New Articles

New Galleries

Plant Propagation - Asexual Propagation (Part Two)

The Arizona Master Gardener Manual, Arizona Cooperative Extension
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Reprinted with permission.

Part Two
Discuss this article >>


Grafting and budding are methods of asexual plant propagation that join plant parts so they will grow as one plant. These techniques are used to propagate cultivars that will not root well as cuttings or whose own root systems are inadequate. One or more new cultivars can be added to existing fruit and nut trees by grafting or budding.

The portion of the cultivar that is to be propagated is called the scion. It consists of a piece of shoot with dormant buds that will produce the stem and branches. The rootstock, or stock, provides the new plant’s root system and sometimes the lower part of the stem. The cambium is a layer of cells located between the wood and bark of a stem from which new bark and wood cells originate.

Four conditions must be met for grafting to be successful: the scion and rootstock must be compatible; each must be at the proper physiological stage; the cambial layers of the scion and stock must meet; and the graft union must be kept moist until the wound has healed.

Cleft Grafting

Cleft grafting is often used to change the cultivar or top growth of a shoot or a young tree (usually a seedling). It is especially successful if done in the early spring. Collect scion wood 3/8 to 5/8 inch in diameter. Cut the limb or small tree trunk to be reworked, perpendicular to its length. Make a 2-inch vertical cut through the center of the previous cut. Be careful not to tear the bark. Keep this cut wedged apart. Cut the lower end of each scion piece into a wedge. Prepare two scion pieces 3 to 4 inches long. Insert the scions at the outer edges of the cut in the stock. Tilt the top of the scion slightly outward and the bottom slightly inward to be sure the cambial layers of the scion and stock touch. Remove the wedge propping the slit open and cover all cut surfaces with grafting wax.

Bark Grafting

Unlike most grafting methods, bark grafting can be used on large limbs, although these are often infected before the wound can completely heal. Collect scion wood 3/8 to 1/2 inch in diameter when the plant is dormant, and store the wood wrapped in moist paper in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Saw off the limb or trunk of the rootstock at a right angle to itself. In the spring, when the bark is easy to separate from the wood, make a 1/2-inch diagonal cut on one side of the scion, and a 1-inch diagonal cut on the other side. Leave two buds above the longer cut. Cut through the bark of the stock, a little wider than the scion. Remove the top third of the bark from this cut. Insert the scion with the longer cut against the wood. Nail the graft in place with flat-headed wire nails. Cover all wounds with grafting wax.

Whip or Tongue Grafting

This method is often used for material 1/4 to 1/2 inches in diameter. The scion and rootstock are usually of the same diameter, but the scion may be narrower than the stock. This strong graft heals quickly and provides excellent cambial contact. Make one 2 1/2-inch long sloping cut at the top of the rootstock and a matching cut on the bottom of the scion. On the cut surface, slice downward into the stock and up into the scion so the pieces will interlock. Fit the pieces together, then tie and wax the union.

Care of the Graft

Very little success in grafting will be obtained unless proper care is maintained for the following year or two. If a binding material such as strong cord or nursery tape is used on the graft, this must be cut shortly after growth starts to prevent girdling. Rubber budding strips have some advantages over other materials. They expand with growth and usually do not need to be cut, as they deteriorate and break after a short time. It is also an excellent idea to inspect the grafts after 2 or 3 weeks to see if the wax has cracked, and if necessary, rewax the exposed areas. After this, the union will probably be strong enough and no more waxing will be necessary.

Limbs of the old variety which are not selected for grafting should be cut back at the time of grafting. The total leaf surface of the old variety should be gradually reduced as the new one increases until at the end of 1 or 2 years, the new variety has completely taken over. Completely removing all the limbs of the old variety at the time of grafting increases the shock to the tree and causes excessive suckering. Also, the scions may grow too fast, making them susceptible to wind damage.


Budding, or bud grafting, is the union of one bud and a small piece of bark from the scion with a rootstock. It is especially useful when scion material is limited. It is also faster and forms a stronger union than grafting.

Patch Budding

Plants with thick bark should be patch budded. This is done while the plants are actively growing, so their bark slips easily. Remove a rectangular piece of bark from the rootstock. Cover this wound with a bud and matching piece of bark from the scion. If the rootstock’s bark is thicker than that of the scion, pare it down to meet the thinner bark so that when the union is wrapped the patch will be held firmly in place.

Chip Budding

This budding method can be used when the bark is not slipping. Slice downward into the rootstock at a 45o angle through 1/4 of the wood. Make a second cut upward from the first cut, about one inch. Remove a bud and attending chip of bark and wood from the scion shaped so that it fits the rootstock wound. Fit the bud chip to the stock and wrap the union.


This is the most commonly used budding technique. When the bark is slipping, make a vertical cut (same axis as the root stock) through the bark of the rootstock, avoiding any buds on the stock. Make a horizontal cut at the top of the vertical cut (in a T shape) and loosen the bark by twisting the knife at the intersection. Remove a shield-shaped piece of the scion, including a bud, bark, and a thin section of wood. Push the shield under the loosened stock bark. Wrap the union, leaving the bud exposed.

Care of Buds

Place the bud in the stock in August. Force the bud to develop the following spring by cutting the stock off 3 to 4 inches above the bud. The new shoot may be tied to the resulting stub to prevent damage from the wind. After the shoot has made a strong union with the stock, cut the stub off close to the budded area.

Plant Tissue Culture for the Home

Although technical procedures for aseptic culture of plant cells, tissues, and organs are as diverse as the plant material on which they are practiced, a simplified general procedure can be followed in the home. All that is needed are a few basic supplies which can easily be obtained. The procedures outlined in this section can be used in the home to propagate various species of plants, both easy (African violets, coleus, chrysanthemums) and difficult (orchids, ferns, weeping figs) to propagate.

Medium Preparation

For 2 pints of tissue culture medium, mix the following ingredients in a 1-quart home canning jar:

Fill the jar with distilled or deionized water. If purified water is not available, water that has been boiled for several minutes can be substituted. Shake the mixture and make sure all materials have dissolved.

Baby food jars with lids, or other heat-resistant glass receptacles with lids can be used as individual culture jars. They should be half filled with cotton or paper to support the plant material. The medium should be poured into each culture bottle to the point where the support material is just above the solution.

When all bottles contain the medium and have the lids loosely screwed on, they are ready to be sterilized. This can be done by placing them in a pressure cooker and sterilizing them under pressure for 30 minutes or placing them in an oven at 320oF for 4 hours. After removing them from the sterilizer, place them in a clean area and allow the medium to cool. If the bottles will not be used for several days, wrap groups of culture bottles in foil before sterilizing and then sterilize the whole package. Then the bottles can be removed and cooled without removing the foil cover. Sterilized water, tweezers, and razor blades, which will be needed later, can be prepared in the same manner.

Plant Disinfection and Culture

Once the growing medium is sterilized and cooled, plant material can be prepared for culture. Because plants usually harbor bacterial and fungal spores, they must be cleaned (disinfected) before placement on the sterile medium. Otherwise, bacteria and fungi may grow faster than the plants and dominate the culture.


Various plant parts can be cultured, but small, actively growing portions usually result in the most vigorous plantlets. For example, ferns are most readily propagated by using only 1/2 inch of the tip of a rhizome. For other species, 1/2 to 1 inch of the shoot tip is sufficient. Remove leaves attached to the tip and discard. Place the plant part into a solution of 1 part commercial bleach to 9 parts water for 8 to 10 minutes. Submerge all plant tissue in the bleach solution. After this time period, rinse off excess bleach by dropping the plant part into sterile water. Remember, once the plant material has been in the bleach, it has been disinfected and should only be touched with sterile tweezers.

After the plant material has been rinsed, remove any bleach-damaged tissue with a sterile razor blade. Then remove the cap of a culture bottle containing sterile medium, place the plant part onto the support material in the bottle making sure that it is not completely submerged in the medium, and recap quickly.

Transferring should be done as quickly as possible in a clean environment. Therefore, scrub hands and counter tops with soap and water just before beginning to disinfest plant material. Rubbing alcohol or a dilute bleach solution can be used to wipe down the working surface.

After all plants have been cultured, place them in a warm, well-lit (no direct sunlight) environment to encourage growth. If contamination of the medium has occurred, it should be obvious within 3 to 4 days. Remove and wash contaminated culture bottles as quickly as possible to prevent the spread to uncontaminated cultures.

When plantlets have grown to sufficient size, transplant them into soil. Handle as gently as possible because the plants are leaving a warm, humid environment for a cool, dry one. After transplanting, water the plants thoroughly and place them in a clear plastic bag for several days. Gradually remove the bag to acclimate the plants to their new environment; start with one hour per day and gradually increase time out of the bag over a two-week period until the plants are strong enough to dispense with the bag altogether.

Part One

Discuss this article >>