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by American Camellia Society
Producing flowering camellias from seed or cuttings is a slow process. One method of producing flowering plants in a much shorter time is by grafting. While it may take three to six years for a rooted cutting to flower, a graft will likely flower in one to two years.
To understand grafting, it is important to know the terms scion and understock or stock. The scion is the part of the stem with a growth bud of the variety one wishes to propagate. An understock is that portion of the plant that furnishes the root system. As a general rule, large stocks are more difficult to use for grafting. A stock that is about 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter is a desirable size. The scion should be taken of mature, current season's growth from healthy plants one to three inches long with one or more growth or vegetative buds. It will generally have three or more leaves.
- The best season to graft is late winter to early spring just before new growth begins. Camellia sasanqua or Camellia oleifera is often used as understock because it is resistant to the root rot disease. Cleft grafting is the most popular method of grafting and will be described below.
- The understock should be prepared by cutting off the top with sharp shears or a saw about five inches above the soil. Loppers which squeeze the plant when they cut should not be used as they can damage the cambium layer of the understock. Make a sloping cut and trim smooth with a sharp knife. A vertical incision should be made with a sharp knife about two inches down the top side. To make incision, the knife may be gently tapped with a hammer.
- Prepare the scion by making a wedge-shaped cut at the base. Scions can be soaked up to 30 minutes in a fungicide solution to discourage dieback.
- Hold the slit open in the understock with a screwdriver or knife. Insert the prepared scion so that the cambium layers (green layer immediately inside the bark) on the scion and understock will match. It is vital that the cambium layers are in contact in order to have a successful graft.
- The graft may be held tight with a rubber band, waterproof string, or electrician's tape until callusing of the union has occurred. The union point may be protected with grafting wax, pruning compound, or aluminum foil.
- A covering such as a glass jar, milk jug, soft drink bottle, or large styrofoam cup should be used to cover the graft and keep the humidity high. It is also desirable to cover the soil with an inch layer of sand. This will ensure a tight fit of the top covering. If the covering is transparent, the young graft should be protected from the sun with a paper bag, etc. over the jar.
- Callusing should start within a few weeks and in two months be firmly knit. When firmly callused, the jar can be raised gradually. If wilting appears at any time, the jar should be put back on until it ceases. This is the most critical phase of aftercare. It is often necessary to provide shade for this young graft as the new growth may be quite tender. Burlap on a wire frame or a bushel hamper with the northern exposure cut out may be used.
- Grafts usually grow 15 - 30 inches the first season. Fertilize lightly with a liquid solution or not at all the first year.
Fig. 1 - Scion showing wedged-shaped cut at base
Fig 2 - Scion inserted into understock with matching cambium layers.
Fig 3 - Graft is held tight with a rubber band
Fig 4 - Graft is covered with jar and shade