Cherry Trees and other Grafted and Budded Plants
by Michael J. McGroarty -
What do the terms grafting and budding mean?
Budding is a form of grafting. Grafting is the art of
attaching a piece of one plant to another plant, creating a
new plant. Grafting is usually done because the desired
plant is extremely difficult if not impossible to propagate
through other means. Dogwoods for example are easily grown
from seed, however, it is next to impossible to grow a pink
dogwood from seed. The seeds from a Pink Dogwood will
produce seedlings that are likely to flower white.
The most common method for producing Pink Dogwood trees is
to remove a single bud from a Pink Dogwood tree and slip it
under the bark of a White Dogwood seedling. This process is
known as budding, and the seedling is known as the
rootstock. This is usually done during the late summer
months when the bark of the White Dogwood seedling can be
easily separated from the tree, and the seedling is about
1/4” in diameter.
A very small “T” shaped cut is made in the bark only, and
the bud is slipped in the slot. The actual bud itself is
allowed to poke out through the opening and then the wound
is wrapped with a rubber band both above and below the bud.
By the following spring the bud will have grafted itself to
the seedling, at which time the seedling is cut off just
above the Pink Dogwood bud, and the bud then grows into a
Pink Dogwood tree.
Budding is usually done at ground level, and often times the
rootstock will send up shoots from below the bud union.
These shoots often called suckers should removed as soon as
they appear because they are from the rootstock and are not
the same variety as the rest of the plant. Flowering
Crabapples are also budded and are notorious for producing
suckers. When removing these suckers don’t just clip them
off at ground level with pruning shears, they will just grow
back. Pull back the soil or mulch and remove them from the
tree completely at the point where they emerge from the
Most people clip them off a couple of inches from the
ground, and then they grow back with multiple shoots. This
drives me crazy! Get down as low as you can and remove them
completely and you will keep them under control. On older
trees that have been improperly pruned for years I take a
digging spade and literally attack these suckers hacking
them away from the stem. Sure this does a little damage to
the stem of the tree, but when a plant is let go like that I
figure it’s a do or die situation. The trees always survive
Other plants are grafted up high to create a weeping effect.
One of the most popular trees that is grafted up high is the
top graft Weeping Cherry. In this case the seedling is
allowed to grow to a height of 5’, then the weeping variety
is grafted on to the rootstock at a height of about 5’. This
creates an umbrella type effect. In this case the graft
union is 5’ off the ground, therefore anything that grows
from the stem below that graft union must be removed.
Many people don’t understand this and before they know it
they have a branch 2” in diameter growing up through the
weeping canopy of their tree. Before you know it there are
several branches growing upright through the canopy and the
effect of the plant is completely ruined.
The two photos below show exactly what I'm talking about in
this article. You can clearly see the weeping effect that
the Weeping Cherry tree is supposed to have, but then up
through the middle come these branches that are no more than
just suckers from the stem, or the rootstock as it is known
in the nursery industry.
Looking closely at the above photo you can see that these
suckers originate from below the graft union. This problem
could have been prevented if someone had just picked off
these buds when they first emerged on the stem of the tree.
Then they would have never developed into branches.
This tree can still be saved, but there will be a large scar
on the stem when the upright branches are pruned off. But
under the canopy of the weeping tree these scars will never
Another interesting plant that is grafted is the Weeping
Cotoneaster. In this case the seedling that is grown to
serve as the rootstock is Paul’s Scarlet Hawthorn, and
Cotoneaster Apiculata is grafted onto the Hawthorn rootstock
at a height of 5’. Years ago a nurseryman found through
experimentation that these two plants are actually
compatible, and a beautiful and unique plant was created. I
have one of these in my landscape and we love it.
Once again since the graft union is at 5’, any growth coming
from the stem (rootstock) must be removed. In this case the
growth coming from the rootstock will be Hawthorn and will
look completely different from the Cotoneaster which is what
the plant is supposed to be. The easiest way to keep up with
this type of pruning is to keep an eye on your grafted
plants when you’re in the yard. As soon as you see new
growth coming from below the graft union, just pick up it
off with your finger nail.
If you catch these new buds when they first emerge, pruning
them off is as easy as that. Walk around your yard and look
for grafted or budded plants, and see if you can find any
that have growth that doesn’t seem to match the rest of the
plant. Look closely and you may find that the growth is
coming from below a graft or bud union.