Grafting Japanese Maples for Bonsai

Hello everyone! First post topic hype!

So I found myself with about 50 Acer palmatum trees used for rootstock. They are 3/16 inch rootstock seedlings I ordered from a wholesale nursery for the purpose of grafting. They are now coming inside to warm up to make the buds pop.

I have multiple types of Acer palmatum cultivars to get scion wood off of, some that are familiar to bonsai that I know I can start off of cuttings such as ‘Koto hime’ , yet I haven’t had much success. My main goal in my grafting is to learn about grafting japanese maple to rootstock. While I would like to apply this to bonsai, if all else fails I should get some trees to go in the landscape as I love Japanese maples.

I have searched and actually found very little about grafting japanese maples onto rootstock for bonsai. I would imagine on a deciduous like this, it would be really hard to get a clean looking graft. When I visited Chikugo-En, and talked to Gary, I was astonished at all the grafted trees he had, and I couldnt even tell they were grafted, but those were pines and junipers.

My thought, instead of trying to get the graft way down low, try a high graft like they will do with weeping varieties of Japanese maple, but use an upright variety, then try to bring branches down to hide the graft union. Thoughts? Suggestions? Cautionary tails? :sweat_smile:


You will not find much literature about grafting (maple or any other type of tree) for bonsai because we are just doing the opposite! We (the bonsai people) are staying away from grafted trees because of the graft scar. It is always very obvious and sometimes “gross”.
I, too am very fond on Japanese maple(JM) and, I have been doing a lot of airlayer to get rid of the graft scar section on many JM cultivars I want to cultivate as bonsaï but with relative success.

Sangu Kako= 0% airlayer success
Shin Deshojo= 80% airlayer success
Katsura=95% airlayer success

But remember that airlayer success doesn’t mean that the tree will last long on it’s own root.

My suggestion is to stay away from grafting on rootstock for bonsai. If the cultivar cannot survive on it’s own root, forget it. It will never make a fine bonsai because of the graft junction.
This does’t apply only to JM. Over the last few years, I have bought some very nice Hinoki cypress but all of them are grafted (I don’t know on what) but the scar at the junction ( between the rootstock and the cultivar) is always bad looking and I realize that I could spend years creating a nice trunk and canopy but the end result will always be disappointing because of the graft and not worth the time and the effort. I am now trying to find solution to get rid of it. On my Hinoki cypress, I will try root grafting above the graft junction because airlayer doesn’t work.


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Thanks for the response @Heliostar! I really appreciate it

I expected as much, seeing as I am getting scion wood from cultivars that I don’t actually have, maybe the grafting can create mother plants for researching JM propagation through air layer or cuttings. I know some Japanese maple cultivars can be propagated with cuttings. Either way I want these in my landscape :slight_smile:

Disclaimer up front: I am not a nurseryman

I agree with @Heliostar, I have almost never seen an appealing graft for JM bonsai. Maybe this is because some are so good you literally “don’t see” them…but I believe if this were to happen it is far more likely the exception than the rule. Most that practice this hobby/life choice called bonsai try to immediately rid any nursery tree of grafts as soon as they receive the material, not the other way around.

There are several aspects that make grafts more or less successful from an aesthetic point of view. You should try to match the growth rates of the scion and rootstock as much as possible. A slow growing cultivar will not do well with a fast growing one and you will increase the mismatch in size of the trunk at the graft union. Second, match the bark texture and color as much as possible. Typically this is difficult for seedlings as they don’t have their mature bark yet, but do your best. Finally, try and match the cambium layers as closely as possible and afterwards restrict movement as much as possible to reduce scarring at the union.

Since you have interest in using your rootstock outside of bonsai it never hurts to have a bit more information about techniques. I believe that the way this is done (most successfully) in the nursery industry is to chip bud the scion onto the root stock. I assume this is the method of choice typically because you only need as little as one bud of the scion to grow an entire tree, but I also think that this method would lead to the least amount of scarring.

This resource below is a wealth of information, even though many of the techniques are not going to be applicable to bonsai. It covers many different types of grafting and budding.

Finally, just experiment and see what you come up with. Maybe they will fail, maybe you will come up with a new method that we all forever refer to as the risco method. I have always thought about trying to use root-grafting techniques, frequently used with tridents, above the graft on some interesting, yet weak-rooting JMs. The thinking being that having multiple root-graft unions all around the trunk might give the grafts a knobby, “interesting” type look instead of a “flawed” look. Someday maybe I will get time to try this.

@acer_palNATEum love the name :smiley: and thanks for the suggestions. I really think I am going to try a different grafting types with the hope of just propagation for landscape. That is a really good source of info you posted!!

I have successfully air layered sango kaku. It’s only been on its own roots for 2 or 3 years so time will tell as to how well it does long term. But looks good so far!

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Hello Risco,

I love Japanese Maples too. Keep us posted on your progress. I bought a grafted Shishihashira Seiryu and Mikawa Yatsubusa where you can’t see the graft scar. They were grafted on to green leaf cultivars vs the usual practice of grafting on a red leaf acer palmatums.
I had success airlayering my Shishigashira last year. More attempts this year on the Shishigashira, and I will try my Seiryu and Mikawa Yatsubusa. I am collecting different varieties.
I am trying to root cuttings from my Allen’s Gold Pine Bark maple.