Pruning Weeping Cherry
Trees and other Grafted and Budded Plants
by Michael J. McGroarty
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What do the terms grafting and budding mean?
Budding is a form of grafting. Grafting is the
art of attaching a piece of one plant to another plant, creating
a new plant. Grafting is usually done because the desired plant
is extremely difficult if not impossible to propagate through
other means. Dogwoods, for example, are easily grown from seed,
however, it is next to impossible to grow a pink dogwood from
seed. The seeds from a Pink Dogwood will produce seedlings that
are likely to flower white.
The most common method for producing Pink
Dogwood trees is to remove a single bud from a Pink Dogwood tree
and slip it under the bark of a White Dogwood seedling. This
process is known as budding, and the seedling is known as the
rootstock. This is usually done during the late summer months
when the bark of the White Dogwood seedling can be easily
separated from the tree, and the seedling is about 1/4” in
A very small “T” shaped cut is made in the
bark only, and the bud is slipped in the slot. The actual bud
itself is allowed to poke out through the opening and then the
wound is wrapped with a rubber band both above and below the
bud. By the following spring the bud will have grafted itself to
the seedling, at which time the seedling is cut off just above
the Pink Dogwood bud, and the bud then grows into a Pink Dogwood
Budding is usually done at ground level, and
often times the rootstock will send up shoots from below the bud
union. These shoots, often called suckers, should removed as soon
as they appear because they are from the rootstock and are not
the same variety as the rest of the plant. Flowering Crabapples
are also budded and are notorious for producing suckers. When
removing these suckers don’t just clip them off at ground
level with pruning shears, they will just grow back. Pull back
the soil or mulch and remove them from the tree completely at
the point where they emerge from the stem.
Most people clip them off a couple of inches
from the ground, and then they grow back with multiple shoots.
This drives me crazy! Get down as low as you can and remove them
completely and you will keep them under control. On older trees
that have been improperly pruned for years I take a digging
spade and literally attack these suckers, hacking them away from
the stem. Sure this does a little damage to the stem of the
tree, but when a plant is let go like that I figure it’s a do
or die situation. The trees always survive and thrive.
Other plants are grafted up high to create a
weeping effect. One of the most popular trees that is grafted up
high is the top graft Weeping Cherry. In this case the seedling
is allowed to grow to a height of 5’, then the weeping variety
is grafted on to the rootstock at a height of about 5’. This
creates an umbrella type effect. In this case the graft union is
5’ off the ground, therefore anything that grows from the stem
below that graft union must be removed.
Many people don’t understand this and before
they know it they have a branch 2” in diameter growing up
through the weeping canopy of their tree. Before you know it
there are several branches growing upright through the canopy
and the effect of the plant is completely ruined.
The two photos below show exactly what I'm
talking about in this article. You can clearly see the
weeping effect that the Weeping Cherry tree is supposed to have,
but then up through the middle come these branches that are no
more than just suckers from the stem, or the rootstock as it is
known in the nursery industry.
Looking closely at the above photo you can see
that these suckers originate from below the graft union.
This problem could have been prevented if someone had just
picked off these buds when they first emerged on the stem of the
tree. Then they would have never developed into branches.
This tree can still be saved, but there will be
a large scar on the stem when the upright branches are pruned
off. But under the canopy of the weeping tree these scars
will never show.
Another interesting plant that is grafted is the
Weeping Cotoneaster. In this case the seedling that is grown to
serve as the rootstock is Paul’s Scarlet Hawthorn, and
Cotoneaster Apiculata is grafted onto the Hawthorn rootstock at
a height of 5’. Years ago a nurseryman found through
experimentation that these two plants are actually compatible,
and a beautiful and unique plant was created. I have one of
these in my landscape and we love it.
Once again since the graft union is at 5’, any
growth coming from the stem (rootstock) must be removed. In this
case the growth coming from the rootstock will be Hawthorn and
will look completely different from the Cotoneaster which is
what the plant is supposed to be. The easiest way to keep up
with this type of pruning is to keep an eye on your grafted
plants when you’re in the yard. As soon as you see new growth
coming from below the graft union, just pick it off with your
If you catch these new buds when they first
emerge, pruning them off is as easy as that. Walk around your
yard and look for grafted or budded plants, and see if you can
find any that have growth that doesn’t seem to match the rest
of the plant. Look closely and you may find that the growth is
coming from below a graft or bud union.
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this
article. Visit his most interesting website, http://www.freeplants.com
and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter.
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