root or lower part of tree used for plant propagation on which is grafted scion wood to I combine the desirable characteristics of each.
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A rootstock is part of a plant, often an underground part, from which new above-ground growth can be produced. It could also be described as a stem with a well developed root system, to which a bud from another plant is grafted. It can refer to a rhizome or underground stem. In grafting, it refers to a plant, sometimes just a stump, which already has an established, healthy root system, onto which a cutting or a bud from another plant is grafted. In some cases, such as vines of grapes and other berries, cuttings may be used for rootstocks, the roots being established in nursery conditions before planting them out. The plant part grafted onto the rootstock is usually called the scion. The scion is the plant that has the properties that propagator desires above ground, including the photosynthetic activity and the fruit or decorative properties. The rootstock is selected for its interaction with the soil, providing the roots and the stem to support the new plant, obtaining the necessary soil water and minerals, and resisting the relevant pests and diseases. After a few weeks, the tissues of the two parts will have grown together, eventually forming a single plant. After some years, it may be difficult to detect the site of the graft although the product always contains the components of two genetically different plants.
The use of rootstocks is most commonly associated with fruiting plants and trees, and is useful for mass propagating many other types of plants that do not breed true from seed, or are particularly susceptible to disease when grown on their own roots.
Although grafting has been practiced for many hundreds of years, even in Roman times, most orchard rootstocks in current use were developed in the 20th century.
A variety of rootstocks may be used for a single species or cultivar of scion because different rootstocks impart different properties, such as vigour, fruit size and precocity. Rootstocks also may be selected for traits such as resistance to drought, root pests, and diseases. Grapevines for commercial planting are most often grafted onto rootstocks to avoid damage by phylloxera, though vines available for sale to back garden viticulturists may not be.
The rootstock may be a different species from the scion, but as a rule it should be closely related, for example, many commercial pears are grown on quince rootstock. Grafting can also be done in stages; a closely related scion is grafted to the rootstock, and a less closely related scion is grafted to the first scion. Serial grafting of several scions may also be used to produce a tree that bears several different fruit cultivars, with the same rootstock taking up and distributing water and minerals to the whole system. Those with more than three varieties are known as 'family trees'.
When it is difficult to match a plant to the soil in a certain field or orchard, growers may graft a scion onto a rootstock that is compatible with the soil. It may then be convenient to plant a range of ungrafted rootstocks to see which suit the growing conditions best; the fruiting characteristics of the scion may be considered later, once the most successful rootstock has been identified. Rootstocks are studied extensively and often are sold with a complete guide to their ideal soil and climate. Growers determine the pH, mineral content, nematode population, salinity, water availability, pathogen load and sandiness of their particular soil, and select a rootstock which is matched to it. Genetic testing is increasingly common, and new cultivars of rootstock are always being developed.