Topworking Mango Trees – From Seedling to Delicious!


topworking mango trees

There are quite a few mango trees growing on our new homestead. I recently featured one huge specimen in a neighboring lot on my YouTube channel:

I’ve written quite a bit on the value of growing trees from seed. Though the power of grafting, you can take almost any seedling tree that turns out “so-so” in flavor and transform it later into something better. It’s one of the principles I cover in my Get Grafting! film as it’s such a powerful piece of knowledge.

Plant seeds, let them grow into trees with amazing taproots, then graft on top if you don’t like what you get.

You can do this with mango trees easily – even adult trees.

Check this out:

…one day in one of our personal weekend expeditions intended to educate ourselves, we happened upon Pabon’s farm in Polo, Polomolok, South Cotabato close to the foot of Mount Matutum, with vast plantation of Dole pineapple to the west. The farm was planted to hundreds of mango trees which, aged about 5 years old with trunk diameter of about 10-15 cm (4-6 in), have already started producing fruits.

When the farm owner bought the grafted seedlings, he was assured by the vendor that the seedlings were those of the “Luzon” variety, supposedly one of the best of the Philippine Carabao variety. But, to his dismay, he discovered that the fruits were entirely different from that of the Carabao variety, now also called Manila Supersweet mango or simply Philippine mango and others.

It’s twelve years since this mango tree was top-grafted and the wounds had completely healed.

Totally convinced then of the viability of mango farming, the farm owner had no choice but to replace the mango trees by replanting new seedlings. Luckily, he did not right away cut the trees. He started planting grafted seedlings from a reliable source in between the existing rows. That was when we passed by, noticed the new plantings, and became curious why he did it.

To cut it short, we advised him that he could still proceed with his plan of going into mango farming without replanting which would mean another expenditure and waiting years for the seedlings to mature…

(Click here to read the rest)

Turn Trees Into Better Trees

Topworking mango trees is easy but it’s also possible with most fruit trees. Some, like apple, are REALLY easy to graft. Others are a bit more touchy. However, if you screw up your grafting, you won’t kill the tree. You can try, try again.

On our new property there are some mangoes that are loaded with strings. The flavor is good, but the flesh is so filled with threads that you spend the next few hours picking bits out of your teeth. Another tree, however, has fat orange-fleshed mangoes without any threads at all.

topworking mango trees

Like your neighbor’s mangos? Ask for a little wood and graft ’em onto your own tree!

All over the place there are mango seedlings of varied parentage. If I wanted to transform any of them into whatever variety I like, I could cut them back and graft the resulting shoots and be getting mangoes in much shorter period of time than if I replaced those little trees with purchased specimens from a nursery. Think of all the roots on an established tree – that’s a resource you want to use!

If you’ve got a sour orange in your yard, don’t yank it up and plant a Navel – find a friend with a Navel and graft it on top. It will be stronger and fruit faster. Same thing with any fruit tree that doesn’t quite strike your fancy. Learn to graft and everything will fall into place.

One of these days I’ll do a video on topworking mango trees… I just need to choose a good victim!

Pears Grafted Onto Hawthorn: An Update


In April I undertook an experiment: I grafted pear scions onto a hawthorn tree growing at a friend’s house.

Pear grafted onto hawthorn

A pear grafted onto hawthorn

My original post on this experiment is here.

Out of the many grafts I undertook, four seem to have stuck.

I posted a video a few days ago – check it out:

The interesting thing about this: if the pear scions keep growing and work out, they’ll be growing in a place that’s rather inhospitable to most decent fruit trees. This is some hot, sandy, dry scrubland. The hawthorns can handle it, so as a rootstock they should really do well.

We’ll see how things turn out for the pears grafted onto hawthorn long-term but I’m encouraged to see these guys growing so far.


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Big sweet cultivated plums harvested off a Chickasaw plum graft


I have been remiss in my garden reporting duties.

A couple of weeks ago I took a picture and it’s only just now that I’m posting it.

Check out these plums from my Chickasaw plum graft:

plums picked off a chickasaw plum graft

Those were harvested off the improved plum branch I grafted onto my wild Chickasaw plum tree last February.

We got about a dozen fruits off that branch and they were delicious. Chickasaw plum is a really scrappy tree that can handle nematodes, drought, poor soil and lots of abuse… unlike most cultivated fruit trees. Taking advantage of its excellent root system by tacking on better fruit makes a lot of sense. You just need to support the resulting branches or else they’ll outgrow the rootstock and pull the tree down to the ground.

In case you missed it, here’s a video I recorded recently on this Chickasaw plum graft project. You can also see the nectarine and peach scions I grafted onto the wild plum this year:


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A successful fig graft!


My fig tree graft worked!

fig tree graft

That’s a cleft-grafted Texas Everbearing fig added to an unknown variety I planted a few years ago. The tree produces large yellow figs in very limited quantities. It’s really not very productive considering all the space it takes up so I’ve decided to start tacking other varieties onto it.

I grafted two Texas Everbearing scions onto the tree earlier this spring and both of them have taken.

Interestingly, the scion’s cambium layer is only lined up on one side of the cleft graft. I had heard this would work but it hadn’t worked on any of my fruit trees (except apples) until I tried it with these figs.

Texas Everbearing figs are huge:

They produce like crazy, too – a lot like the smaller-fruited Brown Turkey variety.

We’ll see how these fig tree grafts do as they mature.

If you want your own Texas Everbearing fig, the only place I’ve ever seen them for sale is at Taylor Gardens Nursery. I highly recommend you pick one up if you get a chance.

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Grafting Pear onto Hawthorn

hawthorn tree for grafting
hawthorn tree for grafting

The victim, pre-surgery

I’ve read that it’s possible to use wild hawthorn trees as a root stock for pear, though I’ve never had the chance to try grafting pears onto hawthorn until now.

While doing a horticultural analysis of a client’s property in prelude to installing a food forest, I discovered a large number of hawthorn trees on the premises (probably Crataegus flava).

Though they have edible fruit, they’re generally said to be bland and only really good for jellies.

Since the trees are thriving on highly drained humus-deficient sand, if it’s possible to add pears to their tops, they’d serve as a hardy rootstock rather than trying to establish new pears.

I shared the idea with the property owner and he was intrigued. The answer: “Go for it!”

I love folks like that.

Since my own pears were still dormant when we discussed the idea, I cut a good amount of dormant scions from multiple trees and refrigerated them until this last week when we started phase one of the food forest installation.

To start on the tree, I cut off quite a few of the crossing and smaller branches, then picked out which limbs would support my pear scions.

(I use this parafilm tape and this Japanese pruning saw. It’s simply got to be tried to be believed – I can carve through 4″ of oak in half a minute.)

Once I did the initial clean-up, I started grafting pear onto hawthorn branches. Here’s what the tree ended up looking like:


And here are some close-up shots:

I tied the grafts tightly with flagging tape before wrapping them in the parafilm.

It’s very important to have a tight fit between rootstock and scion. My friend Steven also told me one of the most common reasons for grafting failure is having the scions dry out, so I’m now quite meticulous with my parafilm wrapping or wound seal application (I lost my bottle of sealer somewhere so it was just parafilm on this hawthorn).

Due to the wavy nature of hawthorn growth (the branches are all zigzags) it wasn’t easy to line up my pear scions. Most of the grafts are cleft grafts, though I also performed a few somewhat shaky whip-and-tongue grafts as well, just to see which would work.

I will report in the future on whether or not they took. If they do, I’ll be thrilled and will have opened up another avenue for food forest fruit production. If not, I will have invested an hour of my life in the pursuit of an enticing possibility that didn’t pan out but will have taught me something new.



Learn more about growing fruit trees in David the Good’s book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest.

Grafting Nectarines and Peaches on a Chickasaw Plum


I’ve posted a couple of times on the Chickasaw plum (one of our wild native plums) I planted in the front yard and how I added a cultivated variety of plum to it, along with my interest in grafting wild plum.

A month ago I spent an afternoon popping in grafts on various trees to see what would work and what wouldn’t.

The picture above is one of those experiments; it’s a Sunraycer nectarine scion that’s starting to grow off one of the Chickasaw plum’s suckers.

Here’s another graft that seems to have taken, this time from a peach:

grafting wild plum

This is getting to be rather fun. I’m imagining what this tree will look like in a few years as I keep grafting stone fruit onto the suckers… it’ll be a veritable fruit cocktail.

As for the cultivated plum I grafted onto it last year, it’s now over 4′ long… and it’s bursting into bloom!

Here’s what the original graft now looks like:

healed plum graft

You can still see the “V” of the original cleft graft but it’s healed up nice and tight.

In Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, I mention there are reasons to save wild trees when planning a food forest, one of them being that they may serve you as established root stock you can later graft on top of.

In some parts of Florida there are wild plums everywhere… why not improve upon them?

And speaking of improving, check this out:

I’m particularly proud of that graft because it’s not mine – it’s my wife’s.

Yes, that is Rachel’s very first attempt at grafting, and it’s taken thus far.

Good work, you sexy gardener you.

It’s really not hard to graft. Perhaps next spring I can have a small class on it here for anyone’s that’s interested. That will give me another year to practice my technique and have more to show off around the food forest.

Anyone else doing some grafting this spring?

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Grafting a mulberry tree


The mulberry tree (Morus nigra) in my front-yard food forest has proven to be a less-than-exciting variety. Here it is:

It makes decent fruit but they’re not all that big and they’re not nearly as prolific as my “Illinois Everbearing” tree out back.

However, the tree has grown well for the last four years and has some good roots beneath it at this point so there’s no way I’m taking it out.

Instead, I’ve decided to multi-graft it with more exciting varieties.

I started this project on Wednesday of this week.

First, I decided to take off the top of the tree. It was getting too tall for easy harvesting.

Then I took off some of the branches that were growing too close to the ground.

Once the tree was cleaned up a bit, it was time to start grafting. I picked a good branch for my first graft and made a cleft in the middle with my trusty Leatherman:

Then I sharpened up a couple of scions of “6th Street,” a prolific black variety. When they were trimmed nicely, I popped the first one in.

You need to put them in carefully so you don’t snap the long, thin wedge. Using the blade of a knife helps.

After that, I added the second one.


Next I tied it up tightly to pull the cambium layers together.

Your main enemy when grafting a mulberry tree (or anything else) is having the graft dry out, killing the scion before it can join to the root stock. This is why you wrap it up tightly or paint the wound with tree sealer. Or both. In this case, I wrapped everything with parafilm.

grafting a mulberry tree

And here’s the final graft, labeled with an aluminum tag:

I also added a few scions of “Saharanpor Local Mulberry,” a long-fruited white type, to another branch on the tree, this time using “whip and tongue” grafts to match like-sized wood.

Over time I’m going to keep adding varieties to this tree. Since my space is limited, I can just use this tree as a source of propagative material for my nursery as well as for fruit. Instead of planting all the varieties of mulberry I carry, I can graft on branches and later use them for cuttings I can add to the mist house.

Of course, there’s really no reason at all for doing the following… except for SCIENCE!

What is that graft, you say?

It’s a Brown Turkey fig I whip-and-tongued onto this black mulberry.

Will a fig on mulberry graft work? I have no idea, but the trees are cousins so I’m giving it a try. I got a really tight fit with that graft, then wrapped it up after the photo was taken. I think it would be crazy cool if I was able to grow figs on a mulberry tree…

The winter has been so warm I just couldn’t wait to start grafting. I’ve got quite a few experiments going and if any of them succeed I’ll be quite pleased.

Other than the mulberry, today I added nectarine, sweet cherry and plum grafts onto Chickasaw plum, sweet cherry and nectarine onto a Flatwoods plum, and sweet cherry onto a wild black cherry tree (Prunus serotina). I’m curious to see if they’ll take. All are cousins… so the chance is there.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Grafting Chickasaw Plums

grafting chickasaw plums is easier than you'd think

Last year I performed the above graft of an improved European plum variety onto a native Chickasaw plum and it took wonderfully. That scion has now grown into a 5′ branch.

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with Paul Miller of Rainbow Star Farm in Gainesville. For three-plus decades, he was in charge of the fruit tree breeding program at UF. The man knows his stuff.

I told him about my successful graft and he congratulated me… then told me something very, very interesting. Apparently, the Chickasaw plum is a “universal” rootstock for more than just other plums. It will also support peaches, nectarines, apricots and potentially even cherries.

The problem, he told me, is that the Chickasaw plum is very flexible and doesn’t grow nearly as large as many of the trees you can graft onto it. That means that above the graft you can have a large tree top that will bow the lower Chickasaw trunk down to the ground. This is exactly what’s been happening with the graft pictured above. In order to fix this, he told me to simply knock a fence pole into the ground and tie the tree up.

Why would you want to bother?

For one thing, the Chickasaw plum is a super tough little tree. It manages lousy soil, nematodes, drought and all kinds of other stresses without flinching. It’s hard to say the same for improved fruit trees.

For another thing, Chickasaw plums will pop up all over the place, thanks to birds dropping the seeds around. If you’re in an area where Chickasaw plums grow in the woods near your place, you’re likely to have them show up in the yard if you quit mowing.

On the downside, the Chickasaw plum is a prolific creator of suckers. They’ll form a thicket in no time if you don’t stay on top of them. Of course, there’s nothing keeping you from grafting additional peaches, nectarines and plums onto those suckers and making a home-grown thicket of edible fruit.

Down the street from me there’s a wild plum (which may be a Flatwoods plum, not a Chickasaw) growing over the fence in an empty lot. Since it was popping into bloom this last week, I decided to take the opportunity to guerrilla graft in some peach scions from one of my seedling peaches.

I’m hoping they take.

If they do, I think whoever owns the lot is going to be totally confused by the peaches that will soon be growing on the roadside.

I’ll keep you all posted.

I’ll also be offering Chickasaw plums for sale in my nursery this year. They’re a decent sweet-tart fruit in their own right, but if you’re interested in grafting… it’s hard to think of a more entertaining subject for improvement.

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Taking the top off a tree and changing the variety through grafting


I’ve been studying up on grafting over the last couple of weeks and just found a good post by Lee Reich over at Mother Earth News:


I might be accused of being the Henry the Fourth of horticulture. Visitors here are amazed — or is it shocked? — to learn of my apparent ruthlessness.

Bark graft scion after cutting.

A case in point: I grow about two dozen varieties of pear, all trees I made myself by growing rootstocks from pear seeds and grafting onto those rootstocks one or more stems (known as scions) of a variety I want to grow. (Pears on seedling rootstocks grow very large and I’m afraid of heights. So I usually make dwarf trees by grafting scions onto scions of special dwarfing rootstocks that, in turn, get grafted on the seedling rootstocks.) Problem is that I’ve never tasted many of the varieties I’ve grown. I chose them from recommendations or from printed descriptions. Alas, some varieties never live up to their promise, for me at least. And then, it’s off with their heads.

Grafting for a tree makeover.

 In contrast to Henry, I don’t lop off their heads and that’s the end of them. Instead, after lopping a tree back to a fairly low stub of trunk, I then stick on some new scions. With a full-grown root system beneath them, the scions, once they’ve knit to the rootstocks, really take off, often growing more than 3 feet in one season.

These “top-worked” trees also bear quickly, sometimes within a couple of years. And a couple of years after that, the graft smooths out so that you’d hardly guess at the apparently brutal treatment the tree endured just a few years back. Unless, of course, I’m not pleased with the fruit of the new variety, in which case it’s again, “Off with your head.”

My favorite graft for these tree makeovers is known as a bark graft and the time to do it is just as leaves are beginning to poke out of recently dormant stems and the bark easily separates from the wood. Which is now, early May, here in New York’s Hudson Valley. Ideally, foot-long scions of one-year-old wood (last years growth) have been gathered a few weeks previous and have been kept dormant with refrigeration.

The nice thing about the bark graft is that it comes with an insurance policy. Onto a stub of a trunk a couple of inches or more in diameter, you can stick 3, 4, 5, or even more scions, depending on just how wide the trunk is. Only one scion needs to grow; the more that are grafted, the greater the chance of success.


Grafting fruit trees for health and vitality.

The graft itself is simple. I make a long, evenly sloping cut, typically about 2 inches long, near the base of the scion. Then, into the freshly cut stub on which the scions will be grafted, I make two slits about the width of the base of the scion and through the bark and down to the wood. Lifting the bark near where it was cut provides an opening into which I slide the cut scion with this sloping cut facing inward and deep enough to cover its sloping cut.


This is repeated with the other scions, all around the stub. One or two staples from a staple gun or a wrapping of electrician’s tape suffices to hold the scions and the flap of bark from the rootstock in place.

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It’s truly amazing what trees will live through. I’m going to be severely cutting back a mulberry in a month or so and grafting away.

We’ll see if I can pull off this method successfully.

It’s not like I’m going to kill the tree trying… killing a mulberry is really tough.

I’ll post pictures when I graft and keep you all posted.


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