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