I want to change the variety of this established fig tree. Young growth that is suitable to graft using the more usual grafting techniques is too thin or too high. I could use one of the suckers but I prefer to use the resources of the main tree.
To graft in this older wood, the best option is using the patch budding technique. For this technique, it’s best to use young dormant buds. The buds in this young branch of the variety Col de Dama Roja will do just fine.
Start by removing the leaf petiole near the bud leaving only a small piece. Make 2 circular cuts, above and below the bud. Cut the bark between the 2 circular cuts, opposite to the bud. Gently lift the bark and remove the patch with the bud.
The bark should be slipping for this technique to work, so it’s best to do it in late spring or summer. With other fruit types twisting and sliding the patch by hand will be enough to free it. It’s not so easy, with fig trees.
Using the patch as a template, make the 2 horizontal cuts in the rootstock. Make the vertical cuts deep enough so be bark can be removed easily. In these older areas, the bark is thicker and I prefer a stronger tool to remove it, like the brass bark lifter of this grafting knife.
For the graft to succeed the contact has to be perfect in the horizontal cuts. If the patch is too wide remove the excess. The vertical sides don’t need to join perfectly. I even like to slide one side of the patch under the bark of the rootstock so it holds in place better when finishing the graft.
To maintain adequate pressure wrap the patch in place with tape or other suitable material. Be sure to seal all the cuts but leave the bud uncovered. If rainy weather is expected covering the cuts and tape with pruning wax will help in keeping the graft dry.
Usually, there is no need for extra protection, but I prefer to cover the bud with parafilm. When the bud starts growing it will break through the parafilm with ease. In very hot weather I prefer to cover the graft for the first 2 weeks with aluminum foil to protect it from the sun.
Removing the rootstock above the graft union should only be done after the graft is successful and the scion has grown a few inches. A double-bladed knife can be used to make the horizontal cuts match perfectly, as these are the important ones for the graft to succeed.
With softwood scions, the double-bladed knife might separate the bud from the rest of the scion. That’s not a problem, as it makes the removal of the patch easier. When using the double-bladed knife it’s easier to have support for the scion when doing the horizontal cuts.
Beware that fig sap can cause skin irritation. If you are sensitive to the sap use gloves when doing this grafting technique. Be extra careful and gentle when lifting the bark near the bud. Otherwise, you can end up with a hollow bud that won’t be able to grow a new scion.
The horizontal cuts should only be deep enough to remove the bark, so don’t cut too deep into the wood. Don’t worry too much about the width of the patch. You can always correct it by cutting if the patch is too wide for the slot.
Small irregularities on the horizontal borders of the patch, like we see here, should be corrected. Nevertheless, the graft will still succeed if most of that border is flush with the cut in the rootstock.
Here, I’m trimming the vertical side of the patch. When doing so, even if the patch ends up short for the slot, it doesn’t matter, as long as the top and bottom contacts the borders in the rootstock.
Whenever possible, prefer to use well-developed buds. These will start growing much faster while, undeveloped ones, might stay dormant until the next season. Be sure to cover all possible water and air entry points or the graft might fail.
When using nonflexible materials to tie the patch, cover them with pruning wax, so air and water can’t get in. If the graft is successful the buds should start to grow after 3 to 4 weeks. This may vary depending on fruit type and time of year.
After the bud breaks, you can start to remove some of the growth above the graft. Nevertheless, let the graft grow a few inches before cutting everything above the graft point. With this grafting technique, you can benefit from the vigor of the main branch of established trees.
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