you, and can you grow your own?

The short answer is probably, and yes!

We love creating multi-grafts in our on-farm nursery (called Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery), and they’re one of the first things to sell out every year. You can see this year’s selection here.

However, we only supply gardeners that are very local to our nursery in central Victoria (we don’t offer deliveries). Multigrafts can be very hard to find at nurseries because they’re much fiddlier to produce. This is one of the reasons they’re usually more expensive. Plus, you’re getting two (or more) trees for the price of one!

The good news is that fruit salad and multigraft trees are one of the most fun things to have a go at grafting yourself.

The downside of multigrafts

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

One of them is that the trees can come out of the nursery in a slightly unusual shape (as you can see from the photo above). That’s not a problem, it just means they need a bit of careful management to establish a useful ‘vase’ shaped tree.

The other main issue is that one variety may dominate the tree. This issue can be corrected to some extent when you’re pruning to help keep the tree balanced, but it can be difficult to get different varieties balanced in the tree. A handy tip is to plant the tree with the weakest branch pointing north, where it will be favoured by more sunlight.

Management issues like this are pretty low-key and are usually handled easily during the regular “getting to know you” phase of your relationship with the tree. Once a multigraft fruit tree is established, they usually settle down and crop beautifully.

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