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.
Cleft Graft [click image to enlarge]
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 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 Graft [click image to enlarge]
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.
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 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.
Side-Veneer Graft [click image to enlarge]
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.
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 Graft [click image to enlarge]
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 diameter.
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 [click image to enlarge]
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.
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 Graft [click image to enlarge]
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.
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 Graft [click image to enlarge]
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 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 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.
Inarch Graft [click image to enlarge]
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.