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Using grafting in the Art of Bonsai

Grafting is of great interest for creating bonsai, since it guarantees the transmission of very specific characteristics, when cutting and seeds fail, Bonsai growers graft, which in effect is tree propagation. This method allows Bonsai growers to create unique and delicate tree species.

Above all it is a way of obtaining a particular shape and style quickly. Some plants can only be obtained in this way, such as certain fruit trees from stones or pips, which make most attractive bonsai.





Certain species of trees adapt more easily to bonsai formation by keeping the miniature perspective in the correct proportions.

Bonsai specialists use the grafting process to create popular tree species in large numbers. Also, individual growers should be aware that certain types of trees have more suitable bonsai features such as trunk shapes, bark consistency, leaf patterns and overall form.


“Tsugiki”, in Japanese, is often used to combine the strengths of two different trees together to create one new tree.


Grafting for bonsai is used for a variety of reasons, to add a branch to a specific place, to replace lost foliage with a more delicate tree variety, to enhance the nebari by adding roots, or to cultivate a new tree by combining the favourable characteristics to two separate trees. Grafting can be tricky, so start experimenting on inexpensive material to gain experience first.


There are three commonly used techniques for Bonsai purposes; scion grafting (inserting a separated graft into a trunk or branch), approach grafting (fusing a branch (that is still attached to the donor plant) to a tree, and thread grafting (drilling a hole in a trunk or branch, and threading a branch of the tree through it).


Scion grafting involves removing a small shoot or branch from a donor plant and inserting it into the receiving plant. This technique can be applied to Junipers, Pines and both deciduous and broadleaf evergreen trees - often to add branches or to replace foliage. When done correctly, the grafts scars will be completely invisible over time.

When scion grafting, make sure that both the donor plant and the receiving plant are in good health, or as good as possible. Fertilize both plants well during the growing season prior to grafting, i.e. late winter or early spring. Also, keep both the donor and receiving plant under slight cover during the winter months before grafting. The trees should be allowed to go dormant but avoid harsh frosts during that period.


Approach grafting involves attaching a donor plant with the roots still intact to the receiving plant with the goal of changing the foliage type of the tree or adding branches in desired positions. Rather than cutting a shoot from the donor plant and inserting into the receiving plant, approach grafting requires the use of a fully intact donor plant (also called a ‘whip’) and attaching it (roots still attached) to the receiving plant.

If done properly, this technique provides both a higher success rate and faster development time than the previously discussed scion grafting technique. Approach grafting Junipers should be done during the growing season when the growth of both the donor and receiving plants is most vigorous. In this example we will graft new foliage closer to the trunk, to eliminate the tree’s leggy appearance.


The best time to perform thread grafting on any deciduous or broadleaf evergreen species is when the tree is completely dormant, and the buds have not begun to swell.


Bonsai Empire and Bonsai4me have excellent step by step instruction on each technique, which you can follow.


General guidelines for grafting

- Very healthy trees - both host and recipient. - Tree vigorously growing, and not resting or dormant. - Graft onto branches that are vigorous and have foliage (not defoliated). - Keep new grafts out of strong sunlight and wind. - Keep humidity levels high for free grafts by enclosing in a plastic bag with moisture added. - Graft only when other techniques do not work since grafting is time consuming.



Grafting will only work when the graft and tree belong to the same species. Pines and Junipers are the exceptions, since they blend quite well despite belonging to different plant species.


Grafting can be considered one of the most reliable methods of propagation. It also makes for a considerable saving in time, compared with raising from seed.


Grafting also offers the bonsai enthusiast other benefits, such as improving the shape of a tree. It is possible to use the bonsai tree’s own branches to add a branch where one is missing. This takes grafting out of the realm of propagation and into that of bonsai shaping. Grafting is also used to alter the gender of trees, making a sterile dioecious tree monoecious and fruit-bearing. It is enough just to graft a branch from a male tree on to a female one to provide for notably easier fertilization of the flowers.


Bonsai grafting is quite experimental, and you will experience numerous setbacks. However, with a lot of practice, you will get it right. Ensure that you exercise precision during grafting to get you the desired results.

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