21 June 2015


Grafting Adeniums
Original posting: Dec 30, 2014 3:22 PM
Most adeniums do not look as good as they do by accident. More often than not, adenium stocks with unusual, attractive blooms are grafted onto carefully-grown plants with the best-looking caudices. If you do not mind having 53 plants blooming in the same color, you're fine and should never have to worry. But most people prefer variety and few are willing to wait out the four or five years it will take for a healthy plant to develop a decent caudex with fingers crossed hoping for anything but pink adenium flowers.

So, like a supermodel born with the wrong nose, pick the plant blooming the kind of flower you like, slice off a bit of it and stick it to another plant with better-looking bod. Voila. Frankendenium.

You will, first of all, be advised not to do this in the winter, to wait for--not even spring--but summer when it is hot, humid and altogether intolerable. This is great advise, you should do this in summer when the graft can heal fast and has greater chances of succeeding.

Having said this, I pruned my Rik Ni Ran so what the hell. Might as well graft the bits on to something, eh. It is technically not winter yet, after all. You can also try this but only if you have the following: (1) a room with too many baseboard heaters for its size so that the colder it gets outside, the hotter it is the room, ensuring that day temperature is never below 25C and never below 18C at night, (2) a humidifier that spits enough moisture to keep humidity levels at 50 percent or higher, and (3) sunny, south-facing windows that will give you at least 4 hours of sunlight.  

See? Better you wait until summer, etc.

There are many ways to graft adeniums, you can search YouTube for tutorials and demos. What I tried was the simplest way.

You will need:
      1. Stock plant
      2. Scion plant
      3. Small baggies, with the zip lock trimmed off
      4. Thin rubber bands, cut
      5. Transparent tape, 1 inch wide, pre-cut into lengths of about an inch and a half
      6. Rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs
      7. Sharp knife, box cutter is best
      8. Sun, heat and humidity
Pick a Rootstock
This pink horror will get colors

First, pick the plant you're going to mangle. You need a strong stock. A two-year old disposable seedling is best, especially if you have seen it bloom and are sure you hate it. I have about 8 of such seedlings except I have never seen any of them bloom so they are spared from the knife in this, my first experiment.

Instead, I picked a strong adult whose bloom I do not like. It has way too many branches now, after two unmolested summers. It's already a grafted plant and the pieces were so poorly matched that there are literal shelves around every graft point. I am told that this will eventually disappear but while it hasn't, it's irritating to look at. The plan is to graft reds to this plant. When the white adenium stops blooming, it will be pruned and those will be grafted on to this plant as well.

The next thing you do is examine which branches of your stock plants you plan to graft on. For crying out loud, pick one the closest in diameter to the material you are grafting, don't make those shelves on purpose.  If you have thin cuttings, don't graft them on the biggest branches, duh. Pick one closest in size to the thing you're sticking to it. That way, if the graft succeeds, it will look better sooner. Mainly, you want the scion to grow into the rootstock but you also want the skin on both pieces to fuse together, something that will take years to happen if the pieces are grotesquely mismatched. Waiting is incredibly annoying. 

So! Here we go. If this project succeeds, we will end up with an adenium plant with a rocking caudex blooming gag-inducing ruffled pink, deep red and white. Cross all the paws in both houses on two continents.

Pick a Scion
Donor plant
The plant you are going to graft on to your rootstock is called the scion. I am certain there are more complicated ways to determine how to pick a proper scion but let us boil them down to this: make sure it is a strong plant to start with. Even if you like the blooms, if it is irascible, it might not survive the process.

Then, pick a branch to prune that is at least 1/4 of an inch in diameter. I think something a bit larger (say, 1/3 of an inch) will do better but my Rik Ni Ran will be left looking icky  if I had taken those branches so I took only the branches I didn't like.

See what just happened there? Unless you are harvesting graft material from a plant you plan to ultimately discard, you also have to consider how your scion source will look after it is pruned. Remember that a pruned section will normally sprout two branches sometimes even four so take that into account when you prune. Also not ever branch you prune out of any plant will be suitable for grafting. You want thick, plump and firm--generally a healthy bit is what you need for grafting. If you are pruning a sickly branch because it is thin, limp and ugly, it probably isn't suitable for grafting. I only have five adult adeniums so I have to be more strict with this part of the selection. If you have a bazillion plants, then by all means, just slice and dice.

Slicing and Dicing
Before you start, know that the following grafting method was tested only on fully grown adeniums in gritty mix. If your plant is in heavier substrate (like pure potting soil with no amendments), your timing for resuming watering or feeding will be vastly different.

This part is important: wipe the blade with rubbing alcohol. This is surgery, after all. Then cut off about  two centimeters from your selected branch. Do this one job at a time because the sap dries out pretty quickly and you want it to still be very moist when you stick it to the rootstock.

Wipe the blade with alcohol again then cut the top off your selected branch on the rootstock to expose raw flesh. You can make a slanted cut or a flat cut. Slanted is prettier but flat is easier.

Very carefully place your scion firmly on top of this exposed cut. Tape the two pieces together to keep them from slipping. There is no technique, only practice, a foul mouth and four languages to swear with. If it doesnt work the first time, just keep trying until the damn thing is taped firmly in place. This is why you want a row of pre-cut tapes ready to be used or discarded.

Cut surface exposed to air will dry and seal very quickly so try to work fast, cutting scions one piece at a time and then grafting them instead of slicing them off in pieces and grafting them onto the stock one by one. 

Remember that adeniums are vascular plants---you slice off a piece, the first thing it will do is dry up. So, when you graft them onto something, it is critical to make sure they are forced together by pressure. The scion will dry out a bit and when it does, it will shrink as it becomes slightly dessicated. This process sometimes pulls the scion off the stock if they are not violently taped together. Plant cells are not going to jump from one piece to the other, so they really must be firmly held together for new growth to eventually fuse them.

If it is attached properly to the stock, the scion will still dry a bit but it will rehydrate as it fuses and then plump out again.

In short, you do not want that point of contact to move or slip in any way. You need to be careful placing the baggie on it and sealing it in. This baggie is needed because you want to create a contained, humid environment while the cut is fusing together. You also want it protected from spores, bugs and what-not. Holding the baggie carefully over the graft, tie the rubber band around it, firmly but loosely. You do not want to strangle the thing which is what I did with the one pictured on the right. The root stock has to keep feeding that scion you just stuck on there and it can not do that if you have a rubber band tied so tightly it will cut off plant circulation.

When this is done, you can work on the other grafts, being very careful not to bump the ones you have already done.

If, however, you have a shriveled scion, do not abandon all hope. This sometimes can happen before the scion starts to take. Leave it alone! I used bold and italics there because I did exactly the opposite. Pop went the weasel. It was a perfectly good-looking graft until curiosity attacked and I removed the baggie after seven days, bumped it in the process and it fell. So wait a month before you do that. Or wait until a leaf sprout actually shows up on the grafted piece before poking at the thing. That way you are sure the scion has already taken and firmly attached to the rootstock.

Once you start seeing leaves growing out of the scion, you can remove the baggie. Do not remove the tape yet until the graft has been exposed for at least a week. Every time the graft is disturbed, it will need a bit of time to recover. So try to limit the disturbances to one at a time. This is why it is best to use transparent tape--you can see what is going on in the graft without ever having to poke at the graft itself.

If you are doing this in the summer, do not put the plant in direct sunlight yet. Keep the whole business in bright shade all day and water it only sparingly until you see leaf buds forming on the scions. Sparingly means maybe a quarter of a cup of water every week. Most people do not water them at all. But with the adult plant in very gritty mix, I take pity. Also I do not want the rootstock to go into panic mode from lack of water and start conserving energy at a time when I need it to be greedy in order to support the graft. If, however, you are doing this during the winter (which you really shouldn't do), do not water at all until you see those bumps.

Sometimes, the root stock will respond to this intrusion by sprouting just below the graft point. You definitely want to cut this off; the recovering scion will not be able to handle the competition, die and fall off.

As with seedlings, you should wait until you have two pairs of new leaves on the scions before resuming the normal course of fertilizer. Nothing bad will happen if you fertilize them this early, except the root stock might grow more vigorous than you want it to be and sproutng more leaves and ultimately ignoring the scion you are trying to force it to adopt.

Remember, warmth, bright light, humidity and more warmth. Again, cross all the paws in both houses on two continents. If that doesn't do it, nothing will.

It will take a couple of weeks before you see anything happening. First, you will notice the graft point turning slightly brown. If your efforts have not utterly failed, you will know from the looks of the scion--a successful graft will give you a scion that actually looks alive. If it is still firm and plump, you can uncross all the paws. The shit just might have worked.

A dead graft will just fall off and you will see the tip of the root stock going decidedly woody as it heals itself, cutting off the scion. You can still graft a new cutting on that branch, just slice off the tip to expose a fresh surface that the new cutting could cling and heal into. Sometimes even if the scion and the rootstock have fused together, a gap will persist around the circumference of the joint. eventually this will heal. If the plant survives long enough, the graft point is supposed to look more natural.

On the left, this branch was strangled by rubber band tied too tight around the baggie. Obviously, the scion didn't make it. The one on the right started drying out after a leaf bud sprouted from below the original graft point. That had to go. Once removed, the scion regained some turgidity. It will remain somewhat shriveled but if it is not popping out, it will probably take.
In two to three weeks, the grafted bit should be firmly attached. In the picture above, the stock has also started sprouting--you want to slice that off because that new growth will steal energy from the grafted part you are trying to grow. 
Two months after grafting--probably sooner if you do this in summer--the scion should already have fused completely with the stock. Only then will this grafted piece start the business of growing leaves.
Update: Is there a right and wrong side up?
Jun 8, 2015 3:22 PM

It turned out there is! Whodathot!
This graft grew upside-down. I am told it will correct its orientation, eventually. But getting stuck to another plant is stressful enough, you don't really want to add the minor irritant of having to stand on your head too. 

Fortunately, there is a way to tell whether you are grafting your piece the wrong or the right side up. I just completely missed it. 

It is still not clear to me how this graft will right itself, even eventually. 

Plants take up water by osmosis. This means, in an oversimplified way, that water is basically pushed into the roots, molecule by molecule, and then on up to the top of the plant. This is how plants remain turgid. When plants are over-watered, the pressure of the water eventually bursts the cells and your plant dies. When under-watered, the cells shrivel and your plant dies. 

The question is: will an upside-down graft be able to adjust? Is the plant structure one-directional? In the case of adeniums, they apparently are not. This one seems to be getting enough to grow new leaves. How far it can go, we don't know.

So. How do you know you are sticking a graft the right side up? 
It's about the smileys, it turns out.

Old leaves fall out from adeniums and leave that mark you see on the right, where they used to be attached. When you connect your graft pieces, make sure those marks are pointing up like eyeless grins. A frowning piece, like the one on the left, is upside-down. It's the same picture, I just flipped it for comparison. It does frown. 

Scions that are grafted the right side up also attach faster, if undisturbed. So it's not a disaster if you graft them upside down. But you get better and faster results when they are grafted correctly.

Other mind-bogglers: While we're on the subject, how does water get all the way up a tree hundreds of meters tall? Imagine how much water it will take to keep a tree like that turgid and fed. Then imagine pumping water all the way up that high from the ground. If you had a cylinder 100 meters high, the sides will have to be rigid enough to hold the water pressure. And you have to keep all that water from seeping back into the ground where it will want to go. Moreover, it is unlikely that the ground has an off switch you can flip so that if the tree has had enough, water will stop going up. So how does that banana work?

Well. It works this way. I still have that copy in paper format, but fortunately, you can read it online. Read this too. 
Mid-June correction well on its way.
Grafting on Seedlings?
For starters, adenium seedlings grow at radically different rates so there can not be a fixed point at which seedlings can be used as stock or scion. A general rule of thumb is to wait until your seedling is at least six months old before you start considering it for either purpose. Then, make sure it is healthy and vigorous. Don't experiment on sickly specimens because they are more likely to fail; unless you are rescuing a dying plant by saving usable parts and grafting them onto a healthy plants.

Now. If you are planning to use seedlings as stock, I suggest you wait until you have seen how it blooms at least once. 

"But the seeds are supposed to bloom purple!" you argue. Sure, it says that. But the outcome of even the most judicious, obsessive cross-breeding techniques are erratic, at best and at worst, complete bollocks. The oft-quoted success rate is 25 percent that the crossing of two A. obesum cultivars will yield the desired traits.   So. Wait until you see what you have first, you might be decapitating something cool. 

The procedure is the same--make sure you attach the scion to the stock in a secure fashion. On the whole, though, grafting on seedlings is easier since they only have one main stem at this point and will put all the energy pushing the grafted scion to growth. 
Grafted on July 30, this seedling was stable and fused by 25 August (left) and in leaf by early September (right)

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