Edible Landscaping

How to: Bud Graft a Fruit Tree

All you need to bud graft a fruit tree in summer is a sharp knife, some grafting tape, and a little knowledge.

Summer is fruit season. Plums, peaches, cherries, pears, and apples are all producing at various times this summer, depending on the variety and your location. They all can add a luscious abundance to our tables and freezers. If you love tree fruits and want to try creating some unique combinations, why not try your hand at grafting.

Grafting is a professional technique used by commercial orchardists to create fruit trees by combining disease resistant, vigorous, hardy rootstocks (roots and base of the tree) with a top of the desired fruit variety. It can be an intimidating technique to learn, but there's one version that's pretty simple and certainly easy to try. It's called T-bud grafting. While you can graft to create more fruit trees or repair a damaged tree, for home gardeners the best way to use grafting is to grow multiple varieties of the same fruit on the same tree. Imagine a plum tree with red, purple and green colored fruits. Or an apple tree with yellow, red or green apples. It's fun to play with and all you need is a sharp knife, grafting tape, and a little knowledge to get started.

Time to Graft

There are many grafting techniques you can use to grow a desired variety on your fruit trees. While most of these techniques, such as whip and tongue (bench grafting) and cleft grafting, are done in the dormant season when trees aren't growing, bud grafting can be done now. Budding is done in late summer when the bark "slips". This means it's easy to remove a leaf bud and bark from the branch and insert it onto another branch.

The technique is simple. Remove a leaf bud of the variety of fruit tree you like. Select another tree of the same type of fruit and insert the bud into a similar-sized branch. Although you can try grafting different species of fruits together, such as peaches and plums, you'll have more success sticking with grafting the same type of fruits together. After you're sure the bud graft has taken, remove the branch above the graft. Next spring the new bud will grow into a branch and eventually any fruit that forms on that new branch will be of the desired variety.

How to Bud Graft

A completed bud graft with the tape protecting the bud until it heals. Within a month you should know if the graft is successful.

  • You'll need a sharp pocket knife or budding knife and some grafting tape.
  • Select a healthy branch of this year's growth from your desired variety of tree. Look for a plump leaf bud about halfway down the branch. Leaf buds are close to the branch where fruiting buds tend to stand out more.
  • With your knife, shallowly cut into the bark about 1/2 inch below the bud. Cut behind the bud and up to about 1/2 inch above the bud. Just cut below the bark to remove the bud, barely cutting into any wood. Try not to cut into the pith or heartwood of the branch.
  • Select a relatively same-sized, branch on the tree that you want to graft on to.
  • Remove any leaves or side branches on that branch where you will be inserting the new bud.
  • Make a vertical, 1-inch long slit just below the bark with your knife between the other buds on the branch.
  • On the top of the slit, or end farthest from the trunk, make a perpendicular cut to form a "T".
  • With your knife or fingernail, gently peel back the bark below the "T" on either side of the vertical slit to form a sleeve.
  • Make sure the bud is facing up towards the tip of the branch and insert it into the sleeve leaving the bud uncovered by the bark of the branch.
  • Wrap the bud with a grafting tape, tying it off. Don't cover the actual bud with tape, just the area on top and bottom of the bud.
  • The bud probably will not grow this year, but should show signs of "taking". After about one month look for a plump bud that appears to have fused with the bark. If the bud has shrunken or dried out, the graft probably didn't take.
  • Next spring, cut the branch off just above the bud you grafted and it should start growing. The branch will grow and eventually flower and fruit in a few years.

Practice, practice, practice

Grafting is one of those techniques that takes practice to get right. See if you can find a Master Gardener or neighbor who has had experience budding fruit trees to give you a demonstration. Like pruning, grafting is best learned when working side by side with an expert.

The beauty of T-budding is that you can do many bud grafts pretty quickly to practice your technique. Even if you do 50 bud grafts and only 5 take, that may be enough to get the new variety you desire.

While the bud grafting technique for home gardeners is best used to add different varieties to existing trees, you can purchase inexpensive rootstock plants and bud graft onto them, creating more fruit trees at a cheaper cost than if you bought the varieties themselves.

Other Stories on Budding Fruit Trees:

Grafting and Propagating Fruit Trees
Reproducing Fruit Trees by Graftage, Budding, and Grafting
Grafting Fruit Trees

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