Ok, I’ve already cleaned this trident up and cut it back. You’ve seen enough of that in the last few posts so I won’t bore you with that this time. This is a grafting post. Inevitable, for this time of the year.

Acer buergerianum, the prized trident maple. Acer is Latin for maple, but it may have been borrowed from the Greek word for maple, akastos. Or from the Proto-indo-European root ak, meaning “sharp, sour, bitter”. In Latin I do believe the “c” is a hard c sound, like the letter “k”, but most pronounce it as “ase-er”. Buergerianum means it was named after a Mr. J Buerger, a plant hunter (cool job, if I might say so) but it was named by Friedrich Anton Wilhelm Miquel, a Dutch botanist. The Japanese name is Toukaede, meaning “Chinese maple”. Here’s a cool write up on the Tokyo Naturalist website on it.

The tree was purchased from Brussel’s Bonsai in Mississippi. It took me an hour to go through all the trees they had in stock to find the perfect “James Dean” trident (if you get that reference, I’ll give you a lollipop).

From the pic above, you’ll see the trick that Brussel Martin used to get these tridents to grow fat bases: a piece of aluminum under the roots. I’ve been trying for several years at repot time to get that aluminum out. And in this case, He took several seedlings and bundled them together for a clump style.

And yes, I did choose one with a fat base, but I intentionally picked one with this long straight section on the trunk. I was going for a classical tall deciduous look. The trend nowadays is short fat tridents, so I wanted to buck the trend.

Since I’m not chopping the trunk, I’m not really getting any back-budding for branches. Grafting time!

Let’s see what I can find As I enter the seedling/cutting area.

I have probably a hundred or more cuttings and seedlings just for grafting purposes. I suppose I could start growing some trees the way Brussel Martin did. Or maybe next year.

Here’s a promising pot with a few trees in it.

I could slap it on kinda like this…

In choosing a whip to graft, pick one with lots of buds with short internodes

Now, I think, since I’m here and there’s a need, I’ll graft some roots as well. This cutting has an interesting root spread.

It’ll go perfectly right where that aluminum piece was still sticking out.

Let me loosen the tree in the pot.

Raise it a bit.

Get the roots on our root graft ready.

Ooooo, twisty.

One thing I’ve learned about grafting whips for roots is to make sure you’re grafting the “root” tissue and not part of the trunk. Roots are “differentiated” and look like roots, they flatten and get fatter. The trunk will look like trunk tissue and doesn’t swell and flatten. And could push out a new bud where you don’t want one.

Root tissue:

Get the roots raked out and thinned.

Now for the tree. That aluminum sheet has been bugging me.

Let’s see if I can rip it out this time.

Ooof, got one piece….

Little bugger ripped off….wait..

Ahah! Got it all! It’s like having a popcorn husk stuck in between your molars, all the way back in your mouth, and finally winnowing it out. Feels so good.

There’s more!

Rake out the soil a bit and make a hole.

Position the graft..

Mark it. I use my knife, but you can use chalk or a marker or the blood of your enemies….

Cut out a wedge.

Make sure it fits.

Gotta reduce the roots a bit more.

Cut back the top since it’s in the way too.

Shave the graft down to the wood, making sure the cambium will match up with the cut you made on the trunk.

And, the important part, secure the graft so it doesn’t move and, it the two pieces have steady pressure against each other. Tridents heal so aggressively that callus tissue can just push the two trees apart, ruining the graft. I’m using wire here but you can use staples, push pins, grafting tape, bicycle wheel inner tubes, your wife’s (or husband’s) garters…..

Notice I’m protecting the one root on the left but not the top or the roots on the right. I’ll be cutting off the top, and shaving it down to match the roots, and the bottom root will be under soil, so I’m it worried about wire marks. I want fusion (this is technically an approach graft, but, like the clump Mr. Martin made, the process we are describing is called inosculation)

That’ll do.

Looks natural to the tree.

Fill it back with soil.

And that’s that.

Now for some branches.

Hhmmmmm….maybe I’ll use the top of the same whip and graft a branch here…

Same procedure. Cut the trunk, shave the branch.

Push it together tightly.

This time I’ll use some paste to seal it. Remind me, I need to do it on the root too.

Grafting tape.

Making’ bacon now.

But since I just put a branch on the left, I have to change my plans and go the other way with a third graft.

Looks like a good spot.

To paraphrase Hermin’s Hermits,

“Third verse, same as the first”

Cut a wedge, match up the cambium layers.

Tie it tight.

And now we have a monstrosity. Not pretty.

Fertilize, etc…

You didn’t remind me….

And there you go. It’s like seeing a woman in curlers. You know it’ll make everything beautiful after all is said and done, but damn, it’s scary.

As a closing, which I should have opened with but I forgot and I don’t want to go back and rewrite it, though you see leaves, those are last years dormant leaves. I was just lazy and didn’t defoliate them. The root work should be done before the buds break. But the approach grafting can be done anytime, with spring the best time, in my opinion. I’ve had the best luck then, here in Central Florida. Remember, horticulture is a science, but the practice of it is an art. What works for thee may not work for thy, or me and you, or Joe Blow in Portland or Chucky McMaster in Alabama.

And besides, grafting is easy (I’m sure you’ve seen those videos on TikTok and Instagram) it’s one of the oldest horticultural techniques, older than the word horticulture (here’s a very informative link on the subject) If the philosopher Theophrastus, pupil of Aristotle, can graft and not fully understand what’s happening, then so can you.

3 thoughts

  1. The reference to James Dean and trident– his Triumph Trident motorcycle? My friend had one of those and kept reminding the world that Dean had one also…


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