Grafting Figs

By Jerry Meislik

Introduction to Grafting Ficus

Grafting is an ancient plant technique that is used to improve a tree by introducing a better fruit, a prettier leaf, or putting a finicky plant onto another tree with stronger roots and trunk. It is also used to propagate rare materials more quickly than waiting until the tree sets seed, and also grafts are genetically identical to the mother tree.

In bonsai we generally use grafting to introduce a branch where it is needed, or to place smaller foliage into a tree that has large leaves that are difficult to reduce or to keep reduced.

Grafting ficus works well because ficus heal rapidly and grow vigorously so grafting is really quite easy and successful. Grafts that are most used are free grafts, and in-arch or approach grafts.

Types of Grafts

1. A free graft is a small branch with 3-6 leaves on a woody stem that is cut free from the donor tree and then grafted into the host or recipient tree.

Free graft after sides are sliced to a "v" shape.


Chisel is used to open the graft point on the tree.


Graft is inserted matching the cambium layers of host and graft.


Graft is secured with plastic tape and tied off with electrical tie.


Plastic bag is used to seal the graft after some water has been inserted into the bag to increase the humidity .


This is probably the most difficult type of graft since the alignment of cambium of the host and donor are critical for the graft to survive. The success of this graft is very dependent on the skill of the grafter. As with most skills practice makes perfect.

2. In-arch or approach grafts involve using a long and superfluous branch that is shaved to expose the cambium layer and then positioned into the area on the tree where the new branch is desired. Again the cambium layers of host and graft are matched as closely as possible. The graft is not removed from its attachment to the plant until the graft is growing strongly.

Groove is created on the recipient area and the branch is brought close to the groove with wire.


The branch is shaved to the cambium layer on both sides.


Branch fitted into the groove, cambium layers matched, and branch secured with electrical ties.

Branch severed and is now on its own. Stubs will be trimmed flush in two months.

 Approach graft severed

If a new root is needed it is easy to approach graft a seedling to the base of the tree and after 90 days and vigorous growth of the seedling the top foliage is removed leaving the root and lower stem attached. The color of the root will match the trunk in time as the bark ages.

The red line indicates the root graft and the staple that secures it in place. The top of the seedling has already been removed.


Approach grafts may be used with the donor and host being on the same tree, as shown above, or it is also possible to use a small potted fig donor that is brought close enough to the host tree to be grafted. The donor pot must be firmly secured so it doesn't tear the graft loose when accidentally bumped.

The graft is not cut off until the graft has taken and is growing vigorously.

General guidelines for grafting

Very healthy trees - both host and recipient.
Tree vigorously growing, and not resting or dormant.
Graft onto branches that are vigorous and have foliage (not defoliated).
Keep new grafts out of strong sunlight and wind.
Keep humidity levels high for free grafts by enclosing in a plastic bag with moisture added.
Graft ficus onto ficus.
Graft only when other techniques do not work since grafting is time consuming.

Further information on grafting may be found by reading the wonderful information contained in Bonsai Clubs International Vol 40, No. 4, pg. 21-24 2001. Bonsai Master Chiang has lectured and demonstrated his grafting and bonsai skills internationally and won many bonsai awards for his trees which include many superb ficus.

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Jerry Meislik