|Fruit Tree Grafting 101
(Following are notes from our first Orchard Seminar – Beginning Fruit Tree Grafting held recently at 21 Acres. Thank you to Greg Giuliani, Seattle Tree Fruit Society, for this information and great class presentation!)
When is the time to graft?
1. Most grafting is done in early spring before new growth begins. The best
time is after the chance of severe cold has passed but well before warm
What materials are needed?
A sharp, clean blade with a bevel entirely on one side of the blade. This
helps to keep the blade cutting in a straight line.
After the graft is made, some covering must be used to keep it from drying
out. I use a water based latex type sealant..
Tapes may be used for binding grafts where there is not enough natural
pressure. Electrical tape is inexpensive, black color help generate heat to
help heal the graft wound.
Budding strips are elastic bands. They look like a wide rubber band that has
been cut open. Budding strips secure several types of grafts with small
stocks and scions. Rubber bands rot when exposed to UV sunlight, cover with
Veneer, bridge and inarching grafts require long, thin nails (avoid
galvanized nails). Half-inch nails are long enough for most grafts, except
for bridge grafting, which may require 3/4-inch nails.
Specially designed tools have been developed for grafting, such as the OMEGA
grafting tool. What grafting technique?
Grafting techniques can be divided into two basic types, which are largely
determined by the size of the understock.
1) In some cases, a graft may be made to join a scion and understock of
nearly equal size.
2) The other type attaches a small scion to a much larger understock. In
this case, several scions may be attached to the understock as in cleft or
Grafts with similar scion and understock sizes
Whip graft and bench graft
The whip graft is fairly easy and heals rapidly. It works best when the
stock and scion are of similar diameter, preferably between 1/4 and 1/3
The stock can be either a plant growing in the field or a dormant bareroot
plant as in a bench grafting. The stock should be smooth and
straight-grained. Do not graft near a point where side twigs or branches
The scion should be 1-year-old wood, preferably the same size as the stock.
If the stock is larger than the scion, contact can be made on only one side.
The scion should never be larger than the stock.
Preparing the stock and scion
For this technique, the cuts made in both stock and scion should match. On
both parts, make a smooth sloping cut 1 to 21/2 inches long depending on the
thickness of the material . Make the first cut with a single, smooth cut
with no waves or whittling (wave can be smoothed by using a small plane).
The beginner should practice by cutting extra twigs. A sharp knife is
Cutting the scion
The cutting procedure should be exactly the same as that for the stock. The
only difference is that the cuts are made at the bottom of the scion piece,
whereas they were made at the top of the stock. The more similar the cuts on
the two pieces (matching cambium layers), the greater chances of a
successful graft union.
Fitting the stock and scion
After the cuts are made on both parts, push them together tightly enough so
that the cut surfaces match as closely as possible (Figure 1c). The cambial
area (area immediately under the bark) of both pieces must be aligned for a
union to develop. If the scion and stock are not the same size, match the
cambiums on one side only. The lower tip of the scion should not hang over
the stock. * make sure the scion has buds pointing in correct direction*
(upward, away host)
Wrapping the graft
In most cases, it is safer and better to wrap the graft to keep it tight to
prevent drying (Figures 1d and 1e). Wrap the graft with a rubber budding
strip, grafting tape or a plastic tape such as electrical tape. If the
wrapping material does not decay naturally, cut it about a month after
growth begins. (4th of July) in western Wash.
To prevent the graft union from drying, the area should be sealed. Cover the
wrapped area with tree seal as uniformly as possible. In wrapping and
sealing, be careful not to dislodge the aligned cambial areas. Give sealant
time to dry before rain arrives.
Grafts with small scions and large understocks
The cleft graft
The cleft graft is most commonly used to topwork a tree; that is, to change
from one variety to another. It can be used on either young or mature trees.
Young trees may be cleft grafted on the trunk, while older trees are grafted
on branches not more than 21/2 inches in diameter. Branches fully exposed to
sunlight and in the main stream of sap flow are more successful than those
in shaded or inactive areas. Grafts on upright branches grow better than
those on horizontal branches.
Preparing the stock
Branches of large trees or the trunk of a small tree must be sawed off to
provide a stock for the scions. Select a smooth, knot-free, straight-grained
section. Saw the branch off at a right angle to the grain Don't tear or
split the bark. If the saw cut is not smooth, use a knife to trim off the
rough edges. The bark must be tight to form a successful graft. Using a
heavy knife that may be tapped with a mallet, drive the blade into the stub
to split the stock through the center so a split extends about 2 inches into
Preparing the scion
The scion for the cleft graft should be made from 1-year-old wood about 1/4
inch in diameter. Usually, it is best to cut the scion long with three buds
so it can be inserted with the lowest bud just above the stock. Always note
which is top and bottom of a scion stick. A scion will not grow if inserted
upside down.Start below the lowest bud, and make a long, smooth cut toward
the base. The cut should have a surface 1 to 1-1/2 inches long. Turn the
scion to the opposite side and make a second smooth cut of the same length
so that one side (the side containing the lowest bud) is slightly thicker
than the other side. The wedge that is formed does not need a sharp point; a
blunt point is preferable. Do not use more than three buds. If wood is
scarce, two buds should give good results. Leaving to many buds will
dehydrate the scion when buds leaf out.
Inserting the scion
With a grafting chisel or a small wedge, open the crack wide enough to
insert the scion easily (Figure 2e). Insert the scion with the thicker side
toward the outside with the cambiums in contact . Although maximum contact
is obtained with straight positioning, a slight slant may help ensure
contact . The best contact point is about 1/4 inch below the shoulder of the
stock. After properly positioning the scion, remove the wedge or chisel from
the slit. The pressure of the stock against the scion should be greatest
where the cambiums touch. When the scion is placed in the crack, the cut
surface of the scion wedge should be almost entirely hidden.
Two scions are usually inserted in each slit, one at each side. This gives a
better chance for getting at least one graft to grow.
Sealing the cleft graft
The cleft graft should be sealed so that all cut surfaces are covered .
Cracks sometimes develop as the sealant sets. Check sealant after a few days
and again after several weeks to ensure that all surfaces are kept covered.
Caring for the graft
After the graft begins to grow, it must also be given attention. During the
first season, don't prune branches that grow. Grafts that grow vigorously
may need to have the tips pinched out to stimulate branching. Very long
shoots may break loose during strong winds. Cleft grafts should grow
vigorously and need only light pruning to shape their development. Never
After the first year, some training and branch selection may be necessary.
Do this at the usual pruning time in late winter or early spring. If both
scions in a cleft grow, shorten one to allow the other to develop and become
dominant. Do not remove the second graft until later, because it will help
to cover the wound faster.
In topworking large trees, it is best to graft about half the branches the
first year and the second half the next. Start with the upper center limbs
the first year. The best time to topwork is just as growth begins in the
spring ( tree is able to heal wound); however, it can be done several weeks
earlier or later.
Bark graft (veneer graft)
Bark grafting is relatively easy and requires no special tools. It is
similar to cleft grafting and may be performed on branches ranging from 1
inch to several inches in diameter.
The branch or trunk is cut off at a right angle in the same manner as
described for cleft grafting. The bark graft can be made only when the bark
slips or easily separates from the wood. This usually is in early spring as
Make a slit in the bark about 3/4 inch long.
Make two slits in the bark separated by the width of the scion.
The scions should be dormant. The scion should be 4 to 5 inches long with
two to three buds. Prepare the base of the scion by cutting inward 1-1/2 to
2 inches from the base then downward, forming a shoulder and long, smooth
cut (Figure 3b). The long cut should extend about one-third through the
twig, keeping its base strong enough to insert but not too thick. On the
side opposite the long cut, make a short cut to give the base of the scion a
wedge shape for easier insertion.
Inserting the scionA knife may be used to lift the bark at the top of the
slit but may not always be necessary. Push the scion down and center it in
the slit or between both slits if the double slit method is used. Insert the
scion until the shoulder rests on the stub. If the scion is large enough,
one or two small nails may be used to tighten the scion to the stock. Some
prefer to use electrical tape or masking tape to pull the surfaces tight. In
some cases, the bark may not split or tear and nailing or wrapping is not
necessary. In all cases, the graft should be thoroughly protected with
sealant over all open surfaces after it is completed.
Store the scion in moist sphagnum moss, sand or a plastic bag in a cool
place (refigerator). Do not allow scion to freeze. It must be kept moist and
cool until used. After the cuts are made, scions must be inserted
immediately, or cuts should be kept moist until used.
Scion wood should be made of twig sections with two to three buds each.
Discard the tip of scion wood and re-cut the base before grafting.
After the graft has taken and growth has started, cut off any side shoots or
competing twigs that would shade or compete with the development of the new