What do the terms grafting and budding
Budding is a form of grafting. Grafting is the art of attaching a
piece of one plant to another plant, creating a new plant. Grafting is
usually done because the desired plant is extremely difficult if not
impossible to propagate through other means. Dogwoods for example are
easily grown from seed, however, it is next to impossible to grow a
pink dogwood from seed. The seeds from a Pink Dogwood will produce
seedlings that are likely to flower white.
The most common method for producing Pink Dogwood trees is to remove a
single bud from a Pink Dogwood tree and slip it under the bark of a
White Dogwood seedling. This process is known as budding, and the
seedling is known as the rootstock. This is usually done during the
late summer months when the bark of the White Dogwood seedling can be
easily separated from the tree, and the seedling is about 1/4” in
A very small “T” shaped cut is made in the bark only, and the bud is
slipped in the slot. The actual bud itself is allowed to poke out
through the opening and then the wound is wrapped with a rubber band
both above and below the bud. By the following spring the bud will
have grafted itself to the seedling, at which time the seedling is cut
off just above the Pink Dogwood bud, and the bud then grows into a
Pink Dogwood tree.
Budding is usually done at ground level, and often times the rootstock
will send up shoots from below the bud union. These shoots often
called suckers should removed as soon as they appear because they are
from the rootstock and are not the same variety as the rest of the
plant. Flowering Crabapples are also budded and are notorious for
producing suckers. When removing these suckers don’t just clip them
off at ground level with pruning shears, they will just grow back.
Pull back the soil or mulch and remove them from the tree completely
at the point where they emerge from the stem.
Most people clip them off a couple of inches from the ground, and then
they grow back with multiple shoots. This drives me crazy! Get down as
low as you can and remove them completely and you will keep them under
control. On older trees that have been improperly pruned for years I
take a digging spade and literally attack these suckers hacking them
away from the stem. Sure this does a little damage to the stem of the
tree, but when a plant is let go like that I figure it’s a do or die
situation. The trees always survive and thrive.
Other plants are grafted up high to create a weeping effect. One of
the most popular trees that is grafted up high is the top graft
Weeping Cherry. In this case the seedling is allowed to grow to a
height of 5’, then the weeping variety is grafted on to the rootstock
at a height of about 5’. This creates an umbrella type effect. In this
case the graft union is 5’ off the ground, therefore anything that
grows from the stem below that graft union must be removed.
Many people don’t understand this and before they know it they have a
branch 2” in diameter growing up through the weeping canopy of their
tree. Before you know it there are several branches growing upright
through the canopy and the effect of the plant is completely ruined.
The two photos below show exactly what I'm talking about in this
article. You can clearly see the weeping effect that the Weeping
Cherry tree is supposed to have, but then up through the middle come
these branches that are no more than just suckers from the stem, or
the rootstock as it is known in the nursery industry.
Looking closely at the above photo you
can see that these suckers originate from below the graft union. This
problem could have been prevented if someone had just picked off these
buds when they first emerged on the stem of the tree. Then they would
have never developed into branches.
This tree can still be saved, but there will be a large scar on the
stem when the upright branches are pruned off. But under the canopy of
the weeping tree these scars will never show.
Another interesting plant that is grafted is the Weeping Cotoneaster.
In this case the seedling that is grown to serve as the rootstock is
Paul’s Scarlet Hawthorn, and Cotoneaster Apiculata is grafted onto the
Hawthorn rootstock at a height of 5’. Years ago a nurseryman found
through experimentation that these two plants are actually compatible,
and a beautiful and unique plant was created. I have one of these in
my landscape and we love it.
Once again since the graft union is at 5’, any growth coming from the
stem (rootstock) must be removed. In this case the growth coming from
the rootstock will be Hawthorn and will look completely different from
the Cotoneaster which is what the plant is supposed to be. The easiest
way to keep up with this type of pruning is to keep an eye on your
grafted plants when you’re in the yard. As soon as you see new growth
coming from below the graft union, just pick up it off with your
If you catch these new buds when they first emerge, pruning them off
is as easy as that. Walk around your yard and look for grafted or
budded plants, and see if you can find any that have growth that
doesn’t seem to match the rest of the plant. Look closely and you may
find that the growth is coming from below a graft or bud union.
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most
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