Cleft Grafting













Stock plant: Cleft grafting is usually performed in the landscape or orchard on well established trees (up to full grown). Branches well up in the canopy of the tree are cut back with a saw at a point where they are one to several inches in diameter, for insertion of the scion(s). Often several branches on a single tree are cleft grafted as shown in the adjacent picture. Cleft grafts are often placed several to many feet above ground level.

Timing: Cleft grafting is performed in the early spring just as the stock plant is beginning to become active (bud swelling, etc.). On the other hand, it is preferable to use scion wood that more or less fully dormant (phenologically several weeks "behind" the stock), which may be acomplished by collection scion wood earlier, during the winter, and storinging under refrigeration, in slightly moist cloth or other medium. This differential phenological activity between stock and scion allows vigorous callusing from the stock and later stages of graft union fomation at the point of stock/scion union, but the relative dormancy of the scion delays leafing out and hence minimizes scion water stress, which is critical before vascular continuity is established, i.e. before new xylem forms across the graft union to facilitate water transport from stock to sicon.

Applications: When cleft grafting is performed several to many feet up from ground level, it is a topworking or highworking used for to change over (rework) an established fruit (scion) variety to a new (more desirable) variety, or to obtain multiple varieties on a single tree, or to insert a pollinizer branch for self incompatible trees like apple.


Reasons for Cleft Grafting

Clonal propagation


Difficult to clone by other methods


Economic advantage


Nurse grafting of slow to root species




Damaged or undesirble rootsystem


Overcome graft incompatibility


Girdled trunk




Create unusual growth forms


Change scion variety


Multiple scion varieties


Pollinizer branch


Influence growth phase


Avoid undesirable rejuvenation


Induce desirable rejuvenation


Virus indexing


Exploit specific rootstock and/or interstock effects


Hybrid seed production of self incompatible species




How to Cleft Graft

Left: Splitter end of the cleft grafting tool is centered and struck with a hammer to split stock.

Right: Base of scion cut to a V-shaped wedge for insertion into the stock

Basal end of scion cut to a V-shape. Spreader end of the tool is used to pry open the split in the stock while inserting scion. Carpentry itself generates pressure, so tying is not necessary.

Two scions, 2 to 4 nodes long, inserted at edges of stock (not centered) to assure cambial alignment.

Wax is used to seal cuts from moisture loss and pathogen entry. Distal ends of scions should be waxed as well. After graft union formation, weaker- growing of the 2 scions is removed (pruned back).


Additional Information





Univ. of Missouri Outreach & Extension

Agricultural publication G6971, Grafting, 1995

Description of cleft grafting about 1/2 of the way down the page; includes audio clip

Cornell Univ. Hort 400 Plant Propagation Web Page

Propagation of Interstem Apple Nursery Stock by Grafting and Budding at a Commercial Nursery in New York State, Part 6.

Slides 18 and 19 of this autotutorial describe the use of cleft grafting for changing over from an older to a newer apple variety on donor trees, from which scions are collected for field budding. There is a link to the first page of the autotutorial at the bottom of the page.