Truth be told, I used to hate grafting. I hated the look of it. I thought it was kind of a perversion of a plant’s natural growth patterns. I think this feeling stemmed from seeing the ubiquitous moon cactus in just about every big-box store that sold plants. Grafting felt kind of like a fad. But that was all before I really delved into understanding the reasoning and discovering the value of grafting.
Many growers choose to graft for many number of reasons. One of the most common reasons is to expedite a plant’s growth and development. This is particularly helpful if you are working with a very slow growing cacti or if you’re interested in developing a certain cross. Grafting can push many plants to the flowering stage very quickly (sometimes too quickly, resulting in bloated forms – another story).
Another reason is that grafting can be very helpful when working with highly variegated plants (plants having inconsistent pigmentation and that may be inefficient at photosynthesis). This includes plants that have some degree of albinism. Some of these plants can grow on their own and with their own roots. Some are so deprived of pigmentation and thus chlorophyll, that they lack an ability to make their own food through photosynthesis. See the dreaded moon cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii). This plant is a result of both a mutation and human intervention. This plant would not survive on its own without a root stock (allegedly – I’ve never tried). I have seen some Gymnocalyciums that are very close to full albino, but still have the ability to grow on their own roots. Go figure.
Also, grafting is just plain fun. You get to see changes a lot sooner than you would without grafting. I’ve forgotten about a new graft and come back a week to see that, in fact, the scion is noticeably bigger. Like actually bigger. That never happens with any of my other plants.
Remember that the scion and the rootstock must be in the same family, as well. Research your combination before you make any cuts (a few rootstock suggestions below)! Anyway, the point is that you physically join two separate species to form a grafted plant.
A couple of terms you’ll quickly run into when exploring grafting is first, the term scion. Scion doesn’t just refer to a brand of car — the word refers to the plant that becomes the “top” part of a graft and doesn’t have roots as they’re sliced away during the grafting process. Pups from larger plants make great scions as you will see in the tutorial. The stock refers to the bottom plant with roots that pumps nutrients into the scion. We are essentially using the stock for it’s ability to move nutrients into the scion quickly.
When you’re grafting, you’re trying to join the vascular cambia of both the scion and rootstock. Vascular cambia are a type of tissue forming vascular bundles. The formation of the bundles is a ring in dicots (see image), and scattered in monocots. In order for a graft to be successful, the vascular cambia of each plant must overlap in order to have a successful graft.
Below is a visual tutorial on grafting, using an Astrophytum myriostigma ‘Puff Bonnet’. It is not exhaustive, and it’s specific to cacti, but the process is basically universal.
A plant to graft (scion)
A plant to graft onto (root stock – some are better than others – common ones include Hylocereus, Myrtillocactus, Trichocereus, and Pereskiopsis)