How Do I Bud Graft a Lemon Tree?

“I need help grafting a lemon tree branch to my small lemon tree (3 ft. tall). How soon should I graft the tree so the fruit can grow, or is 3 ft. tall OK to graft? What is the best technique for grafting? Is there any plant hormone that I should use for the best results?” Question from Elaine of Daytona Beach, Florida

Answer: Your lemon tree is not too small for grafting. It is not too tricky to graft lemon tree scion onto a dwarf plant (rootstock) as long as the two are compatible, you use healthy stock, and you follow all directions. There are a couple of methods you can try, which do not require supplementary hormones. You will need some special materials, and timing is important when grafting plants.

From what I have read, citrus trees should be ‘bud grafted’ using techniques called ‘chip budding’ or ‘t-budding.’ So, you will be grafting buds rather than branches. Bud-grafting of citrus is best done from mid-spring to fall when plants are actively growing, and it is easy to cut away buds.

Bud Grafting Citrus Trees

Grafting tape protects the graft union and holds in moisture while the bud and rootstock grow together.


Directions: (Click here for more elaborate steps with visual guides for chip budding. Click here for a more elaborate description of t-budding.)

  1. Clean: Clean your grafting knife with alcohol and paper towels between cutting each bud and branch.
  2. Collect: Collect bud-wood using your knife. Be sure to cut away the bud leaving a long chip of wood at the base (see above) to supply it with nutrients and create a good union.
  3. Incise: Make an incision on the rootstock (as shown above).
  4. Graft: Slide your buds into incisions so that they fit well.
  5. Wrap: Wrap the buds with grafting tape.
  6. Tend: Tend to the bud for three or four weeks. Rewrap it if the film becomes loose.
  7. Unwrap: After a month or so, unwrap the buds. The grafted buds should look healthy, and you should see a union of cells and tissue between the bud and branch.
  8. Force Growth: Next you must force the bud to grow by damaging the stem above it so that your new grafted bud is the primary bud at the top of the branch. Identify the closest bud above your grafted bud, cut it in half, and bend it downward. This will encourage your new grafted bud to “take charge” and grow as the primary bud on the branch.

For more details, please click on the links above. They provide full grafting guides for citrus along with lots of informative visuals.

Happy grafting!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist