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Chinese Bark Grafting with Camellia azalea:

By gene phillips

Just around the turn of the latest century, the western world received information from Dr. Gao Jiyin about a strange new camellia species recently discovered in China called Camellia azalea. This unusual species was very unique because of its repeat blooming characteristic. Most camellias are known for their fall and winter blooms, but Camellia azalea can repeat blooms during just about any time of the year. This strange and wonderful characteristic of Camellia azalea has stirred interest in this species across the entire world.

Camellia Azalea

Camellia azalea

Camellia azalea is still very rare in the western world today. We have found that this species is difficult to grow from rooted cuttings. Although it roots easily, there seems to be some problem getting the plants to grow well on their own roots. Our main source for new plants is from grafting this species. Camellia azalea has been very easy to graft on most any species of camellias. I have grafted it on Camellia sasanqua and on Camellia japonica with no problems. Also, I have grafted this species on several hybrids successfully. My early attempts at grafting Camellia azalea had been by using the traditional grafting method used in America of cleft grafting. I learned this technique many years ago from my dad and his best friend Ray Bailey. A couple years ago while visiting California, I met John Wang and read an article that he wrote about a different technique used in China to graft camellias including Camellia azalea. The following summer, I decided to try this method of grafting with Camellia azalea. I am certainly no expert on Chinese Bark Grafting, but the following images will give some idea of what I did with using this technique in grafting Camellia azalea.

The first step was to select a Rootstock for this procedure and cut the top of the plant out approximately 4 feet above the ground level. The reason for not cutting the rootstock almost to the ground as in the case of most cleft grafts was to have room to cut it off lower and retry if the first graft did not take. After cutting the top out of the rootstock, I cut the bark along the top as shown in the following image.

Bark grafting with Camellia Azalea

A section of back on the rootstock is cut

The next step was to peal the bark back to facilitate the insertion of the scion. You can see this technique in the following image.

Chinese Bark grafting with Camellia Azalea

Bark is pealed back

The next step is to prepare the scion. This technique was similar to how I prepare a scion for cleft grafting, except that I kept the tapering fairly even on both sides of the scion. With cleft grafting, I usually have one side thinner than the other, but with the bark grafting; I tried to keep both sides fairly even. You can see the scion preparation in the following image.

Prepare a camellia scion for grafting

The prepared scion

The next step was to insert the scion and wrap the bark around it. The idea is for the bark to heal itself with the scion in between. As both the bark from the rootstock and the scion grafted begin to form callus tissue, this tissue would simply graft together and a union would form. To secure the scion and the bark together for this union to have a chance to occur, I wrapped a cut rubber band securely around the graft as is shown in the following image.

Prepare a camellia scion for grafting

The scion is secured inside the bark

To keep the scion from drying out or dehydrating, I covered the graft with a plastic bag and secured it tightly below the graft. By using a fairly sturdy plastic bag, I did not have to build any type of support frame for the graft to keep the bag in place. If you use a less sturdy plastic bag, you may need to build a support structure out something as simple as a metal coat hanger. I marked the outside of the bag along with the date grafted as shown in the following image.

Cover camellia graft with plastic bag

Simple frame and plastic bag to cover the graft

Several months later, I noticed a significant amount of callus formation or healing taken place between the bark and the scion. The following image illustrates this healing and the beginning of the graft union being formed.

Young growth on camellia scion

Scion and rootstock have formed callus

The scion and bark from the rootstock continued to heal, but no new growth took place until the following spring. At that time, I removed the bag and the new Camellia azalea that was created by bark grafting began to grow and become a new plant. The image below shows the new Camellia azalea bark graft.

successful camellia bark graft

The new Camellia azalea bark graft after the first year of growth


Chinese Bark Grafting is used extensively throughout China to propagate Camellia azalea and along with most other camellias. Many times, the plants grafted with this technique are so large that scaffolding in needed to facilitate these huge grafting projects. In the image below, a grafter in China is performing the bark grafting of Camellia azalea. This image was provided by John Wang.

Bark grafting in China by John Wang

John Wang’s image shows a similar grafting technique being done in China


The following image shows a large camellia in China with numerous Camellia azalea grafts that have been grafted using this Chinese Bark Grafting technique. This image was provided by Gao Jiyin.

Big camellia tree grafting

Professor Gao’s image shows multiple limb grafts of Camellia azalea in China


Although I am much more familiar with cleft grafting, I find this method of bark grafting to be fascinating. I am certain that my technique can be improved dramatically. There are many different variations of the bark grafting technique that I have described in this article, but this is one more way that we can propagate Camellia azalea.


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