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!

I Always Carry a Knife In My Belt

I should probably elaborate on that title. It would be more accurate to say, I always carry a garden knife in my work belt. When it comes to tools of the trade, my hands down, all time favorite is the hori hori. With great style, form and durability—not to mention a fascinating history—this tool is as valuable as gold in the garden.

Origin story

Let’s get into the weeds on the origins of this wonderful tool (pun intended). Hori (pronounced with a soft “r” that almost sounds like a “d”) is a variation on the Japanese term horu which means “Dig”. Hori hori is an onomatopoeia for the sound made when the tool is plunged into the soil. Try it: the first syllable is very short (ho). The second (ri) gets the emphasis. Now, say it two times fast. Do you hear it? Pretty cool, as far as names go, right?

Back in the Meiji period (late 1800’s), the era of the samurai and katana (sword) was gradually being eliminated. People were no longer permitted to carry their weapon in public. Because of this, two groups faced a big problem. Farmers who normally carried their katana needed an alternative, and the Toko, or sword craftsman, needed a new product to fabricate and sell. Thus, tools such as the hori hori became a perfect match for each.

Today, in modern day Anyplace, we get to reap the benefit of this rich history. I like to imagine myself wielding my mini-katana against a raging clump of Pennisetum or driving it into some hard-packed clay!

What is it? How does it work?

Also referred to as a garden knife the hori hori is typically between 11” – 12” in total length, and although the blade ranges from 6”-7.25” I’ve seen some as long as 8” but I don’t recommend these longer ones as they tend to have less stability and sturdiness. They certainly have their uses but are less versatile than the blades we’re talking about here.

Traditionally, a hori hori has a wooden handle which braces a steel knife-shaped blade with two rivets. Some manufacturers will have a fairly sharp point at the tip, and others will be slightly more blunt. It’s sharp along one side and serrated on the other. Although the blade itself is straight like a knife it’s lightly concave which is great for removing soil. Most of them also have measurements etched on the blade in both inches and millimeters for ease in judging planting depth and spacing. Most come with a leather sheath that can be attached to your belt, although personally I use a multi-tool belt and give my hori hori its own special compartment.

Choosing a Hori Hori

Hori horis have gained popularity over the past few years and now, there are a great many to choose from. The most significant difference is construction, and handle material—wood, composite or plastic. Here is a list of the considerations you should have in mind when choosing your tool:

  • Handle: Wood will provide the best, non-sweaty grip but is harder to clean. Plastic breaks more quickly but rinses off nicely. Watch out for ones with ridges. They will tear up your hands!
  • Blade: Should be a single monolithic piece of stainless steel the full length of the tool and encased in the the wooden (or other material) handle. If not, you’ll find that the blade becomes loose and unstable.
  • Blade: A heavy sturdy blade is best. Thinner, lighter blades will bend. Stainless steel is most common, steel is typically heavier but you must care for it in order to prevent rust.
  • Blade: You want tight sharp serrations which are best for everything from opening compost bags to dividing a Phormium.

My opinion

Personally, I’m a traditionalist, and I happen to be living in Japan so, my preferred brand is Nisaku which has been around for ages and their products are made here in Japan. They can also be found on Amazon or at Home Depot. I’ve had mine for nearly 6 years now and it’s as solid today as the day I first took it out of it’s sheath.

Taking care of a Hori Hori

Some people want low maintenance gardens, some want low maintenance tools. This is one of them. Be sure to wipe it down and dry it after each use. Keep it protected from rain or constant moisture. If you have a wooden handle, a rub down once a year with linseed oil will keep it nice. Having the blade sharpened once a year will also keep you loving it for many many years. That’s pretty much it!

An excellent quality hori hori will last a decade or so. In my 25 year career I’ve only had to replace mine once, and that was because my first one found it’s way into someone else’s tool belt.

What you can do with a Hori Hori

Okay, now you know all about the tool itself let’s look at all the things it can do! Why would I carry one with me at all times in the garden, even above my clippers? Here’s a quick-fire rundown:

  • Weeding
  • Sheering grasses and other strappy plants
  • Removing root vegetables (slides right down the side of a carrot)
  • Transplanting any plants up to a 5 gallon container
  • Lifting up netafim drip irrigation tubing (watch out not to puncture it)
  • Cutting sod
  • Planting seeds (you can measure the depth)
  • Planting anything
  • Adding soil amendments in a targeted and efficient manner such as in pots
  • Cutting roots
  • Cutting small limbs or branches
  • Dividing clumps of plant material
  • Removing succulent pups and replanting them
  • Loosening soil
  • Opening the screw on an irrigation valve when I’ve forgotten my screwdriver
  • Cutting open bags of amendments
  • Digging up or rolling rocks

And that’s just what I used it for last week! If you’re already a hori hori user, I bet you can add to my list. And if not, I really hope that you’ll give one a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it.