Garden enthusiasts are planning for spring, spending quality time researching claims (very often outrageous claims) from garden catalogs about the latest, greatest new plants that are being advertised for the 2013 growing season.
This year there will be more heirlooms offered and many more grafted vegetable plants to choose from than in past seasons.
Commercial growers and hybridizers will be offering a nice variety of tomato plants in this classification. They follow the market and know that tomatoes are the all-time favorite plant of most vegetable gardeners.
You can expect to pay more for grafted plants because the process of blending two different types of tomatoes, or peppers or eggplants, for instance, is a labor-intensive process, and also involves healing time for the plants. Even so, the results from trials (by wholesale growers and personal gardeners) of both heirloom and grafted vegetables are proving to be well worth the cost.
I was recently told of an experience one Fort Wayne gardener had raising grafted tomato plants.
As I'm sure you remember, 2012 was extremely complicated weather-wise — early spring, then very hot and dry. Actually, for quite a while, we had drought conditions. This gardener's grafted tomatoes were doing well in spite of the weather, and then he had to be gone for several days.
There was no one to continue caring for them, so he thought they would surely be dead by the time he was able to return home. Much to his surprise, they were doing just fine. They continued that strong growth and fruit production until very cold weather.
Try it yourself
If you are feeling adventuresome and wish to learn the art of grafting, here are a few tips on how to begin:
•Purchase heirloom seeds and begin planting indoors by late February or early March.
Using heirloom seeds which are more naturally resistant to disease has proved to be one of the best ways to avoid early and late tomato blight.
•Use healthy young plants that have strong roots.
•Use compatible plants to graft together, such as those in the Nightshade family: tomatoes, potatoes (not sweet potatoes), eggplants and sweet and hot peppers.
•Before approaching your transplants with a razor blade or knife, watch this very clear YouTube video demonstration produced by the University of Vermont Extension on how to graft tomatoes: www.youtube.com/ watch?v= WSwTCwlhFgo.
•Washington State University Extension has developed what they call a “healing chamber.” See pictures and more information at this website: http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS051E/FS051E.pdf.
This discussion covers large chambers but also includes construction of an inexpensive small chamber if a gardener should decide to do plant grafting at home.
What is actually being built is an enclosed high humidity, no light chamber to set the newly grafted plants in so that the healing process can take place more quickly.
•As with any new plant that is grown in a greenhouse or indoors (and these will have been in the dark), they need to be acclimated to their new environment. After all signs of frost are past, and over several days, give them a few hours each day outside, beginning in deep shade.
Don't rush this process. Little by little, move them each day into a bit sunnier location, being careful to avoid sunburn. Finally, plant them in the garden on a cloudy day or in the evening.
Be prepared to stake grafted plants immediately after grafting and during seasonal growth — and especially during fruit bearing.
The weight of the fruit can break apart the union where the two plants were grafted together.
Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can read her What’s Bloomin’ blog at www.news-sentinel.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.