No, this is not a fantasy from the mind of Dr. Seuss, the fruit cocktail tree is real. It’s a single tree that produces a variety of fruits. Both professional and beginner fruit tree growers have been cultivating fruit cocktail trees for years, and you can too!
It all starts with the ancient technique of grafting, or, combining the healthy rootstock of one tree with the desirable scion of another tree (we’ll talk more about this later). Using this technique, you can graft multiple fruits onto one tree. Voila! You have a fruit cocktail tree.
There are a few advantages to growing a fruit cocktail tree: an increased chance of pollination, a diversity of fruits, and multiple harvests from a single tree. At the same time, there are some disadvantages: a limited yield, a higher susceptibility to disease, and general pruning and maintenance issues. Setting aside all pros and cons, if the idea of growing a fruit cocktail tree has piqued your interest, then go for it!
With a few supplies and this resource, you can graft and grow your own fruit cocktail tree. If your goal is to grow a variety of fruits in a limited space, another option is to plant multiple dwarf fruit trees in the same hole. Whether you’re grafting a fruit cocktail tree, or growing multiple trees in one hole, remember to keep it in the family (citrus, stone fruit, apple, or pear varieties together).
- Scion Wood
- Parafilm (grafting tape)
- Sharp knife or grafting tool
- Sharp pruning saw or pruners
- Get the materials — To begin, you’ll need a healthy rootstock (about 1” thick) and scions (about 1/4” thick) from a desired fruit tree. A rootstock is the root, or trunk, of a tree. It can be growing in your yard already, or, can be purchased in a container from your local nursery. A scion is a cutting, or a section of branch with buds, from a desired fruit tree. There are many ways to get scions. If your neighbor grows an apple that you love, ask him for a cutting the next time he is pruning. If you’re in California, check out the California Rare Fruit Growers (www.crfg.org), a fruit growing organization that hosts an annual seed, plant and scion wood exchange. If you want a fruit cocktail tree with 4 different fruits, you should have 4 different scions, from 4 different trees. You’ll also need Parafilm (you can get this at a nursery or grocery store) and a sharp knife
- Remember, keep it in the family! — The most successful fruit cocktail trees are comprised of fruits most similar in genes. Here’s a few fruit cocktail tree varieties with proven success: Citrus cocktail—orange, lemon, lime, mandarin Stone fruit cocktail—peach, plum, nectarine, apricot Apple cocktail—Fuji and Granny Smith
- Get your graft on— For the beginning fruit grower, the technique of grafting can be intimidating. Don’t be scared, we believe in you. However, watching an experienced fruit tree grower or attending a grafting workshop will only help to boost your confidence. If you’re ready to start today, keep reading. There are many types of grafts: whip-and-toungue graft, side veneer graft, bark graft, bud graft and cleft graft. We will focus on the cleft graft.
- Prepare your rootstock—Using a sharp saw or pruners, make a fresh, clean cut off your rootstock. The rootstock should be about 1” thick. Use a sharp knife to split the rootstock down the middle, about 2” deep.
- Prepare your scion wood—The scion wood should be about 1/4” thick, 4” long, and have a few healthy buds. With a sharp knife, make two long and sloping cuts to the end of the scion wood, one cut on each side. Imagine you are carving the end of spear.
- Connect the woods—Insert the fresh cut scion wood into the opening of your rootstock. Wrap the area with Parafilm to keep it secure and repel water. That’s it!
- Maintenance—Check on your graft occasionally. Remove any young shoots that might sprout on the rootstock. In general, a thick layer of organic mulch will help retain moisture in the soil, reduce pests and weeds, and add nutrients over time. Add organic compost before buds open to promote fruit growth. Prune when dormant.