Product Review: Hyperowl Garden Grafting Tool

THE GRAFTING TOOL I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW I NEEDED

I first saw an ad for the Hyperowl Garden Grafting Tool on Instagram about six months ago. People have been talking about how great Insta’s ad targeting is but I had simply never seen it. They’d been feeding me ads for cosmetics—hilarious because I only occasionally wear mascara—so those ads get no traction with me. But this one I kept coming back to.

I had never even once attempted to graft a tree! But this nifty tool had me mesmerized, dreaming of the magical fruit concoctions that I could create. Demonstrating the perfect puzzle notch cutting feature, I was simply Wowed! I needed to know more!

One of my Gardening Specialists had been doing quite a bit of grafting recently so I quickly sent her a link to inform her of this wonder-tool. To which she promptly informed me that she had been using this tool for over a year. So, I set aside some time for an interview with Jana.

a conversation with jana: about the Hyperowl grafting tool

Natalie: You’ve been grafting fruit trees for a while now. Have you ever done any grafting with a different tool prior to using the Hyperowl?  

Jana: I’ve been grafting for about three years now so considering you have to wait for a while to see whether your effort was a success, that’s not a long time. That said, I’m definitely planning continue on the bumpy road of manipulating nature. I started out using a grafting knife, which certainly challenges a person’s mental endurance, since you’re often holding that very sharp knife in heart-attack inducing positions. It was bad enough when I practiced on cut branches, but became truly challenging when working up in a tree, balancing on a ladder, holding the grafting tape in my mouth and being poked by a branch in both eyes. Then, I joined the California Rare Fruit Growers organization and attended their annual graft exchange. That’s when they presented the grafting tool that would make my life much easier.

Natalie: That sounds completely treacherous! So when you started using the Hyperowl Garden Grafting Tool instead of a knife, in addition to reducing the dangers, did you find it to be sturdy?

Jana: The tool is well made, lightweight and works effectively. It is very important to spray the blades with a bleach solution between cuts so that you don’t end up spreading disease between grafts and trees. Because I do that after every single cut, the metal blade is a little rusty, which doesn’t bother me at all. 

Natalie: Do you feel like it gives you a clean cut? Do the notches fit together perfectly?

Jana: It cuts well and the cuts are clean. To make a complementary cut, you simply turn the tool, therefore the cuts match perfectly as long as the circumference of the graft matches the circumference of the receiving branch closely. You want as much contact as possible between their respective cambium layers (the thin green layer right under the outer bark) for the best possible success rate. The only challenge for me is to center the receiving branch so that the cut is even on both sides, especially when the branch is quite thin. It is easier to achieve an even placement of the cut on the graft, since you’re holding the graft in your hand. Ideally, there should be a centering mechanism or visual aid to help center the cut. That would be my main suggestion if the manufacturer wanted a tip on how to improve the tool.

Natalie: Do you use the cellophane that they provided or something different?  Are there any other ways that you’ve modified how you use this tool compared with the way it was intended?

Jana: I like to use Parafilm instead (available online), it’s more stretchy and adheres to itself more readily, which is a desirable trait when trying to achieve a good seal. Also, three different attachments are provided to create a different shape of cuts, but I picked one that seems to be working best for me and I don’t bother switching them.

a conversation with jana: about grafting

Natalie: What types of trees have you grafted with it.  Are any types more successful than others?

Jana: I have grafted citrus, apple, apricot, pomegranate, persimmon and avocado. Citrus, was the most successful with this tool. I want to mention it’s crucial to get citrus graft material from Citrus Clonal Protection Program (CCPP). The program of University of California Riverside offers grafts free from citrus greening disease (aka Huanglongbing or HLB disease) a quickly spreading, fatal disease for citrus trees. CCPP offers an incredible selection of grafts for very reasonable prices. I also grafted apple (90% success), apricot (90%), pomegranate (50%) and avocado (so far so… not good). It’s also possible to graft various fruit onto one tree, as long as they are closely related. I recently successfully grafted plum onto apricot, as well as several different crosses like plumcot, aprium and nectaplum onto my apricot tree.  

Natalie: How successful would you say your grafts are with this tool vs. with the grafting knife?

When a fat bird sits on your graft.

Jana: There are many factors at play when it comes to grafting success. The quality of the graft, the time of year, the grafting technique, and how fat the birds are that land on your new graft. Fruit trees require different individual grafting techniques. Citrus trees and persimmons, warrant bud grafting, in which a grafting knife must be used. You cut a T shape in the bark of the receiving branch, peel the bark to expose the cambium layer and then insert the bud into the space. Despite having an extensive theoretical knowledge of the technique, my success rate on that one was zero.

The next best method for citrus is the Z cut method, which also requires the use of a grafting knife. A series of heat waves followed my grafting spree. The rate of success on that one was about 10%. Then I attempted to graft citrus with the Hyperowl and the success rate was about 20%. Not amazing but much better than using the other methods. Here is a note of caution when using the Z cut method on citrus. Your arms will look like a mountain lion used you as a scratching post. Using this tool it’s more like you had a play date with a rambunctious house cat. When I used the Hyperowl on apple and apricot trees, the success rate was about 90%. It made the process infinitely faster and more convenient—no animal analogies required.

final word

I really enjoyed getting this information from Jana about grafting. Although I spend most of my waking hours in gardens, designing them, visiting them and writing about them, grafting is something that I’ve never really delved into before now. The challenge excites me and the discovery of this tool has me ready to dive in head first.

What about you? Are you an experienced grafter? If so, let me know what your favorite methods are. And if not, what do you think? Will you give it a try?

Good luck!

WHY ARE MY PLANTS DYING?

the Truth about plant death

I’ve got some cold, hard truths for you today. There’s no point in beating around the bush about it (pun intended) so I’m just going to say it. You ready?…Plants die. That’s right. It’s a grim fact and no one escapes the carnage. If you tend to plants, you will kill plants. If you think that’s rough, keep in mind that when you design or maintain gardens for others, you will kill their plants too.

Ouch! I know. But sometimes you just have to rip the band-aid off.

Who Kills Plants?

Everyone! If you want to know why plants are dying, here’s the thing, plants die for those with the proverbial “green thumb” and those with a “brown thumb”. No matter the color of your digits, no matter how much you pay attention to, or ignore them, they are living entities that have a cycle of life and death. Some impress us with their long liv-ed-ness and others seem to kick the bucket even before we’ve put our tools away after planting them. And others have a little help from the creatures and critters that share the space.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even the best gardeners kill plants although they might make it seem otherwise. Those “plant whisperers”, have probably killed at least as many as they have nurtured to great beauty. In fact, you know what makes them so great at keeping beautiful plants? It’s in fact, because they’ve killed so many. The key is that each time one doesn’t survive, you learn something new about it. Perhaps the Sunset book said sun to part shade and you discover that, whoops! Not so happy with the shade part in that equation. Lesson learned.

My Plant Graveyard

Many years ago, I went to a course for Mediterranean garden design. The instructor was world famous in her field. Yet, of all the information that she shared the thing that really stuck was that she kept a very special planter in her garden. One that contained the markers for each of the plants that she had killed. Hundreds of them! She called it her plant graveyard and said, “If you’re not killing some plants, you’re just not trying hard enough”. She inspired me to be brave. I learned that when I’m not afraid of killing plants, I’m able to be way more creative in trying new ones. What a gift, not just for me but for my clients!

In an effort to embrace the truth, I created my own Plant Graveyard. I even performed a tiny little ceremony. Ok, not a ceremony per se, but when each new tag was placed in my horticultural place of repose, I’d take a moment and reflect on where I may have gone wrong. What signs did I miss that could have prevented this tragic outcome. Was I too neglectful? Did I smother it with too much…water, pruning love etc? It helped.

Understanding the life cycle of plants helped me become a more mindful gardener; also, a more mindful designer. And you can too. Some plants just aren’t meant for longevity. It’s helpful to know that before putting them in a garden.

What else can be learned from dying plants

Ok, now that you’re settling in to the idea of plant mortality, let’s dive into the nitty gritty of why plants die. Here’s the very important, key information about plant death: although we simply cannot prevent them all, we can definitely be vigilantes to defend the gardens we protect. There are a handful of the most pervasive culprits that with knowledge and a good checklist we can guard against.

Some dangers are obvious. Some very sneaky. Here’s what you should look for, and how to defeat the offenders. Having a plant graveyard is fine, but let’s save as many botanical souls as we can*.

Dying plant causes
Dying plant causes
Dying plant causes
Dying plant causes

*I have purposely not included plant diseases and pests in this post. They certainly are villains in the garden, however, they comprise a completely separate and unique topic which extends beyond our scope here. We will discuss in a later post.

SEASONAL SPECIAL: It’s a zillion degrees! When should I water?

You’ve seen it before at this time of year. Those dry crispy leaves on your favorite plant. The drooping blooms on a Salvia leucantha. Damage from the sun and heat make gorgeous plants look so sad and sorry. In Southern California, the temperatures in July, August and September can soar past the 90’s and into 100’s where there they sit, oppressively, for weeks on end. Without the mercy of our “June Gloom” it’s not hard to see which plants can take the heat.

Regardless, of the plants in the garden, the question I get asked most often at this time of year, is “When can I water my plants in this heat?” It’s a super important question to get right, so let’s dive right in:

OPTION 1: DAYTIME WATERING

Definitely no. This is a terrible time to water when temperatures are high. Even in the 80’s you’re really not getting much bang for your watering buck anyway.

There are 2 main problems with watering during the day. First and foremost, the water will evaporate before any of it gets to it’s destination—the roots. No matter how long you stand there with a hose or run those sprays, the process of absorption simply takes time. Sometimes, people believe that in order to prevent the water from evaporating they should apply extra water. This is like trying to put 2 gallons of water in a 1 gallon jug. The water will simply run off into the street or drains because the soil can’t absorb the water fast enough.

The second reason watering during the day is a poor choice is that plants and all of their parts absorb heat all day long. The leaves get hot, as do the roots and the soil around them. As water is applied and makes contact with the hot leaves or roots, it essentially fries them causing burns which cannot be undone. Think about how you might check to see if a pan is hot enough on the stove. When you sprinkle water on it, what’s the reaction? SIZZLE! Same goes for plants.

OPTION 2: EVENING WATERING

Yes, but. There are some who say that evening watering on high heat days is preferred. I consider evening watering the second best of the three options. The reason given for evening watering is that it gives much more time for the soil to absorb the water during the cooler nights making it more effective. This is a valid. The longer the water has to be absorbed deeper and deeper into the soil for the roots to benefit from it the better.

With daytime watering almost no water is absorbed and morning watering offers less time than evening. I find in my climate in Pasadena CA, however that at this time of year, the temperatures stay very high well past sundown. Evening watering therefore, is still applying water to very hot plants in very hot soil which is not optimal for them. The other concern for watering at night, particularly if you’re using a hose or overhead sprays, is that water sits on the plants and gets trapped in leaf joints. If temperatures are cool enough you could be inviting some unwanted disease and mold to take hold.

If you do need to take care of watering in the evening, make it as late as possible once the temperatures have cooled significantly, and try to water low so as not to leave wet plants.

OPTION 3: MORNING WATERING

Morning watering—early morning watering—is really the best. Some sources will say that you should water by 10am. Not sure about your particular region, but in the middle of summer, if you’re watering at 10am you might as well be trying to water the sun.

With an automatic controller the ideal time is around 4am. The temps are cool, the plants and soil are cool, and you have several hours before the heat really kicks in, allowing the water to be absorbed into the soil. Also, if you have overhead sprays, you won’t run into trouble with water hanging around on the plants for so long that it starts causing disease.

If you’re a hand waterer, well, set that alarm. I’d say no later than around 6am. Maybe 7, latest. I’m not a morning person myself, but it’s well worth the effort to keep those plants healthy.

IMPORTANT SUMMER WATERING REMINDER

Last note about watering in the summer months. Be sure to do an evaluation of your irrigation system. Check for nicks or tears in your drip tubing. It causes lots of water to escape in one area and starve the other areas beyond the cut. Check for broken or bonky spray nozzles that aren’t doing their jobs as well as they should. An undetected problem in your irritation system will invariably lead to excess water waste (and higher bills).

With these tips you will be keeping that garden looking spectacular all summer long!

If you are unsure how well your irrigation is working and live in Pasadena or the surrounding cities, contact my office to schedule a full irrigation analysis.

minanda@mac.com 818-903-5122