Like clockwork, with each new gardening season come the latest plant introductions and the trendiest new cultivars. A few of these new varieties will become instant classics, while others will end up as no more than a distant memory by next July.
This year more than ever, fruit and vegetables seem to be front and centre, with an increasing number of homeowners surrendering more space to food production, while apartment balconies that once dripped with morning glories are now covered in cucumber vines.
Although I do most of my plant buying at local or specialty nurseries, ever since Loblaw started its Garden Centre Recycled Pot Program in 2008 (it’s still the only national pot and flat recycling program in North America) I’ve made a point of supporting them. Loblaw shops the world for exciting new plants and products, and this year they may have hit the foodie jackpot. In addition to edibles like Haskap berries (Lonicera caerulea cvs.) and Pinot Meunier grapes, they’ve also introduced hardy figs and grafted tomatoes to Canadian gardeners for the first time.
Most of us are familiar with woody plants that have been grafted onto compatible rootstocks (roses, for instance), but vegetables can also be grafted in much the same way. As early as the 1920s, watermelons were grafted onto squash rootstock in Korea and Japan to combat soil-borne diseases. Since then, grafting vegetables—particularly those from the Solanaceae Family (tomatoes, peppers and eggplant)—has become common practice in the Far East, and more recently in Italy, Spain and France.
The rootstock Loblaw used for its tomatoes is called SuperNatural, and is derived from species tomatoes with the variety (or scion) tube-grafted on top. Why go to all that bother? Tomato cultivars grafted onto “wild” rootstock result in stronger plants that grow up to 1.8 metres tall, and look more like dwarf fruit trees than tomato vines. Yields are significantly higher than with nongrafted plants and the harvest period is longer. The rootstock is resistant to nematodes and many soil-borne diseases, resulting in healthier vines. Grafted tomatoes stand up well to extremes of temperature, drought and saline soils, while nutrient and water uptake is enhanced, resulting in larger fruit. Advantages like these amount to nothing short of an agricultural breakthrough.
The grafted tomatoes I’ve planted this year include:
- The delicious heirloom ‘Brandywine’—which I’ve grown before—but it was on its own roots!
- New to me for 2013 is the cherry tomato Bumblebee Purple (Bumblebee Series) and the antioxidant-rich almost black Indigo Apple.
Photo: Grafted Indigo Rose image courtesy of mightymato.com