Grafting and budding are horticultural techniques used to join parts from two or more plants so that they appear to grow as a single plant. In grafting, the upper part (scion) of one plant grows on the root system (rootstock) of another plant. In the budding process, a bud is taken from one plant and grown on another.
Although budding is considered a modern art and science, grafting is not new. The practice of grafting can be traced back 4,000 years to ancient China and Mesopotamia. As early as 2,000 years ago, people recognized the incompatibility problems that may occur when grafting olives and other fruiting trees.
Since grafting and budding are asexual or vegetative methods of propagation, the new plant that grows from the scion or bud will be exactly like the plant it came from. These methods of plant reproduction are usually chosen because cuttings from the desired plant root poorly (or not at all). Also, these methods give the plant a certain characteristic of the rootstock - for example, hardiness, drought tolerance, or disease resistance. Since both methods require extensive knowledge of nursery crop species and their compatibility, grafting and budding are two techniques that are usually practiced only by more experienced nursery operators.
Most woody nursery plants can be grafted or budded, but both processes are labor intensive and require a great deal of skill. For these reasons they can be expensive and come with no guarantee of success. The nurseryman must therefore see in them a marked advantage over more convenient propagation techniques to justify the time and cost.
Clones or varieties within a species can usually be grafted or budded interchangeably. For example, Pink Sachet dogwood can be budded or grafted onto White Flowering dogwood rootstock and vice versa. Bradford pear can be grafted or budded onto Callery pear rootstock and vice versa. However, Pink Sachet dogwood cannot be grafted or budded onto Callery pear.
Grafting and budding can be performed only at very specific times when weather conditions and the physiological stage of plant growth are both optimum. The timing depends on the species and the technique used. For example, conditions are usually satisfactory in June for budding peaches, but August and early September are the best months to bud dogwoods. Conversely, flowering pears can be grafted while they are dormant (in December and January) or budded during July and August.
Reasons for Grafting and Budding
Budding and grafting may increase the productivity of certain horticultural crops because they make it possible to do the following things:
Change varieties or cultivars. An older established orchard of fruiting trees may become obsolete as newer varieties or cultivars are developed. The newer varieties may offer improved insect or disease resistance, better drought tolerance, or higher yields. As long as the scion is compatible with the rootstock, the older orchard may be top worked using the improved variety or cultivar.
Optimize cross-pollination and pollination. Certain fruit trees are not self-pollinating; they require pollination by a second fruit tree, usually of another variety. This process is known as cross-pollination. Portions of a tree or entire trees may be pollinated with the second variety to ensure fruit set. For example, some hollies are dioecious, meaning that a given plant has either male or female flowers but not both. To ensure good fruit set on the female (pistillate) plant, a male (staminate) plant must be growing nearby. Where this is not possible, the chances that cross-pollination will occur can be increased by grafting a scion from a male plant onto the female plant.
Take advantage of particular rootstocks. Compared to the selected scion, certain rootstocks have superior growth habits, disease and insect resistance, and drought tolerance. For example, when used as rootstock for commercial apple varieties, the French crabapple (Malus sylvestris, Mill.) can increase resistance to crown gall and hairy root. Malling VIII and Malling IX are used as dwarfing rootstocks for apple trees when full-sized trees are not desired, such as in the home garden.
Benefit from interstocks. An interstock can be particularly valuable when the scion and rootstock are incompatible. In such cases, an interstock that is compatible with both rootstock and scion is used. An interstock could increase the disease resistance or cold hardiness of the scion. Plants also may be double worked to impart dwarfness or influence flowering and fruiting of a scion.
Perpetuate clones. Clones of numerous species of conifers cannot be economically reproduced from vegetative cuttings because the percentage of cuttings that root successfully is low. Many can be grafted, however, onto seedling rootstocks. Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens, Engelm), Koster blue spruce (Picea pungens var. Kosteriana, Henry), and Moerheim spruce (Picea pungens var. Moerheimii, Rujis) are commonly grafted onto Norway spruce (Picea abies, Karst.) or Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis, Carr.) rootstock to perpetuate desirable clones. Numerous clones of Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, Thunb.) that either root poorly or lack an extensive root system are grafted onto seedling Acer palmatum rootstock.
Produce certain plant forms. Numerous horticultural plants owe their beauty to the fact that they are grafted or budded onto a standard, especially those that have a weeping or cascading form. Examples include weeping hemlock (Tsuga canadensi.3, Carr. var. pendula, Beissn.), which is grafted onto seedling hemlock rootstock (Tsuga canadensis, Carr.); weeping flowering cherry (Prunus subhietella var. pendula, Tanaka), which is grafted onto Mazzard cherry rootstock (Prunus avium, L.); and weeping dogwood (Cornus florida, L. var. pendula, Dipp.), which is grafted onto flowering dogwood rootstock (Cornus florida, L.). In most cases, multiple scions are grafted or budded 3 feet or higher on the main stem of the rootstock. When used this way, the rootstock is referred to as a standard. It may require staking for several years until the standard is large enough to support the cascading or weeping top.
Repair damaged plants. Large trees or specimen plants can be damaged easily at or slightly above the soil line. The damage may be caused by maintenance equipment (such as lawn mowers, trenchers, or construction equipment), or by disease, rodents, or winter storms. The damage can often be repaired by planting several seedlings of the same species around the injured tree and grafting them above the injury. This procedure is referred to as inarching, approach grafting, or bridge grafting.
Increase the growth rate of seedlings. The seedling progeny of many fruit and nut breeding programs, if left to develop naturally, may require 8 to 12 years to become fruitful. However, if these progeny are grafted onto established plants, the time required for them to flower and fruit is reduced dramatically. Another way to increase the growth rate of seedlings is to graft more than one seedling onto a mature plant. Using this procedure as a breeding tool saves time, space, and money.
Index viruses. Many plants carry viruses, although the symptoms may not always be obvious or even visible. The presence or absence of the virus in the suspect plant can be confirmed by grafting scions from the plant onto another plant that is highly susceptible and will display prominent symptoms
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 plant.
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 32° to 34°F.
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 scions useless.
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. 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.
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, 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 scaffold branches.
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.
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 sides.
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 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.
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 inch apart).
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 11⁄2- 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 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.
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-inch to 1 inch long at the base of the scion. (Use the bark grafting technique shown in.
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 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 diameter.
Preparing the Stock and Scion. Cut off the rootstock using a diagonal cut 3⁄4-inch 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 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.
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 aligned.
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 stem.
Saddle grafting 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.
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-inch 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 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 area.
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."
Preparing the Scion. Select scions that are straight and about twice as long as the damaged area to be bridged. Make a 11⁄2- 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.
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. 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.