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Japanese Maple Grafting: Can You Graft Japanese Maples

Japanese Maple Grafting: Can You Graft Japanese Maples


Can you graft Japanese maples? Yes, you can. Grafting is the primary method of reproducing these beautiful and much-admired trees. Read on to learn about how to graft a Japanese maple rootstock.

Japanese Maple Grafting

Most Japanese maples sold commercially have been grafted. Grafting is a very old method of reproducing plants, especially those that are difficult to grow from seed and cuttings. Japanese maples fall into this category.

Growing Japanese maple cultivars from seed is difficult since the tree’s flowers openly pollinate, this means that they accept pollen from most other maples in the area. Given this, you can never be certain that the resulting seedling will have the same looks and qualities as the desired cultivar.

Regarding growing Japanese maple from cuttings, many species simply cannot be grown this way. Other species are simply very difficult. For these reasons, the propagation method of choice for Japanese maples is grafting.

Grafting Japanese Maple Rootstock

The art of Japanese maple grafting involves melding – growing together – two closely related species. The roots and trunk of one type of Japanese maple are placed together with the branches and foliage of another to form one tree.

Both the rootstock (the lower section) and the scion (upper part) are carefully chosen. For the rootstock, pick a vigorous species of Japanese maple that rapidly forms a strong root system. For the scion, use a cutting from the cultivar you wish to propagate. The two are carefully joined and allowed to grow together.

Once the two have grown together, they form one tree. After that, care of grafted Japanese maples is very similar to the care of seedling Japanese maples.

How to Graft a Japanese Maple Tree

The procedure for joining the rootstock and the scion is not difficult, but many factors can influence the success of the venture. These include season, temperature, and timing.

Experts recommend grafting a Japanese maple rootstock in winter, with January and February being the preferred months. The rootstock is usually a seedling that you have grown for a few years before the grafting. The trunk must have a diameter of at least 1/8 inch (0.25 cm.).

Move the dormant rootstock plant into the greenhouse a month before the grafting to bring it out of dormancy. On the day of the grafting, take a cutting of about the same trunk diameter from the cultivar plant you wish to reproduce.

Many different types of cuts can be used for Japanese maple grafting. One simple one is termed the splice graft. To make the splice graft, cut off the top of the rootstock trunk in a long diagonal, about an inch (2.5 cm.) long. Make the same cut at the base of the scion. Fit the two together and wrap the union with a rubber grafting strip. Secure the graft with grafting wax.

Care of Grafted Japanese Maples

Give the plant just a little water at infrequent intervals until the grafted sections grow together. Too much water or too frequent irrigation can drown the rootstock.

After the graft heals, remove the grafting strip. From that time on, care of grafted Japanese maples is very much like the care of plants grown from seeds. Prune off any branches that appear below the graft.


The Art of Grafting

Japanese maples are usually propagated by grafting. Named cultivars do not come true from seed so a branch is cut from the cultivar and grafted onto a Japanese maple rootstock that was grown from seed. This way you will get the exact clone of the cultivar. Also, some Japanese maples will not grow without the use of a more vigorous, seedling-grown root-system. The rootstock of choice is Acer palmatum, the seedling grown Japanese maple, the one that is found in the wild and has been around for millions of years.

Here are the supplies that I use.

Medel Buddy Tape, which is 1" in length. I cut this in half. This tape is stretchable.

Doc Farwell's Grafting Seal.

Tina 685 right-handed grafting knife.

A 6 inch long healthy branch from a cultivar that has about 3 pairs of buds. This one happens to be the Coral Bark Maple.

A seedling grown rootstock that has been kept in a warm place so is actively growing roots and is about ready to grow leaves.

The basic plan is to attach this cultivar to a rootstock and keep it all from drying-out until the cuts heal.

The first cut will be about 1/2 inch long and slopes down to a point.

Each knife wiggle or change in cutting speed leaves an imperfection.

Turn the wood over and make another cut in a similar manner and parallel to the first.

Trim the end to that it is square across.

This is what it then looks like.

Position knife to cut down on the understock. You will cut about the same length as you did on the branch.

The understock should already be growing many new, white roots.

Make the cut on the understock.

Gradually make your cut deeper into the wood.

Insert the branch into the understock and align. Check that it fits snug and lies flat.

Start putting the tape on. Stretch the tape a little and begin wrapping the cuts while keeping the tape from kinking. Wrap around 3 to 4 times to prevent air from drying-out the graft.

This is what the tape will look like.

Begin painting the top of the cut to keep air from entering and drying out the graft.

This is the finished Metro Maples side-graft which may begin new shoot growth in about 3-4 weeks. Keep growth on the understock pinched-off.


Reversion of Grafted Trees

Ever planted a Japanese maple or fruit tree that started out as on variety…only to turn into another variety with completely different foliage or flower? Many trees and landscape plants are grafted. That means one variety with desirable foliage or fruiting characteristics is attached to the root stock of another variety that is perhaps more disease resistant or more tolerant of heavy soils. Basically, you get the best of both worlds with a grafted specimen. The practice is most common with trees such as Japanese maples and most fruit trees, as well as with roses and now even vegetable plants.

Sometimes, however, the graft may not be successful and you may find yourself with a tree that has reverted to the original root stock variety. The Japanese maple you planted for its dark burgundy foliage has now mysteriously begun to “turn” bright green, such as in the photo above. In reality, the existing top growth isn’t really turning another color, but rather the new green growth is emerging from below the original graft union, as seen in the photo below. Because this rootstock growth is often more vigorous, it can quickly overtake the grafted growth.

You may see “suckers” emerging from the root zone of your tree. You’ll need to properly remove these suckers so they don’t overtake your tree. You may also discover new stems that have emerged from the trunk below the graft union. This growth must also be quickly removed.

There are several reasons why a grafted tree may revert to its rootstock growth. Trees that have been severely or improperly pruned can respond by sprouting from below the graft. During times of drought or other environmental stress, your grafted top growth can suffer leaving the more vigorous rootstock shoots to take over. Planted a grafted tree too deeply, meaning the graft union is below soil level, often leads to the tree reverting completely back to the original rootstock.

Proper pruning and health management of your grafted trees and shrubs are key to long term success. If you have trees that have partial reverted to their root stock, give us a call for a home consultation. We’ll work up a plan for proper pruning and fertilization for your grafted trees. [email protected] 214.528.2266

Entry Info

Categories: Trees, Pruning
Tags: Pruning, Trees
Posted: April 8, 2013


Pruning and Trimming Weeping Japanese Maples

All of the Japanese maples in the world, the Red, Weeping, Lace-leaf varieties are probably the most popular and the most sought after. That’s because they are beautiful and special in a way that you really can’t describe. But if left untrimmed and untrained they can get kind of ugly, and we don’t want that to happen to such a special plant. So I will explain just exactly how and why you should trim and train these weeping varieties.

But first, I’d like to point out that the selection of weeping Japanese maples is much greater than most people realize. There are green varieties and there are a number of different variegated varieties. So don’t limit your options! Here at Japanese Maple Lovers it is our goal to introduce you to all of these incredible and fascinating plants. Enjoy!

Have you ever wondered, or asked yourself “Why are these tree so doggone expensive?” Two reasons. They are relatively slow growing and they are not the easiest plant in the world to grow. It takes time, effort and knowledge to produce a really nice lace-leaf weeping Japanese maple. Here at Japanese Maple Lovers my goal is to give you the opportunity to purchase these plants at small sizes, and at deeply discounted prices. But when you do that, it will be up to you to prune and train these Japanese Maples into beautiful specimens. You can do it! With a little education. But once you master this art you will so much more appreciate the trees in your yard because you will have had so much involvement with their up bringing. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, they won’t ask to borrow money once you have them raised!


The above photo is Acer palmatum dissectum, ‘Crimson Queen’. So that’s out goal right? To end up with a beautiful tree like this one.

The beginning of the training process.

However, what we often start with is a plant like this, or worse yet a plant like the photos of the graft unions at the top of this page. So let the work begin! The plant is this photo does not look happy at all, but that’s because this photo was taken in November after a frost or two. So some of the leaves were damaged and others not. Also, when I received this tree it had not been trained at all, and it was allowed to grow for probably two seasons with no training. That makes my job of getting it to look like I want more difficult, but not impossible.

As mentioned earlier the weeping varieties truly have no upright habit to them at all. They’d prefer to just lay on the ground and spread out as they grow. Unless you have a wall that the tree can creep over and hang down or some kind of a Japanese garden setting that’s probably not at all what you want. So the very first thing you need to do is figure out how you are going to get some height out of your tree. Typically, if you can get at least one main branch up to a height of 42″ or so, that would be ideal. From there you can allow the lateral branches to develop and eventually form a really nice head.

So the very first thing you need to do is put a stake in the ground next to your tree. The plastic stakes that you can get at the garden stores is fine. Then you have to find a branch that you can tie to the stake that will be your main leader. In the above photo you can see that I’ve tied a number, or a bunch of branches to the stake. Coming out of that bunch of branches I’ve got a main leader that will eventually make up the main stem of my tree. More than likely, over time, many of those lower branches will be removed because eventually I want a weeping canopy that will completely cover that part of the tree. The weeping canopy will eventually block all sunlight to that area and those branches won’t be able to survive any way. But for now they get to stay because they are helping to feed the tree through photosynthesis.

So the goal is to train at least one branch upright to a height of about 42″ and then start training all of the lateral branches to form that weeping canopy. Even though you eventually want a canopy that is say, 40″ wide, you don’t want to allow those lateral branches to grow out to that distance without trimming them at all. The more you prune them, at least a few inches off the tip of the branch, the more lateral branches they produce, and it’s that maze of lateral branches that make up the head of the canopy.

Every Time you prune a lateral branch you get more lateral branches from that branch. Each of those lateral branches will in turn produce more lateral branches. So don’t get impatient or worse yet, don’t be afraid to prune the tips of of those lateral branches. There’s nothing you can do to speed the process of trying to develop a nice head on your tree. It takes time, and it takes regular pruning.

And at this time I need to make a big announcement.


All Japanese Maples

One Year Graft Two Year Graft Three Year Graft


These 4 year grafts are very large, with many limbs, and thick trunk.
(They normally have to ship Fedex due to the large size.)

What better way to start your Japanese Garden than to buy several of these inexpensive small one year grafted trees. New Lower Prices! Most varieties range from 8" - 12" tall.

THE TWO YEAR GRAFTS ARE MORE ESTABLISHED TREES WITH BRANCHES. SIZE RANGE IS NORMALLY 12"-24" WITH BRANCHES.

THE THREE YEAR GRAFTS ARE VERY WELL ESTABLISHED TREES WITH MANY BRANCHES, GROWING IN SEVEN GALLON SIZE CONTAINERS! SIZE RANGE IS NORMALLY 24"- 36" WITH MANY LARGE BRANCHES, AND A TRUNK CALIPER OF 1/2 INCH.

Shipping charge is $10 plus $4 per plant.

THESE ARE VERY NICE GRAFTED JAPANESE MAPLES. NAMED CULTIVARS MUST BE GRAFTED TO PREVENT DILUTION OF THE CULTIVAR. THESE CULTIVARS ARE HIGHLY DESIRABLE AND ATTRACTS MUCH ATTENTION, BUT ARE STILL RARE. MOST JAPANESE MAPLES ARE HARDY TO MINUS 15 DEGREES.


How to Graft a Japanese Maple Tree

A Japanese maple tree is a wonderful ornamental tree that is available in over 400 different varieties. Depending on the color of leaves you would like for your garden, you have plenty to choose from. Japanese maple trees come in a wide variety of sizes and colors, and provide a tremendous display of fall foliage that gardeners love to see in their garden.

Japanese maple trees prefer to be grown in partial shade in loose, rich and well-draining soil. Propagating these trees can be done through the use of seeds, but grafting is a much easier process. Instead of having to pay a lot for the Japanese maple trees for your garden, you can simply buy, or cut off, small grafts for use in growing your own.

Timing is Everything

Grafting a Japanese maple is best accomplished at one of two different times. The scion (or cutting) should be taken either when the tree is dormant or when it's not producing any type of bloom. The best time is in late winter just before the thaw, or in mid summer.

Store Scion

Make the cutting at least 4 to 6 inches and make sure to have at least two or three buds on it. Place the cuttings in a moist paper towel. Put them in a paper bag and store in the fridge until you are ready to use them in the graft.

Limb Traits

When you get ready to graft, the limb should be at least the thickness of a pencil. The limb should also be quite firm and not flimsy. A soft limb will not hold up under the weight of the new graft that is going to be added.

Cut Cleanly

When you find the understock that you are going to take for the graft, find a smooth, straight section from which to make your cut. Use a sharp knife and set it in a 15 degree angle on the limb. The cut should be very clean and done in one smooth motion about an inch long. Cut the scion wood on both sides at a 45-degree angle.

Make Graft

Insert the scion piece under the flap of bark on the understock. Align the scion on the edge so that the thin green layer just below the bark matches. Wrap the bottom of the grafting limb with grafting rubber. Overlap the first two wraps while keeping a tight wrap and secure the rubber with a loop.

Protect Graft

Using a plastic bag, coat the inside with a fungicide and place over the area that was grafted. Secure it with some ties, but leave a little loose. Keep the graft inside the plastic bag so it stays moist as it starts to take. It should take about five weeks. Remove any other growth that may overtake the graft and keep it from growing.

You can do this over and over to keep your Japanese maple trees growing and your garden expanding with beautiful, colorful displays. Remember to start the process when the tree is dormant and you will be able to have a successful graft.


Watch the video: Shaping a Dissectum Maple for Bonsai