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Approach Grafting

Approach Grafting for Bonsai

Do you know that there is a technique in which you can combine the strength of two different plants together in one new plant?

This technique is called Grafting and for bonsai, approach grafting is used for a variety of purposes.

And this article is going to make you understand every detail of information about approach grafting technique,

So, let’s begin,

What is Approach Graft

Basically, grafting is a technique that joins two plants into one. A wound is created on one plant and another plant is inserted into that wound. So that each plant tissue can grow together.

Also, these wounds need to be protected until it heals, so that pests and disease do not enter the graft.

Approach grafting involves attaching a donor plant with intact roots to a receiving plant so that the type of foliage or the position of branches can be changed. 

Approach grafting does not involve cutting a shoot from the donor plant and inserting it in the receiving plant, but rather attaching the entire donor plant (also known as a ‘whip’) to the receiving plant (with the roots still attached).

If the technique is done properly, it provides both a higher success rate with faster development time.

In addition, an approach grafting is an easy technique to make in the right specialty situation. It also happens naturally when two branches rub against each other and seal together. In a garden or greenhouse, it can be used to join one whole living plant to another.

When to perform approach grafting?

Mostly the tree species are grafted in late winter, just before the buds start to swell. But approach grafting should be performed in summer.

What is a Rootstock?

The lower portion of the plant used for grafting is called the rootstock. Usually, this is a healthy root system and some part of the stem. You might have seen a nubby bump at the base of fruit trees or rose bushes. Everything below that bump is considered as the rootstock.

The characteristic of rootstock can make it possible to grow plants faster and in less desirable conditions. Mostly, rootstocks are used for creating dwarf fruit trees. Because most fruit trees are large for the average backyard and they take years to mature to a size of bearing fruit.

But by grafting onto a rootstock, you can produce a dwarf tree. You can create a tree as short as only six feet tall. This height is easy for a gardener to maintain.

What is Scion?

The above portion of the graft is called the scion. It is a young shoot or bud, having characteristics like great flavor, color, or disease resistance.

All the top growth of grafted plants such as leaves, flowers, fruits, etc comes from the scion. 

By combining scion and rootstock you can wind up with a reliably hardy and productive plant.

Also, it is not necessary that rootstock and scion should be from the same species, but they should be closely related. For example, grafting a plum tree onto a peach rootstock.

It is possible to graft several scions onto one rootstock.

Why You Might Use an Approach Graft

You can use approach grafting easily on indoor plants so that they can be easily moved because it can rearrange plants to be close together as your needs dictate. Moreover, it is easy to join a scion from one neighbor to another root.

For outdoor plants, there are few practical uses for grafting. As plants are rooted into the grounds so they are not meant to be moved.

  • To make a living fence. During the making of a living fence, plants of the same species are planted close together so that they will grow into one another. As part of an artful living fence, the major branches are trained to cross each other and approach grafted at crossing points. Also, these grafts become stronger over time. 
  • In grafting tropical fruit trees, and hard to graft species. Since approach grafting works well on non-dormant plants, it is a common method for tropical fruit trees.
  • During the growing season, if you are grafting. or when you are working on a plant when it is not dormant, your options for grafting are quite limited.
  • Splice, side-veneer, cleft, and other similar grafts require dormant wood. An approach grafting may be a suitable way to graft plants in-season.
  • Also, to produce living sculpture and horticultural art such as masterpieces of Axel Erlandson.

What You Will Need

  • Plant material that is actively growing. During dormancy, this cannot be done.
  • Two complete plants that can be brought together at the desired site.
  • Grafting knife
  • Raffia twine or poly grafting tape for tight binding.
  • Moisture control such as plastic tape or sealing wax.
  • Long nails and a hammer for an inlay grafting.

3 Methods on Making an Approach Graft

Spliced Approach Graft: This is the simplest method to graft on a branch having the same size diameter. You need to slice into the bark and wood of the rootstock branch with a knife. Make a smooth wound a couple of inches long.

Also, make a matching cut on the scion. And bring these wounds into contact and bind them tightly together. After that cover the whole area with wax.

Tongued Approach Graft: This method resembles a whip and tongue and it is much more complex than the spliced graft method.

As described in spliced approach graft, make the same cuts. After the first cut is made in each stem to be joined, make a second cut down on the stock and upward on the scion, by providing a thin tongue on each piece.

Interlock these tongues tightly to obtain a closely fitted graft union.

Inlay Approach: The inlay approach is suitable when you want to join a smaller plant to a branch with comparatively thick bark.

For this graft, cut a 3 inch or rectangle bark and the top layer of wood out of rootstock.

The rectangle should be the exact width of the scion. Then, make a matching wound on the thinner scion, same as a spliced approach.

Now, match these wound faces together and drive nails through the scion into rootstock to hold them tightly, covering it all with wax.

Note: For all the grafts, remember to take good aftercare to help them heal, you can use a shade cloth if your plant is outside and receives direct sun.

Approach Grafting Procedure

The main feature of approach grafting is that two independently growing and self-sustaining plants are grafted together. 

These characteristics of both plants ensure the survival of grafted plants, even if for some reason grafting is not successful.

The odds of being successful are enhanced because of the active growing condition of both plants. And the absence of a time limitation required for the grafted plant to heal.

The procedure for approach grafting is as follows.

Step 1: Plant an adapted, active growing plant close to the base of the non-adapted variety, possibly without damaging the root structure of the established plant.

Step 2: Closely position the shoots from both plants. It should be at least three-eight inches in diameter and close to the same size. At the point where the union is going to occur, peel a slice of bark one to two inches long from both stems. Also, the peeled area should be of the same size.

Step 3: Bound tightly two peeled surfaces with budding or electrical tape. Wrap them completely with covers around the area, where both the peeled areas are in contact.

Step 4: From the adapted variety remove some of the top portion of the foliage, nearly six to eight inches above the graft union. This will encourage more rapid healing.

Step 5: These unions will get completed in four weeks. For this type of grafting the most suitable time is during the growing season.

Step 6: After the parts are united (after 4 weeks or more), cut off immediately the remainder of the top of the adapted variety above the graft union and the bottom or root system of non-adapted variety. Also, immediately cut off the yellowing plant below the graft union.

Step 7: Your graft union is complete now. And the problem of iron chlorosis and indigenous soil pathogens is solved if the proper rootstock has been used.

After the portion of each plant is removed, it is necessary to reduce the leaf area of the top if wilting occurs because of a lack of sufficient root system support.

If there is the only problem of micronutrient (iron chlorosis) deficiency, the unadapted variety should not be detached from its own roots system. As the adapted variety root system will feed the sick plant with whatever it needs.

But if the purpose of the graft is to control soil-borne diseases, the susceptible variety should be detached from its roots system and should become totally dependent on the root system of the adapted variety.

Approach Grafting for Bonsai

Grafting a bonsai can be used for a variety of purposes such as to add a branch on a specific place to a bonsai or to replace foliage with a delicate plant variety.

 Moreover, you can add roots to enhance the surface roots or to cultivate a new tree combining desired characteristics of both plants.

In the following approach grafting bonsai example, we will graft new foliage closer to the trunk, to eliminate the tree’s leggy appearance.

  1. In order to successfully perform approach grafting, the donor plant whip must be properly prepared.  At first, start by taking cuttings from a donor plant. The donor plant should have ideal foliage. In this example, we are utilizing cultivated Itoigawa shimpaku of medium coarseness to match the size of the plant. After cutting the roots in the first year, allow one to two more growing seasons for the whip to get elongated at least 6-8 inches (15-20cm), and with the diameter of one-eight to one-fourth or about the thickness of the pencil.
  1.  Now prepare the rooted cutting by removing foliage at the base of the woody trunk with scissors. Make sure that about 2-3 inches (5-7cm) of the trunk is fully exposed. Also, there should be a sufficient amount of foliage left at the end of the cutting.
  1. Check where the donor whip can be attached to the receiving plant. Mostly this could be either be on the trunk or on the branch. Also, keep in mind that depending on the species, approach grafts must be made flowing directly with the directional flow of receiving branch or the trunk or directly against the flow. In the case of juniper, approach grafts can be made in either direction, but with pines, approach graft must be made with the directional flow of trunk or branches.
  1. After that, prepare a Dremel or Die Grinder with a machine head slightly smaller than the diameter of the donor whip.  Insert the machine head into the branch and be sure to press deeply enough so that the donor whip fits flush inside the groove. 
  1. Take the grafting knife and cut the donor whip area of the woody trunk that can touch the sides of the groove exposing the cambium on both sides of the whip.
  1. Place the prepared whip in the groove, aligning the cambium of the whip with the cambium of the receiving tree as best as possible.
  1. Next, take a wire and lightly attach the whip to the receiving plant. Use a wire at two or more places along with the union. 

Then, the next step is to apply pre-stretched grafting tape to the entire length of the graft union.

  1. After the approach grafting is done, make sure to keep the grafts protected from direct sun. In addition, water it frequently.

 In the following spring season, removal of the donor whip roots and original receiving plant foliage can occur.


Grafting is the best technique to combine the characteristics of two plants. At first, grafting may seem tricky, but with experimentation, you will learn.

While experimenting on grafting use cheap materials.

Also, be careful while planting grafted plants. If you bury joints of graft underground, the rootstock can sprout its own top growth or the scion can send down its own roots. And if this happens, you can lose the desired characteristic of the plant.

Rest it is a wonderful experience to graft a bonsai.

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