Budding Fruit Trees and Ornamental Plants

Lots of Budding Photos on this Page!

Many plants can not be successfully rooted, or rooting them could be very difficult. One of the accepted methods for propagating difficult to root plants is budding. Budding is the art of taking a single bud from the plant that you would like to grow, and slipping under the bark of a plant grown from seed. This seedling is known as the rootstock.

The rootstock must be compatible with the plant that you are attempting to reproduce. Typically Crabapples are budded onto a Crabapple seedling, Cherries onto a cherry etc. But in some cases, plants that don't even seem like they would be compatible are, and some really interesting plants are the result.

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For instance, Lilacs can be successfully budded onto a privet rootstock, and Cotoneaster Apiculata is often budded onto a Hawthorn rootstock. In this case the resulting plant is very interesting. See the photo below.

Cotoneaster Apiculata Budded

Cotoneaster Apiculata in it's natural state only grows about 18" high, and it can be a real nuisance in the landscape. It traps leaves, and the branches tend to root into the ground as they grow, making it very difficult to trim or clean up around the plant.

But when budded or grafted onto a Hawthorn rootstock, it makes a really interesting, and beautiful plant.

Budding is another form of grafting, except with budding you do not attach a small branch of the desired variety, you only insert a single bud under the bark of the rootstock.

Budding is a mid to late summer project, usually around the end of July or the beginning of August here in the northeastern United States. It is at this time of the year that the bark of the young trees will slip.

In other words, the bark is somewhat loose from the tree and a bud can be slipped between the bark and the cambium layer. To fully understand what part the the cambium layer plays in this process, you should first visit the page on grafting, just click here.

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Budding is easier than grafting and is used quite often in the nursery industry. Almost all Flowering Crabapples and Dogwoods are propagated through the budding.

The rootstock is grown from seed using the techniques described on the Growing Plants from Seed page. Once the rootstock reaches 1/4” in diameter, the budding is done. A small ‘T’ shaped cut is made in the bark of the rootstock, the bark is gently pulled away from the cambium layer with a knife, but only enough to allow a single bud to be slipped under the bark.


In the above photo you can see where this "T" shaped cut was made. The bark has been opened up a little so you can see where the bud is to be inserted. The top of the "T" is toward the top of the rootstock. Remember, a rootstock is a small tree seedling, and in most cases the seedlings are planted in the field, and the budding is done right in the field, where the plant is actively growing. It is not dug up.

In most cases the bud is inserted in the stem, as close to ground level as possible. However, with a weeping tree where the desired effect is a weeping canopy up high, the budding is done about 6 feet from the ground.

The bud you are going to insert under the bark of the rootstock will be removed from a branch of the variety you would like to grow. You can remove a small branch from the desired variety. This branch is called a bud stick. This bud stick can have as many as 20 or more usable buds on it.

After you have made the “T” cut in the rootstock and loosened the bark slightly, you are ready to remove the desired bud from the bud stick. The bud is removed by slicing into the branch under the bud you are removing. Almost like peeling an apple, except you cut below the bark and remove a piece of bark along with the cambium layer attached.

The bud is still attached to the piece of bark and cambium you remove. Do this carefully and do not cut into the bud and damage it. By the same token, you don’t want to cut too deeply into the wood, just below the cambium layer is good.

Each bud has a leaf attached to it. Pinch the leaf off but leave the leaf stem, this stem will serve as a handle as you work with the bud. If you have 100 different crabapple rootstocks that you grew from seed, you can grow many different varieties of flowering crabapples by inserting different varieties of buds into these rootstocks.


Looking very closely at the above photo, this is a bud as it is removed from the branch of the plant you are trying to reproduce. The stem I am holding is the petiole, which attaches the leaf to the branch. The leaf has been removed for easier handling, and it is not needed when you insert the bud into the rootstock. Looking very closely, the frayed tissue at the top of the bud should be trimmed off before the bud is inserted.

If you look closely at this photo, in the area where the petiole attaches to the bark, you can see the single bud that contains all the genetics of the plant your are trying to reproduce. All of the magic of your desired plant is contained in that little tiny bud. Kind of amazing, isn't it?


In the above photo you can see exactly how the bud is going to be slipped under the bark of the rootstock. Make sure you put it in right side up. The bud is pointing toward the sky.

I know that sounds really elementary, but a few years ago I had my son and my nephew potting some bare root Japanese Maples. The plants were dormant, and about 12" tall, as I was walking by I noticed two plants that were upside down. The tops were buried in the pots, and roots were sticking up in the air!

They knew better, they were just yakking away and not paying any attention to what they were doing. That's what you get when you hire cheap help!

As soon as the bud is removed from the parent plant it should be immediately inserted under the bark of the rootstock.


In this photo you can see how the bud is slipped down into the the "T" cut, and using the tip of your knife you can slide it all the way down into the slot. Don't stick your knife near the bud itself, just use it to gently catch the bark still attached to the bud, and push it down into the opening. The photo below shows the inserted bud from another angle.


Once inserted, the bud union should be wrapped securely with a rubber band so the bonding process can begin. Nothing further should be done this growing season. Just let Mother Nature take over until spring.


When wrapping the rubber band, don't make it so tight that it cuts off the flow of nutrients just under the bark. It should be pulled just tight enough to seal the wound. Also be very careful not to wrap the rubber band near the bud itself. Notice how I stayed away from the bud with the rubber band in the above photo.


Early in the spring, while the plant is still dormant, the rootstock should be cut off just above the inserted bud. When the plant breaks dormancy the bud will begin to grow into a plant identical to the parent plant.

As you can see from the above photo, it is important that the bud union be as close to the ground as possible, because the bud union is not very attractive. However, if kept close to the ground, it goes unnoticed at the base of the beautiful plant that you've created. In this photo you can see that the rootstock has been clipped off, and the bud has grown into the start of a small tree.

Looking at this photo, you can also see how and why some trees produce an abundance of suckers around the base. This is really common with flowering Crabapple trees. The suckers actually come from the rootstock, below the bud union.

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It is important to note that the suckers will not have any of the characteristics of the desired variety growing above the bud union. These suckers will be identical to the rootstock, which is a hardy plant, but with few desirable qualities. I point that out because a lot of people ask if they can propagate from these suckers.

Budding is a much simpler form of grafting because you can do it during the summer months and do not have to provide artificial heat, or protection for the plant over the winter months. Budding does not work for all plants, but it is used on a wide variety of fruit trees, crabapples, dogwoods, weeping cherries, and other ornamentals.

A few years ago I saw a couple of people working in a field of nursery stock owned by a friend of mine. I suspected they were budding, so I walked out to watch how the pro's do it.

Wow! All I can say is Wow!

These two budders were a young couple, I assumed they boyfriend/girlfriend. They had actually traveled over 500 miles from McMinnville, TN. to do custom budding for my friend. The guy was the budder, and she was the bud winder. Her job was to wrap the bud union with the rubber band.

I could not believe how fast he made the "T" cut, removed a bud from the bud stick, and inserted it into the "T" cut. The entire process took him less than 15 seconds. Actually, I'll bet it was a lot less than 15 seconds. His hand moved so fast I couldn't really tell how he was doing what. And she was right behind him wrapping those rubber bands.

Now this may not seem very impressive to you, but wait until you give it a try. I'll bet it takes you almost ten minutes to make your first rubber band wrap!

He did do a bud for me very slowly so I could see what he was doing, but I continued to watch them for awhile, because I just could not believe how fast this couple was.

They both wore little work aprons, hers filled with rubber bands, and his filled with bud sticks. O.K., that's my budding story.

Questions? I do my best to answer all questions on my blog...