Grafting Crepe Myrtle: 3 Methods, Tips & Troubleshooting

Trees play an important role as silent observers of our world. They stand tall and strong, providing shelter, beauty, and clean air. Among these wonders of nature, the crepe myrtle stands out with its vibrant blooms and enduring charm.

But what if you could create a crepe myrtle that has the best characteristics of two different varieties? This is where the art and science of grafting come into play.

Grafting is a horticultural technique that allows us to combine the strengths of two plants into one.

In the following, we will guide you through three different grafting methods, provide tips for success, and help troubleshoot common problems. So, let’s get started.

Caring for a crepe myrtle doesn’t have to be a guessing game. I walk you through all care aspects in my comprehensive article, Crepe Myrtle Care and Maintenance.

Supplies Needed:

Method 1: Whip and Tongue Grafting

Whip-and-tongue grafting is a popular method due to its high success rate and the strong union formed. It’s best performed in late winter or early spring when the crepe myrtle is still dormant. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Prepare Your Tools: You’ll need a sharp grafting knife, grafting tape or rubber bands, a disinfectant for your tools, and of course, your rootstock (the base plant) and scion (the top plant). Make sure your tools are clean and sharp to ensure clean cuts and prevent disease transmission.
  2. Select and Cut Your Scion: Choose a healthy, disease-free branch from the crepe myrtle variety you wish to graft. The branch should be about the same diameter as your rootstock and have several buds. Cut a 6-8 inch section at a 45-degree angle. This cut should be smooth and straight.
  3. Prepare the Rootstock: On your rootstock plant, make a similar 45-degree cut. The goal is to match the cut on the scion as closely as possible for a good fit.
  4. Make the Tongue Cuts: About one-third down from the top of the cuts on both the scion and rootstock, make a downward cut to create a “tongue.” Be careful not to cut all the way through.
  5. Join the Scion and Rootstock: Slide the tongue of the scion into the tongue of the rootstock. The cambium layers (the thin layer between the bark and wood) of both cuts should align as this is where the growth occurs.
  6. Secure the Graft: Wrap the graft union tightly with grafting tape or a rubber band, ensuring the scion doesn’t move. This keeps the cut surfaces together and prevents drying out.
  7. Seal the Graft: Apply a grafting sealant or wax over the wrapped area to prevent moisture loss and protect from pests and diseases.
  8. Aftercare: Keep the grafted plant in a sheltered location out of direct sunlight. Monitor the graft, and if it’s successful, you should see growth from the scion in a few weeks.

Method 2: Side-Veneer Grafting

Side-veneer grafting is another effective method, particularly useful when the scion and rootstock have different diameters. This method is often used in late winter or early spring. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Prepare Your Tools: As with the previous method, you’ll need a sharp grafting knife, grafting tape or rubber bands, a disinfectant for your tools, and your rootstock and scion.
  2. Select and Prepare Your Scion: Choose a healthy branch from the crepe myrtle variety you wish to graft. Cut a 6-8 inch section with several buds. Make a long, sloping cut on one side of the scion.
  3. Prepare the Rootstock: On your rootstock plant, make a similar long, sloping cut on one side. The cut should be about the same length as the cut on the scion.
  4. Attach the Scion to the Rootstock: Align the cut surfaces of the scion and rootstock, ensuring the cambium layers touch.
  5. Secure the Graft: Wrap the graft union tightly with grafting tape or a rubber band. This keeps the cut surfaces together and prevents drying out.
  6. Seal the Graft: Apply a grafting sealant or wax over the wrapped area to prevent moisture loss and protect from pests and diseases.
  7. Aftercare: Keep the grafted plant in a sheltered location out of direct sunlight. If the graft is successful, you should see new growth from the scion in just a few weeks.

Method 3: Cleft Grafting

Cleft grafting is a traditional method often used when the rootstock is significantly thicker than the scion. This method is typically performed in late winter or early spring. Follow this step-by-step guide:

  1. Prepare Your Tools: You’ll need a sharp grafting knife, a grafting mallet and wedge (for splitting the rootstock), grafting tape or rubber bands, a disinfectant for your tools, and your rootstock and scion.
  2. Prepare the Rootstock: Select a straight section of the rootstock, and make a clean cut across the top. Then, using your grafting mallet and wedge, split the top of the rootstock down the middle to create a cleft.
  3. Select and Prepare Your Scion: Choose a healthy branch from the crepe myrtle variety you wish to graft. Cut a 6-8 inch section with several buds. Make long, sloping cuts on both sides of the base of the scion to form a wedge shape.
  4. Insert the Scion into the Rootstock: Insert the wedge-shaped end of the scion into the cleft in the rootstock, ensuring the cambium layers align.
  5. Secure the Graft: Wrap the graft union tightly with grafting tape or a rubber band. This keeps the cut surfaces together and prevents drying out.
  6. Seal the Graft: Apply a grafting sealant or wax over the wrapped area to prevent moisture loss and protect from pests and diseases.
  7. Aftercare: Keep the grafted plant in a sheltered location out of direct sunlight. If the graft is successful, you should see growth from the scion in a few weeks.

Tips for Successful Crepe Myrtle Grafting

Grafting is as much an art as it is a science, and success often comes with practice. However, here are some tips that can increase your chances of a successful graft:

  • Cleanliness: Always disinfect your tools before and after use to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • Sharp Tools: Sharp tools are essential for making clean cuts. Jagged cuts can hinder the successful union of the scion and rootstock.
  • Cambium Alignment: The cambium, a thin layer between the bark and wood, is crucial for grafting. Ensure the cambium layers of the scion and rootstock align to facilitate growth.
  • Tight Seal: Wrap the graft union tightly to keep the scion and rootstock in place and prevent dehydration.
  • Aftercare: Keep the grafted plant in a sheltered location out of direct sunlight, and maintain appropriate watering.

Common Problems

Grafting crepe myrtles, like any gardening endeavor, can come with its share of challenges. Here are some common problems and potential solutions:

1. Graft Failure – Possible Causes

Graft failure can occur due to several reasons, such as improper cambium alignment, poor aftercare, or disease.

If your graft fails, don’t be disheartened. Try to identify the possible cause and learn from the experience for your next attempt.

2. Diseases and Pests Affecting Grafted Crepe Myrtle

Grafted plants can be susceptible to diseases and pests. Regularly inspect your plants for signs of disease, such as discolored leaves or poor growth.

If you notice pests, consider using an appropriate pesticide or organic alternative.

3. Nutritional Deficiencies and Their Impact on Graft Success

A plant’s nutritional status can impact graft success. Ensure your crepe myrtles are fed well with a balanced or specialty fertilizer to promote healthy growth.

Aftercare and Maintenance

Aftercare is crucial for grafting success. Here are some tips:

  • Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, but avoid overwatering as it can lead to root rot.
  • Sunlight: Keep the grafted plant in a sheltered location out of direct sunlight until the graft has taken hold.
  • Protection: Protect the graft from extreme weather conditions and pests.
  • Patience: It can take several weeks to know if a graft is successful. Be patient, and give your plant the care it needs.

Final Thoughts

Grafting crepe myrtles is a rewarding process that allows you to create unique plants with desirable characteristics.

While it can be challenging, especially for beginners, don’t be discouraged if your initial attempts aren’t successful.

With patience, practice, and the tips provided in this article, you’ll be on your way to becoming a proficient grafter in no time. Happy grafting!

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