Budding: What to do Before and After

Every year HOS holds a budding workshop at the HOS Arboretum. HOS members will demonstrate how to bud and rootstocks will be available for sale. Virtually all fruit trees and many flowering shrubs can be budded, but the stone fruits, plums, cherries, peaches, apricots, etc., are best budding rather than using other grafting methods. The following are suggestions for gathering bud-wood, and what to do with the trees that you have budded.

Getting Ready to Bud

You may have a “special” tree that you would like to propagate or make a tree for friends. Gather budding wood from this year’s growth on the tree you wish to propagate. Gather new growth from terminal or lateral limbs, NOT from water spouts. The buds on terminals and lateral limbs are stronger than those on water sprouts. Make sure you label each group of budding would. Collect the budding wood on the morning of the class, or day you are going to bud if possible. To keep the limbs fresh you can remove the blade (the flat part) of the leaf, leaving the petiole (handle or stem of the leaf). Wrap the cut ends in wet paper towel and place in a ice chest to keep humidity high.

You also need to prepare the rootstock for budding. Three to four weeks prior, the rootstock should be fertilized and deeply watered. This causes the rootstock to respond with rapid growth. The cambium cell divide rapidly, therefore the bark will “slip” (come loose from the wood easily).

How to Bud

During early August to early September, buds cut from one-year-old shoots of the desired cultivar are inserted under the bark (“T” budding) of the rootstock or placed on the rootstock where a portion of the bark has been removed (chip budding).

Ruber or elastic ties are used to firmly press the bud to the rootstock. The ties must be removed after several weeks. If not they may girdle the young tree. Height of budding on the rootstock varies, but is usually three to nine inches above the soil line. The bud of the scion cultivar will remain dormant throughout the fall and winter. But the newly budded trees will send you a message of success or non-success (you can never fail, just repeat and repeat if you have to). When the bud and root-stock grow together a chemical message is sent to the petiole. The petiole part of the leaf reacts as if it is winter (due to hormone differences) and falls off. If they do not make a growth connections, no message, and the petiole remains firmly attached near the bud.

Budded Tree Care

Plant the newly budded tree in a nursery row or place it in its permanent location. During winter, the portion of the rootstock above the scion is pruned away. In early spring of the following year, the bud of the scion begins to swell. As a shoot emerges from the scion bud, addition shoots may also occur on the rootstock. These rootstock shoots are periodically removed in the spring and summer.

As the scion shoot lengthens, lateral buds may break and produce branches. These low branches (limbs) are usually removed (termed limbing) two to three times in the spring and early summer. Limbs are usually removed up to a height of 20 inches above the bud union.

Branches (feathers) which occur above 20 inches are desirable and are retained. To prevent Breakage at the bud union and to help provide a straight tree, all trees on dwarfing root-stocks are supported by an individual stake or with a short trellis.

Non-spur cultivars produce and adequate amount of feathers. Fruit that form spurs, i.e. cherries and some apple cultivars, do so rarely or produce few feathers. It is possible to stimulate feathering by removing four to six fo the shoot tip leaves. Make sure you do not damage or remove the terminal (tip) bud. Branching occurs in the region of leaf removal and just below. Leaf removal is repeated two or three times at 10 day intervals. Trees stimulated to produce feathers by leaf removal may be a little shorter and may have a slightly smaller diameter (caliper) than untreated trees. It is more important to have adequate feathers for tree training that larger trees.

By fall the trees should be close to five feet tall and most non-spur cultivars, but not all, will have four or more wide-angled feathers at least 20 inches above the bud union.


Barritt, Bruce H., “High Quality Nursery Trees Essential to Orchard Success,” Good Fruit Grower, February 1, 1990

Pome News, Summer 1995 Issue