How to Graft Citrus


Late winter and early spring is the ideal time to graft a compatible variety onto an established citrus tree as the sap is flowing and the bark slips more easily to allow grafting.

Expand the varieties on your established citrus by grafting another variety onto it. Not only does this give you different fruit over the year but also saves space in a smaller garden.

Generally only species that belong to the same Genus can be grafted. Any members of the citrus family can be grafted onto a good citrus rootstock and produce fruit.

Avid gardener Joe has bark grafted a Meyer lemon scion onto a branch of a large established grapefruit tree and shares the procedure with us in this tutorial. He has used equipment found around the home to do his grafting, so you can begin experimenting without the expense of new equipment if you use a little care. This is part Joe’s approach to sustainable gardening.

To begin, sterilise the pruning and grafting equipment with a solution of 1 part household bleach to 3 parts water.

The scion should be 100 – 150mm long with 3-6 buds. They should come from 1 year old wood of about 5-7mm in diameter and can be cut and stored wrapped in moist kitchen paper in a plastic bag in the fridge (not freezer) until needed.IMG_20171028_153447-Lemon scions

Choose branch to graft onto at around 100 -120 cm from the ground. It should be about 45 – 50 mm in diameter. Make a clean, smooth cut at a right angle to the branch that you have selected.

Then, use a grafting knife or other sharp knife to score the bark. In this case Joe used a small, sharp chisel to score the bark to the width of the scion he was using. He made 2 vertical cuts 5 mm apart and to the depth of the bark. The length of the parallel cuts were 25 mm long.


IMG_20171028_160413-Cambium and layers of a branch
The cambium is the growing tissue of the tree and can be seen here as the layer beneath the bark. It is this layer that has to make a good union with the scion for the graft to be successful. (Click on the image to enlarge for more detail.)

Carefully ease back the bark strip exposing the cambian layer below, being careful to not detatch the bark strip completely.


Remove any shavings made by easing back the bark so that there is a smooth surface for the cambium union.


Prepare the scion to be grafted. Using a grafting knife or sharp chisel, cut a wedge at the end  of the scion to allow the scion to fit into the bottom of the bark snuggly.

IMG_20171028_153614-Scion prep1

Turn the scion over and cut off the surface to expose the cambian on the scion to the length and width of the cut on the branch.  Do this on the side with the lowest bud.

IMG_20171028_153624-Scion prep3

IMG_20171028_153641-Scion prep4

Cut a wedge at the end to to complete the wedge shape that will allow the scion to fit into the bottom of the bark.

IMG_20171028_161707-Citus scion prep

Push the wedge shaped and prepared scion into the bark, with the long exposed cut of the scion placed directly onto the cambium of the branch. Make sure that the cambium of both the scion and the prepared branch are fully in contact and that the wedge is as far down as possible.


Secure with an elastic band while cutting a piece of grafting tape or gaffer tape as Joe has used.


Secure the graft tightly with the tape so that the cambium of both the branch and the scion are in full contact.

IMG_20171028_161133-Graft 10

Trim the scion and remove any leaves.


You can make other graft to the branch at other points. Joe has made 3 grafts to his chosen branch.)Remember to clean your equiment at each grafting.

When all the grafts have been made to the branch, use a long strip of plastic to firmly hold the grafts to the branch.

IMG_20171028_163327-Graft 13

Cover the cut end completely with wide tape.


Then cover firmly this with the plastic strip

IMG_20171028_163725-Lemon graft 9

Tie the plastic strip and elastic band to hold it in place.

IMG_20171028_163912-Lemon graft 10

Cover the ends of the scions with tape.

IMG_20171028_164201-Lemon graft 11

Place a plastic bag over the entire graft and secure.

IMG_20171028_164223-Lemon graft 12.jpg

Cover the whole plastic covered graft with some newspaper and secure with garden twine. This will protect the graft from the sun and wind.

IMG_20171028_164324-Lemon graft13

Finally, tie back the ends of the newspaper. Make sure to keep the tree well watered during the hot months to protect the newly made grafts.

IMG_20171028_164417-Lemon graft 15

Four months later, after surviving the extreme heat of summer Joe unwrapped the newspaper to show that the grafts had taken.

IMG_20180118_194151-Lemon graft 16

At six months the grafts were in leaf and flower and have been doing well since. One of the grafts failed but two of three survived.  Its a pleasing result.

Lemon graft flowers2

Lemon graft with flowers1

If you have an established citrus its well worth the effort to try your hand at grafting. With a little care and patience you can add another variety without needing the extra garden space for a new tree. Its spring in Sydney and the perfect time for experimenting with grafting. Why not try it for yourself.

Update July 2020:

Here are some lemons harvested from the graft. Two beautiful Meyer lemons.Lemons-2020-07-25

Update December 2020:

Here is the graft still going well even after the harsh summer earlier in the year and a new lemon is coming along.IMG_20201225_122740-Lemon graft



2 thoughts on “How to Graft Citrus

  1. Hello, I came across this article and wanted to ask your advice. We are in the process of building a house on a property we purchased in Northern NSW, Tweed Valley area.

    There are many naturally seeded citrus trees randomly growing over 80 acres of pasture. Some looked to be at least 5-10 years old and very well-established. However, the fruit is awful, small and bitter and we are not even sure if it is a lemon or an orange variety. We did not intend to keep these trees. However, after reading your article, we thought why not try and use the strong root stock and graft on some more usable varieties?

    What do you think? Is the main criteria healthy and citrus, or does the type of root stock matter, with respect to the final outcome of the grafting?


    1. Thank you for your inquiry David.
      You can graft citrus cuttings onto any citrus rootstock. The vigorous and healthy looking ones you describe would be suitable.

      Having a good rootstock you can graft by “topworking” the citrus. This involves cutting back the trees then bark grafting as explained above, using cuttings from the wood behind the current growth flush ( or from the current growth flush after it has begun to harden or mature) that you source from family or friends.

      Basically, cut the tree back heavily to form a scaffold of the trunk and a vase shape of branches onto which you will perform the bark grafts. After grating you paint the scaffold with lime to protect the bark from sunburn and cover the new grafts bags to protect them as shown above. You will need to monitor the grafts and remove any growth that occurs other than the graft.

      Clear the ground of weeds around the tree. Water in Seasol once a week and mulch and water as needed by the climatic conditions of your area.
      This sounds like an interesting project given you have the rootstock available and I’m sure you will be able to get cuttings to complete the “topworked” grafting.

      There is lots of information online if you search for “topworking” citrus.
      Here are two links for you

      Click to access 243488.pdf

      Good luck and let us know of your progress.


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