Grafting and Budding Nursery Crop
When to Graft
Unlike budding, which can be performed before or during the growing season,
most grafting is done during winter and early spring while both scion and rootstock
are still dormant. Containerized plants may be moved indoors during the actual
grafting process; after grafting, these plants are placed in protected areas or in
unheated overwintering houses. Field-grown stock, of course, must be grafted in
place. Some deciduous trees are commonly grafted as bare rootstock during the
winter and stored until spring planting. Indoor winter grafting is often referred to as
bench grafting because it is accomplished at a bench.
Selecting and Handling Scion Wood
The best quality scion wood usually comes from shoots grown the previous
season. Scions should be severed with sharp, clean shears or knives and placed
immediately in moistened burlap or plastic bags. It is good practice during the
harvesting of scions and the making of grafts to clean the cutting tools regularly.
This may be done by flaming or immersing them in a sterilizing solution. Isopropyl
(rubbing) alcohol also works well as a sterilant, although it evaporates quite
readily. An alternative sterilizing solution may be prepared by mixing one part
household bleach with nine parts water (by volume). However, this bleach solution
can be highly corrosive to certain metals.
For best results, harvest only as much scion wood as can be used for grafting
during the same day. Select only healthy scion wood that is free from insect,
disease, or winter damage. Be sure the stock plants are of good quality, healthy,
and true to type. Scion wood that is frozen at harvest often knits more slowly and in
lower percentage. If large quantities of scion wood must be harvested at one time,
follow these steps:
Cut all scions to a uniform length, keep their basal ends together, and tie
them in bundles of known quantity (for example, 50 scions per bundle).
Label them, recording the cultivar, date of harvest, and location of the stock
Wrap the base of the bundles in moistened burlap or sphagnum, place them
in polyethylene or waterproof paper bags, and seal the bags.
Store the bundles for short periods, if necessary, either iced down in
insulated coolers or in a commercial storage unit at 32o to 34oF.
Never store scions in refrigerated units where fruits or vegetables are
currently kept or have been stored recently. Stored fruits and vegetables
release ethylene gas, which can cause woody plant buds to abort, making the
Keep the scions from freezing during storage.
NOTE: In grafting, as well as budding, the vascular cambium of the scion or bud
must be aligned with the vascular cambium of rootstock. In woody plants the
cambium is a very thin ribbon of actively dividing cells located just below the bark.
The cambium produces conductive tissue for the actively growing plant (Figure 1).
This vascular cambium initiates callus tissue at the graft and bud unions in addition
to stimulating tissue growth on the basal ends of many vegetative cuttings before
they have rooted.
Figure 1. Cross section of a woody plant stem.
Types of Grafts
Nurserymen can choose from a number of different types of grafts. This section
describes only those basic types of grafts used on nursery crop plants.
One of the simplest and most popular forms of grafting, cleft grafting (Figure 2),
is a method for top working both flowering and fruiting trees (apples, cherries,
pears, and peaches) in order to change varieties. Cleft grafting is also used to
propagate varieties of camellias that are difficult to root. This type of grafting is
usually done during the winter and early spring while both scion and rootstock are
still dormant. Cleft grafting may be performed on main stems or on lateral or
The rootstock used for cleft grafting should range from 1 to 4 inches in diameter
and should be straight grained. The scion should be about 1/4 inch in diameter,
straight, and long enough to have at least three buds. Scions that are between 6 and
8 inches long are usually the easiest to use.
Figure 2. Cleft graft.
Preparing the Rootstock. The stock should be sawed off with a clean, smooth
cut perpendicular to the main axis of the stem to be grafted. Using a clefting tool
wedge and a mallet, make a split or "cleft" through the center of the stock and
down 2 to 3 inches. Remove the clefting tool wedge and drive the pick end of the
tool into the center of the newly made cleft so that the stock can be held open while
inserting the scion.
Preparing the Scion. In cleft grafting, one scion is usually inserted at each end
of the cleft, so prepare two scions for each graft. Select scions that have three or
four good buds. Using a sharp, clean grafting knife, start near the base of the lowest
bud and make two opposing smooth-tapered cuts 1 to 2 inches long toward the
basal end of the scion. Cut the side with the lowest bud slightly thicker than the
opposite side. Be sure the basal end of the scion gradually tapers off along both
Inserting the Scion. Insert a scion on each end of the cleft, with the wider side of
the wedge facing outward. The cambium of each scion should contact the cambium
of the rootstock.
Securing the Graft. Remove the clefting tool from the cleft so that the rootstock
can close. Pressure from the rootstock will hold the scions in place. Thoroughly
seal all cut surfaces with grafting wax or grafting paint to keep out water and
prevent drying. If both scions in the cleft "take," one will usually grow more
rapidly than the other. After the first growing season, choose the stronger scion and
prune out the weaker.
NOTE: The temperature of grafting wax is critical. It must be hot enough to flow
but not so hot as to kill plant tissue. Recently, paint-like sealants have replaced wax
in many areas because they are easier to use and require no heating.
Bark grafting (Figure 3) is used primarily to top work flowering and fruiting
trees. In contrast to cleft grafting, this technique can be applied to rootstock of
larger diameter (4 to 12 inches) and is done during early spring when the bark slips
easily from the wood but before major sap flow. The rootstock is severed with a
sharp saw, leaving a clean cut as with cleft grafting.
Figure 3. Bark graft.
Preparing the Stock. Start at the cut surface of the rootstock and make a vertical
slit through the bark where each scion can be inserted (2 inches long and spaced 1
Preparing the Scion. Since multiple scions are usually inserted around the cut
surface of the rootstock, prepare several scions for each graft. Cut the base of each
scion to a 1 ½- to 2-inch tapered wedge on one side only.
Inserting the Scion. Loosen the bark slightly and insert the scion so that the
wedge-shaped tapered surface of the scion is against the exposed wood under the
flap of bark. Push the scion firmly down into place behind the flap of bark, replace
the bark flap, and nail the scion in place by driving one or two wire brads through
the bark and scion into the rootstock. Insert a scion every 3 to 4 inches around the
cut perimeter of the rootstock.
Securing the Graft. Seal all exposed surfaces with grafting wax or grafting
paint. Once the scions have begun to grow, leave only the most vigorous one on
each stub; prune out all the others. Bark grafts tend to form weak unions and
therefore usually require staking or support during the first few years.
At one time the side-veneer graft (Figure 4) was a popular technique for grafting
varieties of camellias and rhododendrons that are difficult to root. Currently, it is
the most popular way to graft conifers, especially those having a compact or dwarf
form. Side-veneer grafting is usually done on potted rootstock.
Figure 4. Side veneer graft
Preparing the Stock. Rootstock is grown in pots the season before grafting,
allowed to go dormant, and then stored as with other container nursery stock. After
exposure to cold weather for at least six weeks, the rootstock is brought into a cool
greenhouse for a few days before grafting takes place to encourage renewed root
growth. The plant should not be watered at this time.
Make a shallow downward cut about 3/4 inch to 1 inch long at the base of the
stem on the potted rootstock to expose a flap of bark with some wood still attached.
Make an inward cut at the base so that the flap of bark and wood can be removed
from the rootstock.
Preparing the Scion. Choose a scion with a diameter the same as or slightly
smaller than the rootstock. Make a sloping cut 3/4 to 1 inch long at the base of the
scion. (Use the bark grafting technique shown in Figure 3.)
Inserting the Scion. Insert the cut surface of the scion against the cut surface of
the rootstock. Be certain that the cambia contact each other.
Securing the Graft. Hold the scion in place using a rubber grafting strip, tape, or
grafting twine. Seal the entire graft area with warm grafting wax or grafting paint.
Remove the rubber or twine shortly after the union has healed. Never allow the
binding material to girdle the stem.
Splice grafting (Figure 5) is used to join a scion onto the stem of a rootstock or
onto an intact rootpiece. This simple method is usually applied to herbaceous
materials that callus or "knit" easily, or it is used on plants with a stem diameter of
1/2 inch or less. In splice grafting, both the stock and scion must be of the same
Figure 5. Splice graft.
Preparing the Stock and Scion.Cut off the rootstock using a diagonal cut 3/4 to
1 inch long. Make the same type of cut at the base of the scion.
Inserting the Scion. Fit the scion to the stock. Wrap this junction securely with a
rubber grafting strip or twine.
Securing the Graft. Seal the junction with grafting wax or grafting paint. Water
rootstock sparingly until the graft knits. Over watering may cause sap to "drown"
the scion. Be sure to remove the twine or strip as soon as the graft has healed.
Whip and Tongue Graft
The whip and tongue technique (Figure 6) is most commonly used to graft
nursery crops or woody ornamentals. Both the rootstock and scion should be of
equal size and preferably no more than 1/2 inch in diameter. The technique is
similar to splice grafting except that the whip on the rootstock holds the tongue of
the scion in place (and vice versa). This leaves both hands free to wrap the joint.
For the whip and tongue graft, make similar cuts on both the stock and scion.
These cuts should be made with a single draw of the knife and should have a
smooth surface so that the two can develop a good graft union. Up to this point,
rootstock and scion are cut the same as for a splice graft.
Figure 6. Whip and tongue graft.
Preparing the Stock and Scion. Cut off the stock using a diagonal cut. The cut
should be four to five times longer than the diameter of the stock to be grafted.
Make the same kind of cut at the base of the scion.
Next, place the blade of the knife across the cut end of the stock, halfway
between the bark and pith (on the upper part of the cut surface). Use a single knife
stroke to draw the blade down at an angle through the wood and pith. Stop at the
base of the initial diagonal cut. This second cut must not follow the grain of the
wood but should run parallel to the first cut.
Inserting the Scion. Prepare the scion in the same way. Fit the scion into the
rootstock so that they interlock whip and tongue. Be certain that the cambia are
Securing the Graft. Wrap the junction with a grafting strip or twine, and seal it
with grafting wax or grafting paint. Never allow the binding material to girdle the
Saddle grafting (Figure 7) is a relatively easy technique to learn and once
mastered can be performed quite rapidly. The stock may be either field-grown or
potted. Both rootstock and scion should be the same diameter. For best results, use
saddle grafting on dormant stock in mid- to late winter. Stock should not be more
than 1 inch in diameter.
Figure 7. Saddle graft.
Preparing the Stock. Using two opposing upward strokes of the grafting knife,
sever the top from the rootstock. The resulting cut should resemble an inverted V,
with the surface of the cuts ranging from 1/2 to 1 inch long.
Preparing the Scion. Now reverse the technique to prepare the base of the scion.
These cuts on the rootstock and scion must be the same length and have the same
slope so that a maximum amount of cambial tissue will make contact when the two
halves are joined.
Inserting the Scion. Place the V-notched scion onto the saddle of the rootstock.
If rootstock and scion are the same diameter, cambial alignment is easier; otherwise
adjust as needed.
Securing the Graft. Wrap the graft with a grafting twine, tape, or strip, then seal
it with grafting wax or grafting paint.
All of the preceding techniques are used to top work horticultural crops for a
particular purpose. Occasionally, however, grafting is used to repair injured or
diseased plants. Two common techniques available for this purpose are bridge
grafting and inarch grafting.
Bridge grafting (Figure 8) is used to "bridge" a diseased or damaged area of a
plant, usually at or near the base of the trunk. Such damage commonly results from
contact with grading or lawn maintenance equipment, or it may be caused by
rodents, cold temperatures, or disease organisms. The bridge graft provides support
as well as a pipeline that allows water and nutrients to move across the damaged
Bridge grafts are usually done in early spring just before active plant growth
begins. They may be performed any time the bark on the injured plant "slips."
Figure 8. Bridge graft.
Preparing the Scion. Select scions that are straight and about twice as long as
the damaged area to be bridged. Make a 1 1/2- to 2-inch-long tapered cut on the
same plane at each end of the scion.
Preparing the Stock. Remove any damaged tissue so the graft is on healthy
stems. Cut a flap in the bark on the rootstock the same width as the scion and below
the injury to be repaired. Gently fold the flap away from the stock, being careful
not to tear the bark flap.
Inserting the Scion. First, insert and secure the scion below the injury; push the
scion under the flap with the cut portion of the scion against the wood of the
injured stem or trunk. Then go back and insert and secure the scion above the
injury following these same steps. Push the scion firmly into place. Pull the flap
over the scion and tack it into place as described for bark grafting (Figure 3).
When grafting with young stems that may waver in the wind, insert the scions so
that they bow outward slightly. Bridge grafts should be spaced about 3 to 4 inches
apart across the damaged area.
Securing the Graft. Secure all graft areas with warm grafting wax or grafting
paint. During and after the healing period, remove any buds or shoots that develop
on the scions.
Inarching, like bridge grafting, is used to bypass or support a damaged or
weakened area of a plant stem (Figure 9). Unlike bridge grafting, the scion can be
an existing shoot, sucker, or watersprout that is already growing below and
extending above the injury. The scion may also be a shoot of the same species as
the injured plant growing on its own root system next to the main trunk of the
damaged tree. With the inarching technique, the tip of the scion is grafted in above
the injury using the same method as for bark or bridge grafting.
Figure 9. Inarch graft.
Grafting, Pruning and Composting
Posted on May 1, 2011 by barbaramatthews
Friday afternoon ourclasshad a hands-on workshop. We splitoff into three groups, and visited grafting, pruning, and
compost stations. I had previously done some pruning and composting (althoughI didn’t really know the technicalities of
either), but had zero experience with grafting.
My first stop was the graftingstation. I learned thatgraftingisthe fusing of one plant’stissues withanother. One plantis
chosen for its roots, and isreferred to as the root stock, while the
otherisselected for its stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits–it isrefered to asthe scion. *It cantake 5 t0 15 years(depending on the
species) for a tree to mature and produce fruits, but a scion fused witha mature root stock will fruit in aslittle astwo years;this
is one ofthe greatest benefits of grafting.
We practiced graftingwiththe stem of a peartree; we cutthe stem (scion) in halfand pretended that one part wasa root
stock. The key tosuccessful graftingisnotching the root stem, and slicingthe scion in sucha way that they fit together like a
pu zzle piece–theirvascular cambium tissues in full contact with one another. (Thisis the greenedge found upon cutting
into the wood). The point at which the scion and root stock are connected is then wrapped in special grafting tape;thiswill hold
them togethe runtil the tissues have merged.
My group’s second stop was the pruningstation, where we worked on a pear tree. We learned that the mainreason for
pruning is to increase fruityield and ensure the healthof the tree. To do this, examine the strongest of the branchesin the
m iddle of the tree, and choose one tobe thecentral leader;thisbranch’s orientation will determine whichother branches and
stemsare pruned. *The central leader should receive asmuchdirectsunlightas possible. Any branchor stem whichis shading
or crossing the central leader should be removed. *Keepingthe tree pruned will concentrate nutrients, ensuringquality fruits.
Our last stop was the compostingstation. We learned thatcompost ismade up of fourelements: nitrogen, carbon, water, and
air. For nitrogen, add layers ofgreenplantsand manure;for carbon add layersof brown/woody materials–suchas leaves, straw
and mulch. Keep addinglayers–eachhosed downwithwater–until you have a pile of compost that isat least 3×3 foot. Leave
the pile sitting for fourdays and thenflip it, so thatthe bottom layer becomesthe top. *Do thistoensure the compost stays
aerated. Also flip on days 7, 11, and 18. After day 18, the compost will be ready for use as afertilizerand soil amendment.
I had a great time doingthisworkshop; especially the graftingaspect. I preferfreshair and sunshine toa classroom any
day. Also, I find that workinghands-on witha subject helpsme tobetterunderstand and absorb the information being
presented;it’san excellent approachto education.
Otherwise known as 'top working' or 'grafting over', this is a technique for
converting an apple tree which is growing OK in the right place but whose fruit is
unacceptable for some reason and you want to replace it with a different variety.
This is much better than digging out the tree and replacing it with a new one and
is used commercially. As mentioned elsewhere, I have done this a few times over
the past few years, once when I realised that Spartan was very prone to scab and
also did not sell well-I grafted over 40 trees to Suntan and Ashmead's Kernel (I
have not regretted this one bit) and in the spring of 2007 when I grafted over 8
cider apple Crimson King (not to be confused with the 70s prog rock band King
Crimson) to 4 eachof Harry Masters' Jersey and Dabinett, as the latter 2 varieties
proved to be farbetter on our land. So farthese are growing OK and the pictures
in this page are taken from this example. The picture immediately below shows a
tree after top working, in April. Note that it has been cut back severely and several
polythene ties can be seen, see below forclose ups and explanations.
Top working can employ more than one grafting style. In this case, I used saddle
grafts, cleft grafts, rind grafts and stab grafts. Like many things in life, if you get an
understanding for the basic techniques and underlying principles, you can
improvise and get away with it much of the time. Life could hardly go on
otherwise. I am always amazed when any graft takes successfully, however many
times I see it happen. The tree in the picture below shows 4 kinds of graft. From
left to right, double rind raft, saddle graft, double cleft graft (right upper) and
single rind graft (right lower). The different techniques suit different diameters of
woodand angles better, th more techniques you are competent with , the more
versatile you canbe. NOTE the saddle graft is coming right at you in the photo and
is much thinner than it appears due to perspective. They all took well, some even
tried to set fruit!
As with all forms of grafting, cut cleanstraight growths of last years wood LABEL
THEM, wrap in polythene and store in the fridge (not freezer. take care if like us
your fridge freezes up in places.) If you are short of fridge space, a damp sack in a
cool dark place will do. Keep it damp. Cut this woodbefore any sign of green
appears, February to early March is best. You then graft ONTO A GROWINGTREE
once spring starts. Others will say graft in the dormant season, I only teach what I
know and what I do. You decide, but since I started grafting dormant stored scion
woodonto actively growing rootstock,usually in April, I have had the highest
success rates ever, close to 90%.
The picture below is a double rind graft, picture taken a few weeks aftergrafting,
you can see leaves coming fromthe end on one of the scion pencils. The next
picture shows the same oran identical graft 2 months later. To do the rind graft,
saw across,slit the bark, then slip your taper cut scion down and tie firmly
(described more fully below). Seal with wax, making sure wax doesn't get between
live wood surfaces you are hoping to graft.
This double rind graft has now taken beautifully, you can see shoots coming out
as well as abundant leaf. The great thing about top working is that you are
beginning with a strong root, trunk and main branch system, so there is a huge
amount of natural energy to force up growth. This is why you can go fromzero to
full fruiting in 3 years, FAR better than digging out and replanting, although even
that is preferable to putting up with an apple variety which is wrong for you. The
pictures above were taken shortly aftergrafting in April 2007, the pictures BELOW
are the same trees in July the same year. you cansee the grafts have taken and
grown well, there were only a few failures, and most of those were due to birds
perching on the fragile new branches and snapping them off. We have never
asked for or received a penny of agricultural subsidy, but I think it is justified to
compensate farmers and growers for the economic loss caused by these pretty
animals which the law prevents us from taking actionagainst. Not that I would
bake blackbirds, let alone rooks, in a pie. Well only a few now and then, but it is
frustrating to see the damage birds do especially since we have planted half a mile
of hedgerow and 2 acres of coppice which benefit them enormously.
Rind grafting was accomplished using 2 tools, the Silky Fox saw (I use no other) to
saw the branch off,and the Opinel number 6 stainless steel penknife, sharpened
and sterilised. Saw across, make a 3cm slit down the bark, then sharpen a piece if
scion woodinto a wedge and slide it down between rind and the underlying
wood. Make a perfect fit, then do the same on the other side, squeeze a bit of soft
grafting wax to seal the loose edge of the rind, and secure with tape. The picture
shows the result, on the left you can see the free edge of rind which has callused
over. (callus is temporary healing tissue, something very similar is produced when
human or animal bones are healing aftera break, a sort of auto-graft
here's a picture of the same union from a different angle, showing on the right a
free growing shoot arising from the rootstock. we do not want this, and it is vital
to cut it off as (a) it is of the variety you don't want and are replacing., and (b) it
will compete with the chosen new variety. Cut it out, the sooner the better
(should have been done before now, too busy).
Here is a successful CLEFT graft, on a thinner diameter branch. This involves, after
sawing the branch across, using a heavier knife to split it down the middle,
HORIZONTALLY where the branch is other than entirely upright(this is important,
vertically cut clefts fail much more often) then cutting 2 scion pencils to wedge
shapes, with a square butt, and fitting them into the cleft so they are wedged
firmly. This canbe a very easy graft to perform. NOTE the thin sliver of scion wood
trapped firmly between the 2 sides of the split (clefted) rootstock branch. This
technique leaves a gap in the middle between the 2 scions (always do 2), fill this
up with grafting wax. Again, this is a double graft, usually employed in these cases
to avoid asymmetry. With a very big diameter stock (best avoided but sometimes
inevitable) I will sometimes graft 3 or 4 pencils in.
CLEFT GRAFT AGAIN, SMALLER DIAMETER STOCK The technique you use depends
to a large extent on the diameter, and particularly on the difference in diameter
between rootstock and scion. Youcan't do cleft grafts on to really big diameter
stocks, the above is about the upper limit, as it leaves too big a gap in between
which canbe an entry point fordiseases and insects-smaller gaps will seal
themselves. Below is another example of the cleft graft using a very thin diameter,
about the thinnest you could use.The honey coloured stuff above the join is
grafting wax, you have to look twice to see that there are 2 scions in this picture,
they have swelled up somewhat since grafting was performed/ you can see the
thin tapering wedge to the left of the midline below the join with healthy callus
either side. The straight slit in the wood to the right of the midline was made by
the sharp knife I used to release the polythene tie, ideally I would not have made
this cut but it is unlikely to do any harm. The pressure of the sap inside the actively
growing wood has caused it to open a millimetre
Saddle grafting (dealt with elsewhere) is useful where the stock and scionwood
are nearly or exactly the same diameter. This is my favourite graft whenever
possible and I use it exclusively for grafting onto new young stocks in the nursery.
This technique requires stock and scion to be similar diameters (you can push the
limits if yous skill improves) and basically means cutting a sloping V shaped 'male'
wedge in the stock, a corresponding V shaped 'female' shape in the scion,
marrying the 2 together and whipping with polythene tape. Looks a bit like this
The flexibility of the thinly cut live woodmeans you canalmost always get very
good cambium to cambium contact (the cambium being the live growing wet area
under the bark) and this sort almost always takes successfully once you nave got
the basic hang of it.
this looks a bit wonky as the polythene has just come off,and may have been
applied a bit too tight, but should do well. I will add some pictures of mature
Sometimes you want a new branch to some out of a main trunk, difficult. It can be
done by the stab graft, which consists of a scion cut to shape and inserted through
a cut made in the main body of the tree. This is an occasional graft and not
recommended as it fails more than some other sorts and may let disease into the
This was growing away well. The technique here was to raise an oblong flap, slide
the tapered scion down tightly, making good smooth cambium to cambium
contact,wax and tie firmly with polythenne tape to hold the live edges together as
they grow into each other. Some old books say nail it down with a fine pin, I
haven't tried this.
There are other techniques, the saddle and cleft are the ones I use most although
the rind is also very helpful at times. I recently used the techiniques of top working
to convert an unwanted and very badly trained Bramley over to a Baker's
Delicious, a rare and very tasty early dessert apple, and I am glad to say it was
entirely successful with fruit in the second year. Another time, when we were
planting out the Cobbett's orchard, we realised we needed more trees of Winter
King as they were so popular with customers and had an excellent shelf life. I had
plenty of oversized surplus to requirements MM106 rootstocks which were going
to be thrown out, so I planted them in a row 33 in all, and cleft grafted every one
with Winter King. I am glad to say I had 100% take and those trees are carrying a
very heavy crop today (14th July 2007).
Every orchardist should consider learning how to graft, foreconomy, to help
others (save your friend or neighbour a sample of that lovely old tree in the house
they have to leave)and for fun. You canalways try the first time in a low-risk
situation by just trying to saddle graft a few pencils of a different variety into an
established tree, this can be useful forpollination-another benefit of the