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T-Budding
by Garry V. McDonald - posted 03/22/18

The first cut is vertical along the rootstock stem about 1 inch in length. Note: Rootstock foliage has been removed for clarity.
 

Despite their many problems, I still like roses. However, I do insist on having at least a modicum of fragrance and substance. Therein lies the problem. With the exception of a few enlightened rose breeders, the bulk of roses originating over the past several decades have focused on the flower form and color at the expense of fragrance. The newer landscape roses go a long way in their disease resistance and increased flower number, but can lack fragrance and produce flowers with no style; a blaze of eye-searing color perhaps, but in the end not very satisfying. For those of us who think a rose should smell like a rose, it often means seeking out the older, fragrant roses.

Aye, there’s the rub. Because of breeding problems, many of the old-timers, especially hybrid tea roses, don’t root very well – if at all – and if they do root, they have a tendency to be weak. As such, many highly desirable roses are no longer commercially produced or must be mail-ordered from specialty nurseries, often at a high cost. Or, if you’re lucky, a dear friend or relative may grow a rose that is not available in the trade or the name lost so you have no idea how to find the rose.

T-budding a desired rose (the desired plant’s stem cutting is referred to as the scion) onto another rose with a strong root system (the rootstock is the lower, underground portion) can solve this problem. Budding differs from grafting in that a single vegetative bud is used instead of a length of stem with multiple buds. The stock is usually a rose species or cultivar that is easy to root, vigorous and resistant to root pests such as fungi or nematodes. Thornlessness is a particularly desirable trait in rootstock to reduce the incidence of bloody fingers. While many types of grafts require some skill and much practice, T-budding is a relative simple operation that most gardeners can attempt at home with a reasonable chance of success.


The second cut is above and perpendicular to the first cut, resulting in a T-shaped cut.


Steps to T-budding your own roses:

Rootstock
Most rose species are graft compatible meaning that the bud should “take” and grow normally. A vigorous rootstock is important, but might be hard to find. If you know of a rose that has suckered wildly, then chances are the vigorous growth has emerged from the original rootstock and should be suitable. Native or naturalized roses work as well. If these are unavailable, try a landscape shrub-type rose with as few thorns as possible. Cuttings, about the size and length of a #2 pencil can be taken and rooted by various methods. Unfortunately I don’t have the space to elaborate on the finer details of rooting rose cuttings; perhaps in another article. With the exception of the top couple of buds, all the remaining buds should be removed with a knife to prevent suckering. Plants can be T-budded directly in the garden (even on an existing rose), but working with pot-grown rootstock on a bench makes the job easier if you don’t like standing on your head or crawling on the ground while budding.


Materials You Will Need

• Rooted rootstock cuttings about the size of a #2 pencil already potted, established and actively growing (Common rootstock: ‘Fortuniana’, ‘Dr. Huey’, etc.)
• Scion or bud wood of the rose you want: Buds should be well developed.
• Paraffin film, cling film or budding tape
• Sharp pocketknife or budding knife if you have one.
• Large rubber bands (about ¼ inch wide) cut into strips about 4 inches long
• Bandages and first-aid supplies to treat attempted “finger grafts”


Make an upward slice under a well-developed bud being careful not to cut into the bud tissue or into hardwood. The resulting excised bud should be “U” shaped.


Rootstock preparation
Rooted cuttings should be potted up and growing vigorously beforehand. Spring is the time to T-bud since active vegetative growth will allow the bark or cambium to “slip” when cut to insert the bud. Sometimes this means forcing the plant into active growth early indoors. The length of the rootstock stem should be long enough to allow easy manipulation, say about 10 to 12 inches long.


Scion preparation
This is the rose that you want to grow. Choose a stem where the wood is mature, but not old and woody. Canes produced the previous season are ideal. Like the rootstock, a piece about the size of a #2 pencil usually works best. I like to collect the scion wood just before bud break in the spring. The bud of interest will be located in the axil of a leaf and should be plump and healthy. Remove all the foliage, and thorns if you like, before wrapping the scion wood in damp, but not soggy, paper towel and slipping the whole bundle in a food-storage bag will allow storage in a refrigerator for a couple of weeks at least while the rootstock is budding out. Make sure the paper towels remain damp, but not moldy.


T-shaped cut
Using a sharp knife, make a vertical cut about 1 inch long through the bark, but not into the actual wood – about 1⁄16 to 1⁄8 inch deep. Cutting too deeply will cause the stem to snap. Make a second cut horizontally across the other cut, about one-third around the stem and at the same depth. The resulting two cuts should resemble the letter “T”. Carefully insert the tip of the knife into the cut and loosen the bark flaps under the crossbar of the “T”. If the bark is “slipping,” this should be easy. Try not to rip the bark. If this happens, move down the stem a little bit and try again. If you’re a first timer, it’s not a bad idea to try inserting two or three buds along the stem as insurance.


Insert the bud under the flaps of bark from the previous “T” cut. Make sure the rootstock bark flaps cover the bud.


Inserting the bud
Now comes the tricky part. Take a piece of scion wood and look for a nice plump bud that has not yet leafed out. Make a cut about 1⁄2 inch below the bud and cut upward under the bud. The cut should be deep enough to be under the bud (but very important to not slice through the bud), but not deep into the wood and extend about a ½ inch above the bud. A second cut is straight across so when the bud is excised, it resembles a “U” or shield-shape with the “U” at the bottom. Now carefully insert the “U” shaped bud section under the bark flaps of the prepared rootstock. The bud should nestle under the folds of the bark of the rootstock with the top of the bud lining up with the top of the “T” cut. The object is to form a new union between scion and rootstock tissue.


Wrapping the bud
Once the bud has been inserted, it is necessary to wrap to bud to secure it in place and prevent the bud from drying out until the union is healed. Take a rubber band strip, and while leaving the bud itself exposed, wrap the two flaps of bark tightly, extending above and below the inserted bud. Be careful not to dislodge the bud. Next, tightly wrap the rubber band with a piece of paraffin film or plastic cling film. In the old days, melted paraffin was used to dab the rubber band to prevent the bud from drying out. Whatever you use, the idea is to prevent the bud from drying out while the bark heals around the union.


After inserting the bud, tightly wrap the bud with a strip of rubber band. Be careful that the bud is not dislodged. After this stage it is advisable to cover the bud and rubber band with paraffin film or plastic wrap to prevent the bud from drying out.


Growing on
If the bud shrivels to a brown speck after a few days that means the bud didn’t take: Try again. If the bud remains plump and green after two weeks, it means the bud has “taken” and life is good. At this time the top, non-budded part of the rootstock is probably growing like a house afire. Remove the paraffin or plastic wrap but leave the rubber band in place to prevent the bud from dislodging if bumped or jostled. Allow the bud union to heal completely. This might take another two weeks. Now it is time to force the new bud into growth. Forcing new growth is caused by “crippling” the plant by breaking apical dormancy. You “cripple” a plant by breaking the stem of the rootstock above the bud union. You want to bend the stem over until it snaps, but doesn’t break completely off. This allows the bud to be “released” and begin to grow. Once the new bud starts to grow, the hanging stem of the rootstock is removed, leaving only the desired new shoots. The new shoots will still be sensitive to breaking before the new union is completely healed so the plant should be protected and shielded from wind. If the new shoot is too vigorous, it is advisable to prune it back which will force branches to form and reduce the lever action of the stem from ripping the new shoot off. After you are comfortable that the plant is growing, it may be planted out into the garden.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Garry V. McDonald.

 


Originally from the Piney Woods of East Texas, Dr. McDonald received a B.S. and M.S. in floriculture and a Ph.D. in horticulture all from Texas A&M University. He teaches landscape horticulture at the University of Arkansas. His area of research is sustainable landscape design and management.