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The rhododendron bald at Craggy Gardens

A few weeks ago, Eric and I took a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway. We tried to time our trip to coincide with the rhododendron bloom in the North Carolina mountains, specifically at Craggy Gardens on the parkway just north of Asheville. While the native rhododendrons, Rhododendron catawbiense, were just beginning to show some color, the flame azaleas and mountain laurel were in full bloom. It was beautiful!

Mountain laurel in full bloom.

Mountain laurel in full bloom.

Azalea gall on native flame azalea

Azalea gall on native flame azalea

When we stopped to take some pictures, we noticed that a few of the azaleas had some strange growths on them that looked like some type of gall. It turns out that this was the azalea gall which is quite common on both native and hybrid azaleas. Catawba rhododendron is also quite susceptible. In fact, the majority of the rhododendrons growing on the rhododendron bald above the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center had at least a few of these unusual, fleshy galls.

I’ve written about galls on plants before but most of those I have talked about were galls that developed in response to insect activity.

Azalea gall has caused swelling and distortion of young leaf tissue of this native rhododendron

Azalea gall has caused swelling
and distortion of young leaf tissue
of this native rhododendron

The azalea gall, Exobasidium vaccinii, is caused by a fungus which infects the leaves, flowers, and branch tips of azaleas, rhododendron, and certain species of Vaccinium like blueberries and cranberries.

The fungus causes abnormal growth in the tissues that are infected. These swollen tissues form the gall and cause distortion of the leaves, stems, or flowers.

Azalea galls can be light green, pinkish, or (as we most often observed) white.

This pale green gall will become white once the spore layer forms

This pale green gall will become
white once the spore layer forms

During the late spring and early summer, a white spore layer forms on the surface of the gall. This may be why all the ones we saw were white. These spores are dispersed by wind or rain to healthy leaves or flower buds on the same or different susceptible plants. The fungus remains dormant in these tissues until the following spring when new galls form soon after the plant begins to grow. Once the spores are released, the gall begins to turn brown and eventually dries up and falls to the ground.

Cool, wet weather favors the dispersal of the fungal spores. Up on the ridge tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains where native rhododendron and azalea are prevalent, fog and misty rains are common in the spring and summer. These conditions are perfect for the spread of this disease.

The rhododendron bald at Craggy Gardens is enveloped in a misty fog

The rhododendron bald at Craggy Gardens is enveloped in a misty fog

A rhododendron flower is completely distorted by a gall

A rhododendron flower is
completely distorted by a gall

Though the azalea galls may look harmful, normally, they do not have an adverse effect on the plants. However, if cool, wet weather persists during the time of spore dispersal, the disease can spread more readily and result in the formation of many more galls the following spring. This can sometimes have a negative effect on the health and vigor of the plant.

Usually only a portion of the flower head is affected.

Often only part of the flower head
is affected by the gall.

Azalea gall is a common problem in many hybrid azaleas. Physical removal of galls is the simplest control method. Galls should be pruned out with shears before the white spore layer forms.

If galls are prevalent or conditions are favorable for the spread of the disease, fungicide applications may be warranted. Bonide Fung-onil or Bonide Mancozeb can be applied according to the label directions to control azalea leaf and flower gall. Begin applications just prior to bud break in the spring.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Asparagus beetle damage

Asparagus beetles cause mostly cosmetic damage

Asparagus beetles

The other day I had a call from a gardener who was having trouble with asparagus beetles chewing on his asparagus. These beetles don’t usually do a lot of damage but they can make the spears look a bit ragged especially at the tip. If not controlled, however, a heavy infestation of beetles and their larvae can cause defoliation of the asparagus ferns during the summer. This can weaken the plants and reduce spear production the following spring.

Asparagus beetle eggs and stem damage

Asparagus beetle eggs and stem damage

One of the worst parts about having asparagus beetles is that they lay their eggs all over the asparagus stems. These black cigar-shaped eggs are very prominent, sticking out at a right angle up and down the stalk like little prickers. Not very appetizing to say the least! If you have asparagus beetles, you will have the eggs and lots of them! There are two types of asparagus beetles in our area; the common asparagus beetle (Crioceris asparagi) and the spotted asparagus beetle (Crioceris duodecimpunctata).

Common asparagus beetle

Common asparagus beetle

Spotted asparagus beetle

Spotted asparagus beetle

Asparagus beetle eggs stick out from the stem. Damage to the stem from feeding is also evident.

Damage to the stem from feeding

The common asparagus beetle is the most prevalent and unfortunately is the one that does the most damage to the plant. Most of the time, unless there is a heavy infestation, the damage is purely cosmetic. The beetles feed on the stem leaving shallow grooves and scars on the surface. In some cases, the spears can become disfigured, ragged, and bent over like a shepherd’s crook. However, it’s the presence of those little black eggs sticking out all over the spears that is often the most objectionable part of an asparagus beetle invasion! Luckily, they are fairly easy to rub or scrape off when you are preparing the spears for consumption.

Control of Asparagus Beetles

Our asparagus patch is relatively small so I normally just hand pick the beetles and squish them when I find them. If you have a larger bed, this can become an overwhelming job. If you cut the spears when they are still pretty short (about 8″ or so), they normally don’t have much damage and early harvesting has the added benefit of removing any eggs before they have a chance to hatch.

Lady beetle adult

Lady beetle adult

Natural predators in your garden can reduce asparagus beetle eggs and the caterpillar-like larvae. A small parasitic wasp will attack and destroy the eggs. Lady beetles, which are similar in coloration to the spotted asparagus beetle but are round rather than oval in shape, will consume both eggs and larvae of the asparagus beetle. Another trick is to leave a few of the asparagus unharvested. Asparagus beetles are attracted to mature plants with a lot of foliage so these plants can become “trap” plants and the emerging spears are more likely to be left alone. In large plantings or when there are more severe infestations, pesticide applications may be warranted.

Bonide Neem Oil and Pyrethrin are good organic controls for asparagus beetles. These can be used pre-harvest or post-harvest according to the label directions.

For organic control post-harvest only, Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew which contains spinosad is a good option.

Chemical insecticides to control asparagus beetles include Bonide Eight (permethrin) and Sevin (carbaryl). Be sure to apply according to the label instructions and ALWAYS follow the pre-harvest interval recommendations.

NEVER spray an insecticide (organic OR chemical) when the bees are active. Just because a pesticide is listed as organic doesn’t mean it isn’t toxic to bees and other pollinators. The best time to spray is in the early morning or in the evening when they are less likely to be collecting nectar. Once the foliage begins to yellow in the fall, cut the plants to the ground and throw the foliage in the trash rather than into the compost pile. Weed and rake up all plant debris around the asparagus bed. This will reduce overwintering sites and help lower populations of these beetles the following spring.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

View from the top of Reddish Knob

Last weekend Eric and I went on two amazing day trips to different places in the Allegheny Mountains of western Virginia. What a glorious weekend for hiking in the woods.

Huge bud of a hickory bursting open

Huge bud of a hickory bursting open

Up there spring was just starting. It was like traveling back in time about two weeks. In addition to taking in the beautiful views, we were hunting for spring wildflowers.

On Saturday, we drove to Hone Quarry in the George Washington National Forest. This recreation area sits at about 1,933′ and has several hiking trails running through it. We walked along one of the ridge trails for a while and saw lots of different budding and blooming wildflowers, as well as trees and shrubs that were beginning to break into growth.

Fringed Polygala or Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia)

Fringed Polygala or Gaywings
(Polygala paucifolia)

A white form of Gaywings

Less common white form of Gaywings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sessile-leaved Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia)

Sessile-leaved Bellwort
(Uvularia sessilifolia)

Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata)

Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flower of Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum)

Flower of Striped Maple
(Acer pensylvanicum)

Dwarf Cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis)

Dwarf Cinquefoil
(Potentilla canadensis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen
(Gaultheria procumbens)

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hepatica flower

Hepatica flower

 

The name Hepatica comes from the foliage which resembles the lobes of the liver

The name Hepatica comes from
the foliage which resembles the
lobes of the liver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, we decided to drive up to the top of Reddish Knob, one of the highest points in Virginia at 4,397′ and the highest peak on the 73 mile long Shenandoah Mountain.

The drive to Reddish Knob was spectacular. We drove through an area where a fairly recent (within a few years) forest fire had gone through. The road appeared to be the firebreak and there was an interesting contrast in the vegetation between the two sides of the road.

Mountain Fetterbush (Pieris floribunda) was the predominant ground cover in the fire scorched woods. Many of the pines were killed.

Mountain Fetterbush (Pieris floribunda) was the predominant ground cover
in the fire scorched woods. Many of the pines were killed.

At one time, there was a fire tower on top of Reddish Knob – which is the primary reason that there is a road to the summit. From the parking lot, the site of the old fire tower, you feel like you are on top of the world with a 360° panoramic view of the surrounding area! Stunning!

On the way back down, we continued south on a rough dirt forestry road. It was great road but I’m glad we were in my 4-wheel drive truck! We made frequent stops to check out wildflowers and scenic views along the way.

Birdfoot Violet (Viola pedata) growing on a steep bank

Birdfoot Violet (Viola pedata)
growing on a steep bank

Wild Pink (Silene caroliniana) found a foothold in the rock face.

Wild Pink (Silene caroliniana) found
a foothold in the rock face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dwarf Iris (Iris verna)

Dwarf Iris (Iris verna)

A little sedum grows on a rock amongst lichen, moss, and a Christmas Fern

A little sedum grows on a rock amongst
lichen, moss, and Christmas Fern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)
grows beside a Striped Maple)

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) with its often unnoticed flower

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
with its often unnoticed flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) had gone to seed

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
had gone to seed

The curious flowers of Miterwort (Mitella diphylla)

The curious flowers of Miterwort
(Mitella diphylla)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toothwort (Dentaria diphylla)

Toothwort (Dentaria diphylla)

Mountain Anemone (Anemone lancifolia)

Mountain Anemone
(Anemone lancifolia)

What an awesome way to spend a spring weekend!

Until next time – Happy Spring!

Male oak catkins dangle from oak branches

Mature oaks usually retain leaves only on their lower branches.

Swelling buds in the spring pop
off marcescent leaves.

Spring has been slow to come to the Shenandoah Valley this year. It has been cold and windy for days; not feeling very spring-like despite what the calendar says.

Regardless of the chilly temps, I have observed the steady progression of the season in the trees surrounding our house. A few weeks ago, I noticed that the oaks had finally shed the last of their marcescent leaves as the buds began to swell. Soon after, the male oak flowers started to appear.

Oak trees produce separate male and female flowers on the same tree.

The male flowers develop first just as the tiny leaves begin to form. These conspicuous flowers are long, yellow catkins that dangle down from the tips of the branches.

Tiny staminate flowers arranged along a central stem make up the catkin.

Tiny staminate flowers arranged along
a central stem make up the catkin.

Pollen from these flowers blows through air to pollinate female flowers on nearby trees. Oak pollen is produced in copious amounts and can cause real problems for those that are allergic to tree pollen. Since the catkins shed their pollen before the leaves are fully expanded, the pollen is able to drift relatively unimpeded through the air to reach the female flowers.

The female oak flowers are much less obvious and in fact are seldom seen because they are very small and generally found on the tips of branches higher up in the tree. If pollinated, the female flowers will give rise to acorns – eventually.

Female oak flowers are quite inconspicuous

Female oak flowers are quite
inconspicuous. Red oak shown here

Oaks are broadly divided into two main groups; the red oak (or black oak) group and the white oak group.

In general, trees in the red oak group have pointed lobed leaves and trees in the white oak group have rounded lobed leaves.

Acorn development is different between these two groups. Acorns in the white oak group are sweet and palatable and mature in one season. It takes two years for acorns in the red oak group to mature; so in the fall, you may notice tiny one-year old acorns as well as the larger two-year old acorns on the same tree. Red oak acorns are very bitter tasting.

Red oaks as a group generally flower earlier that the white oak group. Our mature red oaks have thousands of catkins hanging off the branches right now while the white oaks, which include the chestnut oaks, are just beginning to bud out.

Acorn production can be affected by certain weather conditions that disrupt flowering or hinder pollination.

Oaks rely on wind rather than insects for pollination. If the weather is misty and rainy during the time that the oak pollen is being shed, the pollen can be washed right out of the air. This can limit pollination and reduce the acorn production for that year. Freezing temperatures in the spring can kill the flowers and also reduce the acorn crop.

Dried up catkins and some yellow oak pollen litter the deck

Dried up catkins and some
yellow oak pollen litter the deck

In a good year (for the oaks, that is), the yellow oak pollen billows from the trees on the slightest of breezes. Some of it will reach female flowers on adjacent oaks but it seems that most of it just settles to the ground.

So far, not much pollen has been released; it can be up to two weeks after the male flowers first appear before pollen is shed.

I know the pollen clouds are coming and once they do, everything outside will be covered with a fine yellow dust!

Once their pollen is shed, the catkins dry up and drop from the tree. The ground under the trees becomes littered with these spent flowers.

Coming up - the pine pollen!

Coming up – the pine pollen!

We find them all over the deck, on the roof, in the gutters, on the cars …

Just yesterday, I noticed that the male cones on the tips of the pine branches have begun to develop. More pollen is on the way!

Until next time –

Happy Gardening!

Daffodils welcome spring

Spring blooming bulbs are the colorful messengers that spring has finally arrived. But for me, it is the wonderful daffodils with their bright yellow “trumpets” that truly signal the coming of the new spring season.

A beautiful small cup daffodil

A beautiful small cup daffodil

The great thing about daffodils is that they are available in a tremendous diversity of colors, forms, and sizes. According to the American Daffodil Society, there are over 25,000 registered cultivars of daffodils! Choosing which bulbs you want to grow may be the hardest part of growing them!

Daffodils are among the easiest of all plants to grow. They are reliable bloomers year after year as long as they are provided with sun, good drainage, and a little food every year. Planting daffodils in the fall is a great project for “little gardeners” because they are not only easy to grow but they make wonderful long-lasting cut flowers for the first colorful bouquets of spring!

But what about after the show is over?

The care you give your daffodils after the flowers fade can have a major impact on the flower show they provide for you the following spring!

Here are some tips …

A dissected amaryllis bulb shows the developing flower bud inside.

A dissected amaryllis bulb shows the
developing flower stem inside.

Feed them!

After your daffodils have finished blooming, fertilize them with Espoma Bulb-tone according to the label directions. The plants need to replenish their energy stores in order to produce new flower buds for next year.

Let the foliage ripen!

You may be tempted to cut the daffodil foliage back after flowering to neaten the garden. Do not succumb to this temptation! It is very important to leave the foliage for at least 6 weeks after they finish blooming. This gives the plant enough time to produce its own food through photosynthesis. The carbohydrates formed through this process will move down to the bulb and provide energy for growth and the production of flower buds for next spring’s beautiful blooms.

This daffodil foliage is ready to remove

This daffodil foliage is ready to remove

 

Never tie or braid the daffodil foliage after blooming because this will interfere with photosynthesis. Often by the time the daffodil foliage begins to fade, other perennials in your garden will have grown up to hide the yellowing foliage. Once the majority of the foliage turns brown, you can carefully pull it off or cut it back.

 

 

What about deadheading?

Seed pods are developing behind the flowers

Seed pods develop behind the flowers

Should you deadhead the faded daffodil blooms or completely remove the old flower stems?

There are different opinions about this. Some say yes, some say no, and some say it doesn’t matter.

Why would you bother to deadhead? Have you ever noticed a large swelling at the top of the stem right behind the spent daffodil flower? This is a seed pod which forms when a daffodil flower has been successfully pollinated. It takes energy to produce these seeds; energy that could be going to the bulb to produce next year’s flower buds.

If you remove the shriveled flower and the seed pod behind it, then all nutrients will be channeled to the bulb and none will be “wasted” on seed production. Wasted – unless you actually want the seeds in order to produce a new hybrid daffodil. Then you would let the seed pods mature, collect the seeds once the seed pod turns brown, and plant them out. However, it usually takes at least 5 years before a seed grown daffodil is old enough to produce a flower!

Daffodil seed pod and withered flower

Daffodil seed pod and withered flower

 

Daffodil seed pod cut open

Daffodil seed pod cut open

bright cheery daffodils

As far as completely removing the flower stem – you could, but what color are the stems? Green!

Green shows the presence of chlorophyll, which means that the stem can also photosynthesize and produce food for the bulb. Hmmmm …

Personally we always leave everything; leaves, stems, and seed pods. Our daffodils bloom beautifully year after year!

Actually, that’s not completely true. Daffodils make wonderful cut flowers, so we always cut a bunch of daffodil bouquets throughout the season to bring some very welcome spring color and fragrance indoors!

Until next time – Happy Spring!

Euonymus alatus - burning bush

Euonymus is a large genus of plants which includes many species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs, trees, and vines.

Euonymus 'Silver King' is a beautiful variegated evergreen form.

Euonymus ‘Silver King’ is a beautiful variegated evergreen form.

Probably one of the most well-known of these is Euonymus alatus (Winged Euonymus, a.k.a. Burning Bush). This deciduous species is especially popular for its beautiful red fall color. Other popular species are the evergreen forms, Euonymus japonicus, Euonymus kiautschovicus, and the trailing Euonymus fortunei. Many of these evergreen cultivars have attractive variegated foliage.

Because of its diversity, euonymus has many different uses in the landscape. Some varieties are planted as stunning specimen plants, while others are used as an attractive living screen or hedge, and still other varieties create a lovely evergreen ground cover or trailing rock wall cover.

Burning bush in all its glory!

Burning bush in all its glory!

Few shrubs in the landscape provide brilliant fall color as reliably as the “Burning Bush” (E. alatus). When the temperatures begin to drop in the fall, this beautiful shrub transforms from a deep green to a striking fiery red. It’s no wonder these shrubs are so popular in the landscape – many even consider them overused! It should be planted in full sun to achieve the most intense fall color.

Unfortunately, Euonymus alatus and another popular deciduous species, E. europaeus, have escaped into the wild and have become invasive in some areas of the country.

Fruit capsules of E. europaeus will split open to reveal bright red seeds

Fruit capsules of E. europaeus will split open to reveal bright red seeds

The colorful fruit capsules which appear in the fall and add to their beauty in the landscape split open exposing equally colorful seeds. These seeds eventually drop to the ground and can produce hundreds of seedlings under the shrub or are eaten by birds and dispersed to other areas where they can germinate and grow.

The evergreen species, Euonymus japonicus, includes many of the more colorful variegated cultivars. Variegated cultivars should be planted in full sun to light shade for the best color.

Spreading euonymus (E. kiautschovicus) is a beautiful evergreen or semi-evergreen species with glossy dark green leathery leaves that is often grown as a hedge or living screen. ‘Manhattan’ is one of the most popular cultivars. Unfortunately, this species is prone to winter burn in colder zones.

Winter creeper, E. fortunei, is an evergreen species with a trailing habit which, depending on the cultivar, can be used as a ground cover, low shrub, rock wall cover, or as a climbing vine. There are many beautiful variegated cultivars in this species as well.

Finally – Pruning!

I originally began writing about euonymus because a few days ago I received a post on our discussion board about pruning these plants. I got a little off topic! Here is the question:

I have several overgrown Euonymus shrubs that have come into my hydrangea shrubs. I would like to cut the [euonymus] back but how far can I cut them and when is the best time?

How Much?

As far as how much they can be cut; these plants can really be pruned back as hard as you want or need to. Like many shrubs, euonymus has dormant buds in the bare wood and new growth will sprout below the pruning cuts so eventually you will end up with a beautiful, fresh, new but more compact shrub.

When?

The timing for pruning euonymus depends on the type, deciduous or evergreen – hence my discourse on the various species!

Euonymus alatus pruned to tree form.

Euonymus alatus pruned to tree form.

Deciduous euonymus should be pruned in late winter or early spring before they start to leaf out. As I mentioned, these shrubs can be pruned hard if needed, even back to 3″ – 6″ from the ground. They can also be pruned less drastically, removing dead and crossing branches, thinning out about a third of the oldest stems (all the way to the ground), and pruning the remaining stems to create an attractive, natural looking shrub.

These euonymus can also be trained to grow as a small tree by pruning out all but 1-6 main stems and removing any lower branches that develop along these main stems.

The pruning time for evergreen euonymus depends on how hard you need to prune them. If they need to be cut fairly hard to rejuvenate them or to bring them down in size if they have grown too large for your space, this should be done in late winter or early spring while they are still dormant.

If you just need to prune them back to shape them or reduce their size a little, you can prune them in the late spring or early summer when they are growing. It is best to avoid pruning them after the end of July or any new growth will not have time to harden off before winter.

Remember

If you need to do any “severe” pruning of your other shrubs like holly, boxwood, rhododendron, or yew, now (while they are still dormant) is the time to do it.

Be sure to fertilize them with Espoma Holly-tone, Plant-tone, or Tree-tone after you prune!

Until next time – Happy Spring!

Grafted melon at Merrick Farm, Wilbraham, MA. Photo: Megan Poljacik

When I first heard about grafted tomato plants several years ago, I thought the idea was crazy. I was very aware of the great cultural benefits of grafted trees and shrubs but why in the world would you spend the time and effort to graft a vegetable that only grows for a season then dies with the first frost?

Grafted tomato

Grafted tomato; Cornell University Cooperative Extension

It didn’t dawn on me at the time that the same disease resistance and increased overall vigor that the rootstock imparts to a grafted fruit tree could also work for a grafted tomato plant. When you think about it, this is a brilliant concept because tomatoes and many other vegetable crops have a plethora of disease and pest problems that we as gardeners are constantly battling.

It turns out that grafting vegetables is not a new practice at all – they’ve been doing it in Asia for a long time!

What is grafting?

Grafting involves taking the top of a plant (the scion) that has very desirable fruit qualities like superior taste (but low vigor and disease resistance) and attaching it to the bottom of a plant (the rootstock) that is known for its vigorous growth and disease resistance.

Getting ready to graft a melon (scion) to a gourd rootstock at Merrick Farm, Wilbraham, MA

Getting ready to graft a melon (scion)
to a gourd rootstock at Merrick Farm,
Wilbraham, MA  Photo: Megan Poljacik

One of the main advantages of grafted vegetables is their resistance to soil-borne pests and diseases.

Remember my whole diatribe on crop rotation? There are a lot of people with small backyard gardens that don’t have the space to rotate their crops. Planting grafted vegetables reduces the need for crop rotation. The rootstock that is used for the graft is selected for its resistance to a wide range of soil-borne diseases, including those that persist in the soil for many years. So even if diseases like Verticillium wilt, Fusaruim, bacterial wilt, or tobacco mosaic virus are lurking in your soil, grafted tomatoes are less likely to be affected because of their vigorous, disease resistant rootstock. You have a super plant!

Completed melon graft; Merrick Farm, photo: Megan Poljacik

Completed melon graft; Merrick Farm, photo: Megan Poljacik

What about diseases like early blight and late blight that travel to the plants via wind and rain? Are grafted plants protected from these devastating diseases? Unfortunately, these diseases attack the above ground parts of the plants – the foliage, stems, and fruit and the rootstock of grafted plants cannot directly provide resistance to these foliar diseases. However, as I have said many times before, healthy, vigorous plants are much less susceptible to disease and pest pressure.

An heirloom tomato grafted on a superior rootstock will theoretically be more vigorous, healthy, and productive than if it were growing on its own roots. The root system of the “super rootstock” will be much more extensive, thus providing more surface area for absorption of water and nutrients. This should lead to a healthier plant. Many of the grafted tomatoes that you will find are heirloom varieties. These very tasty tomatoes can be more prone to disease problems than hybrid tomatoes so grafting may offer a healthier, more productive plant.

Conversely, if a blight resistant tomato such as Defiant is grafted onto a hearty, disease resistant rootstock, you could end up with a seriously disease resistant tomato! Actually, this is a popular grafted tomato that is available!

Tips for growing grafted tomatoes

Grafted tomato planted with the graft well above the soil line.

Grafted tomato planted with the graft well above the soil line.

Remember how you have always been told to plant your tomatoes as deeply as possible because they will develop roots all along the buried stem and you will end up with a more robust plant? Deep planting is a no-no for grafted plants. It is extremely important to keep the graft above the soil line when you plant. If the graft ends up below ground, roots will develop above the graft, which totally defeats the purpose of having a grafted plant! When the scion roots into the soil, the disease resistance of the rootstock is bypassed and the plant is no longer protected. Money wasted! This may be the reason why some people are not successful with grafted plants and feel that they are not worth the expense to purchase.

Keep the graft at least an inch above the soil when you plant.

As the plant grows, provide it with a good support system to keep it off the ground. Any stems or branches that touch the ground can take root – again, bypassing the disease resistance of the rootstock. We grow our tomatoes on a trellis and keep all the side shoots tied up as well as the main stem. You can also tie them to stakes or a fence or grow them in cages – anything that keeps the plant from sprawling on the ground where it can take root.

It is also important to remove any growth that develops below the graft.

Many different vegetables are being grafted these days.

Melons are commonly grafted to improve disease resistance and yield.

Melons are commonly grafted to improve disease resistance and yield.

Although tomatoes are the most common, you can also find (or create your own) grafted peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, melons, and watermelons. Each of these is grafted onto vigorous rootstocks that are developed specifically for that particular vegetable type and the specific diseases that attack it.

Grafted vegetables not only have increased vigor and resistance to soil-borne diseases but, because of the superior root system that develops in these plants, they also show an increased tolerance to environmental stresses like drought, temperature extremes, and nutrient deficiencies. The extensive root system increases the area that the plant can exploit for the water and nutrients needed for growth. The result is a healthier plant that not only bears well, but potentially requires less fertilizer, is drought tolerant, and has a reduced need for pesticide applications.

This may be the year that we give grafted plants a try. We may try to pick up a tomato plant or two at a local garden center. It will be especially interesting if we can find a grafted version of one of the varieties that I plan to grow from seed. That would be a cool experiment! I will keep you posted!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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