Fruit Tree Grafting- Step by Step

I went to a fantastic grafting workshop in the weekend.  I love all gardening workshops. Even if you think you know it all, going to a workshop and hearing someone else’s thoughts and opinions can be really helpful. Hands on workshops are also the best way to learn since you try your own hand at it at the same time as you’re being taught. I thought I would give a step by step run down of two grafting techniques and encourage you to go find some sticks to practice on!

Rootstock and Scion Wood

Before I go into detail about graft types, I will quickly explain the two sorts of wood you need.

The rootstock is plant with an already established root system. It’s usually just a stump. The rootstock is what determines things like how big the fruit tree will grow, what conditions it can grow in and the fruit size.

The scion wood is a piece of wood from the tree that you would like to propagate and grow. The scion wood can be grafted onto the rootstock via many different methods. The rootstock and scion wood must be compatible for the graft to take and a good way to know compatibility is to graft within the same genus of fruit. (e.g plums, nectarines and peaches are the ‘Prunus’ genus so are all compatible with each other. An apple is from the ‘Malus’ genus so would not be compatible.)

The scion wood must always be dormant (no burst buds!) It is collected in the winter and should be stored in a fridge, wrapped in wet newspaper, until you use it.

Whip and tongue graft

This is a dependable and solid graft with a bit of careful skill required. When grafting it is essential that the cambium layer of both the rootstock and the scion wood match and grow together. To ensure a good match it is important you cut smoothly and cleanly using a sharp grafting knife like this one.

Grafting Knife

Take your rootstock and make a long slanting cut across an internode (the space between the buds). Either place the rootstock on a chopping board and press down hard with a grafting knife, or hold the rootstock away from you and with one hard stroke, slice, off an angled slice. Try get the longest possible cut and as smooth as possible to create an oval face.

Find scion wood of a similar size in diameter and do the same thing.

They should match as closely as possible when held together.

There’s the whip graft, now for the tongue.

Keep your thumbs nice and close together for better control with the knife. About 1/3 of the way down from your cut, slice down into the face. Do this slowly and carefully as this can be quite tricky and you don’t want to press down too hard and cut yourself!

Do this in both the rootstock and the scion. Those cuts create the ‘tongue’ and this is what will help hold the rootstock and scion together. Carefully match them together.

Now the graft needs to be securely tied with grafting tape. Grafting tape stretches as the tree grows and keeps out water and diseases. This step is just as important as a clean cut! Cut the top of your scion wood off so that it has only 3 buds remaining. Plant your finished rootstock, preferably in the open ground.

Chip budding

This grafting technique is one that can be done all throughout spring and even summer. It involves grafting only a little bud of the scion wood onto rootstock. This means you get a lot more use out of one piece of scion wood.

On your rootstock, in the internode. Make a little cut, about 3 mm deep.  1cm above that, slice down to meet the little slit you previously made.

On your scion wood, you want to do the same thing except on the bud.

Once you have sliced the bud off, keep it sitting on your grafting knife to avoid touching it with your fingers and contaminating it. Carefully place it onto the rootstock, matching the bud with the cut you made before.

When wrapping this graft, wrap the bottom of the bud first and only cover the tip of the bud with one layer of tape. Plant your rootstock, preferably in the open ground.

The above two grafts were prepared on a bare rooted rootstock. This is a lot easier than grafting on a rootstock in the ground as you can move it around when cutting.

Machine Grafts

If cutting with a grafting knife isn’t your thing, these grafting shears do the hard work for you. 

  1. The scion wood and rootstock match easily with these grafting shears that cut the wood in a V , U or Ω cut. You can buy this tool on trademe.

Once you have planted your rootstock, keep it well watered. If your graft is successful, you should be able to see the buds on the scion wood grow and swell within a couple of months.

Happy grafting!

1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. very well explained 🙂 this process asks for a lot of precision work and patience. It is definitely worth the time and effort in the long run!

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