How to Graft Japanese Maple Trees

How to Graft Japanese Maple trees!

Japanese Maple Waterfall

Japanese Maple Waterfall (fall color)

Lots of how to photos on this page.

Grafting is done during the winter months when the scion wood is completely dormant.  In order to graft your own Japanese maple tree you’ll need a few supplies as well as a Japanese maple seedling that you can use as a root stock.

Growing Japanese maple from seed is actually quite easy to do.  The ideal size seedling for grafting is usually a seedling that is 3/16″ in diameter.  But a little smaller or bigger will also work.  In the fall, after your seedlings have gone into dormancy, pot them up and store them outside in a protected area until you are ready to prep them for grafting.

Prepping your Japanese maple seedlings for grafting is easy.  Just bring the potted seedlings inside where it’s nice and warm and keep them watered as needed until they start to break dormancy.  Watch the buds on the seedlings.  When you first bring them in they’ll be really small and tight.  After being inside at about 70 degrees F. for 10 to 14 days the seedlings will start coming out of dormancy.  The buds will start to swell, then open, and soon you’ll see signs of little tiny leaves.

The ideal time to graft them is right before they start to produce new leaves.  That’s the only preparation that your seedlings need.  Don’t fertilize them or anything like that, just bring them inside and let them warm up for 10 to 14 days.

The other supplies that you’ll need are a really sharp knife, some grafting wax and some rubber bands that are made for grafting.  Grafting rubber bands are pretty much degradable so after being in the sun for several months they start to break down and fall of the plant.  That’s important.  You should remove the rubber bands manually about four months after you make the graft, but in case you forget it’s better to have grafting bands that are likely to fall off on their own.

If you do Google search for “grafting kit” you should be able to find a kit that comes with a grafting knife, a bar of grafting wax and a nice supply of grafting rubber bands.

The knife that you use for grafting needs to be really sharp because a dull knife will make cuts with ragged edges and those ragged edges will cause your graft to fail.

Scion.  What’s a scion?  Scion is the term used to describe the cutting that you remove from the parent plant.  A scion should only be taken from the end or tip of the branch because the scion you use should be from the current seasons growth.  You don’t want to use any wood that is older than one season when you are grafting.

Let’s get started!

Making a Grafting Cut

Making a Grafting Cut

The goal when making a graft is to match up cambium layer to cambium layer.  The cambium layer is the light green colored tissue right below the bark.  The cambium layer is the life support system of the plant.  It would do no good to make a graft into the wood of a plant.  Your graft must be made in such a way that you are putting cambium tissue against cambium tissue.  In the above photo you can see that I am exposing the cambium tissue.

You can also see that I have wrapped my thumb with several layers of heavy duty tape.  Make sure you wrap your thumb and or any finger that could be in the way as you make your grafting cuts.  Remember, the knife that you use is really, really sharp.  Protect your thumb and or fingers by wrapping them with tape.

Trimming the Scion for grafting.

Trimming the Scion for grafting.

To prepare the scion for the graft you have to cut the end of the scion to a taper so it fits snugly into or against the rootstock.

Scion Wood Prepared for Grafting.

Scion Wood Prepared for Grafting.

In this photo you can see how I have made the cut on the scion wood to prepare if for grafting.  The very center is wood inside the center of the plant.  If you look closely you can see the cambium tissue between the bark and the wood of the tree.

A scion ready to be inserted into the graft union.

A scion ready to be inserted into the graft union.

Making a veneer graft.

Making a veneer graft.

This is called a Veneer Graft because you are actually grafting the scion to the side of the plant and not inserting it into the center of the plant like you would with a saddle graft or a reverse saddle graft.  I like doing veneer grafts because this process allows you to match up a lot more cambium tissue than you do with other types of grafts.

Notice how snug the scion fits into the graft union.  Air space is your enemy when grafting.  You want tissue against tissue with no air space.

Wrapping the Graft Union.

Wrapping the Graft Union.

Once the scion is inserted into the graft union you have to hold it firmly in place, then start wrapping the graft with grafting rubber band.  This wrap must be tight because you are trying to apply enough pressure to firmly press the two cambium layers together.  Just wrap the band around and around, then terminate the wrap by making a little slip knot with the end of the rubber band.

A completed Japanese Maple Graft.

A completed Japanese Maple Graft.

Almost done!  The only thing left to do is apply the grafting wax.  See my little slip knot?  Isn’t that cute?

Applying grafting wax to a Japanese maple graft.

Applying grafting wax to a Japanese maple graft.

The finishing touch is to coat the entire graft union with melted grafting wax.  When melting the wax you have to be careful to not get it too hot.  You want it just hot enough so it melts so as you apply it, it sets up quickly and doesn’t run down the stem.  If the wax is too hot it can do harm to the plant tissue.  Be sure to cover the graft union completely so no air can get into the graft union.  Air causes the tissue to get hard and brittle and the two pieces of tissue will not bond.

The little brush that I am using to apply the wax is called a flux brush.  You can pick one up that the hardware store.  A flux brush is normally used for apply flux to copper pipes before you solder them.  I think I paid 29 cents for the one that I bought.

Melting grafting wax.

Melting grafting wax.

I found this little candle warmer and glass dish at Walmart.  I think I paid about $8.00 for both of them.  This set up worked great.  I just cut off a chunk of the grafting wax, stood it up in the little dish, and turned on the heat.  It probably took about two hours for the wax to melt all the way down so I could work with it, so make sure you get the wax melted before you start grafting.

Questions or comments?  Post them below.  -Mike McGroarty

18 thoughts on “How to Graft Japanese Maple Trees

  1. floyd elliott on said:

    Mike,, when taking hardwood cuttings in winter,do you still need to maintain high moisture or is the cool moisture surroundings enough?

    • Mike on said:

      Floyd, if you are grafting with these cuttings (scions) then after the graft is complete you have to keep the grafted plant warm and a seal the graft union to keep it moist. A hardwood cutting of a flowering shrub, just stick them in a growing medium outside in the winter and just water when it’s dry. That’s enough.

  2. MARK BEAT on said:

    Hi Mike,

    What Japanese Maples do you use for your root stock?

    Thanks for making your new Japanese Maple grafting video.

    Mark

    • Mike on said:

      Mark,
      Most Japanese maples are of the Acer palmatum family so you can use either green seedlings which are acer palmatum or red seedlings which are Acer palmatum atropurpurem. So if you grow your own seedlings, details in the video, just collect some seeds and sow them. If collected from a tree with good red color some will be red, some will be green, all can be used as rootstock.

      • Gary on said:

        How wide should the root stock be?
        Only one graft to each tree?

        • Mike on said:

          Gary,

          Japanese maple root stocks should be at least 3/16 of an inch before you graft to them.

  3. Barbara J. Doane on said:

    As a member of the the Backyard Grower, I find all the information you present so be so interesting and fascinating. I have been doing alot of reading and it is such an upper. THANKS FOR ALL YOU DO!!!

    • Mike on said:

      Thanks Barbara, I appreciate that.

  4. Warren on said:

    Hi Mike, how old do the seedlings have to be before you can use them as rootstock?

    • Mike on said:

      Warren,

      That depends on where you live. In north Japanese maple seedlings tend to grow slowly and are still small after one season. Those who grow them in Oregon get a nice seedling in one season. So the true answer is they need to 3/16″ in diameter before you can graft to them.

      • warren on said:

        Thanks for your reply mike. I live in Northern Ireland. I bought your DVD on grafting maples about a week ago and I’m just waiting for it to arrive, cant wait!!

  5. jay lowman on said:

    After grafting a Japanese maple do you cut off the top of the rootstock above the graft.
    thanks

    • Mike on said:

      Jay,

      You do, but you can wait until the graft is successful and has leafed out. Then you can remove the top part of the rootstock.

  6. Joseph on said:

    Hi Mike,

    I have plenty of a palmatum seedling/saplings for grafting purposes, but I want to graft some extremely slow growing dwarf weeping ornamental Japanese maples. I note in your commentary that you want 3-4 buds off of last year’s new growth for grafting purposes. This particular tree I want to graft throws out only 1-2, MAYBE 3 buds of next growth per year per branch. Will that be sufficient to graft correctly? Thanks, I’m excited to give this a try next year!

  7. Pingback: How to Propagate and Grow ‘Milky Way’ Chinese Dogwood, Cornus kousa – Mike's Backyard Nursery

  8. Mike on said:

    Mike,
    What do you do post-op? Does the grafted tree have to be kept inside and warm until after the last frost before they are moved outside?
    Thanks…

  9. Mike on said:

    MIke,
    What’s the procedure after the graft is complete? Do the newly grafted trees have to be kept inside and warm until after the last frost?
    Thanks!

  10. Pat S on said:

    I know nothing about grafting. I had to trim back my Japanese maple. Is there anyway I can use the cuttings to grow a tree? Like putting it into a solution of some sort? I’ll look for the seedlings, but only have one jap/maple. Wouldn’t that seed be sterile?

    Thanks, Pat

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