By Stacey Keenan -- Daily Staff Correspondent
WINCHESTER -- Even though America's favorite groundhog recently saw his shadow and quietly informed his fans of six more weeks of winter, the fluctuating temperatures are a reminder that spring will arrive soon. That means it's time to clear the cobwebs, organize the storage shed and begin planning this year's garden.
An upcoming program at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley could be just the place to start. The museum's first gardening workshop of the year, which takes place on Feb. 28, will focus on grafting methods.
"Grafting is the idea of taking the top of one plant and putting it on the roots of another plant. It's taking a plant with a weak rootstock and putting it onto a stronger rootstock. It's a faster way to propagate," says Mary Stickley, manager of gardens and grounds at the museum. "We'll be showing what grafting is by using fruit trees, because that's the easiest way to show how to do it."
Grafting is often used as a means to propagate, or produce new plants, in the ornamental industry, with such plants as roses, lilacs and red Japanese maples. Grafting is also used in the orchard industry.
"If you have a variety of apples that are no longer popular and you want to switch to a new kind, instead of taking out all the trees, waiting for the land to turn over and waiting for the new trees to grow, you can cut off the old branches and graft branches of the new variety onto the old. You'll have fruit within two to three years instead of five to six," says Stickley.
For homeowners, grafting is a way to produce lots of varieties quickly and in a small amount of space. For instance, homeowners can produce peaches, pears and plums on one tree by grafting one branch of each type of fruit tree onto one rootstock.
While there are a number of ways to graft fruit trees, the museum's workshop will teach participants about two specific methods, bud grafting and bench grafting.
Bud grafting, as its name implies, involves taking the bud from one type of tree and grafting, or attaching, the bud to another tree. To illustrate this method, participants will use pear trees. Stickley hopes to have several heirloom varieties for participants to choose from.
"[Participants] will take a living pear tree and graft a bud from a nicer pear tree onto it," says Stickley. "This is normally done in late summer, when it's warmer and the plant is actively growing, but we're doing it now just to show how to do it."
Bench grafting involves cutting off the top of the root stock of one tree, cutting a slit into it, then taking the stems from another tree, placing them into the slits of the first tree and sealing up the slits. Participants will choose from varieties of apple trees to learn this method of grafting.
"This method is normally done this time of year," says Stickley.
Participants will leave the workshop not only with the skills to practice grafting, but also with two grafted fruit trees to plant in their gardens at home.
"Plants need special care sometimes if they've been grafted, so we'll go over the care of grafted plants," says Stickley.
The workshop will be led by Raul Godinez, who owns Countryside Nurseries and who has raised grafted fruit trees for clients in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia for more than 20 years.
"He is originally from Washington state. He has a nursery, where he does his own stock and grafts for people all over the country. He's been grafting for 20 to 25 years, and does a huge variety of plants," says Stickley.
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley's Garden Workshop, Grafting Methods, begins at 10 a.m. on Feb. 28 in the museum's learning center. Seating is limited, and registration is required by Feb. 23. The cost is $35 for museum members and $45 for nonmembers. All materials are provided. For more information or to register, call (888) 556-5799, ext. 222, or e-mail registration@ShenandoahMuseum.org.