Gardening is a very rich pastime that has a lot to offer the patient individual – regardless of whether they are a green-fingered enthusiast or seasoned professional.
Indeed, there are so many techniques to bear in mind that it can be difficult to really get a firm grasp of what is the best way to go about each individual task.
However, the importance of grafting is not to be underestimated – particularly if the green space is being used to grow fruit and vegetables.
Grafting is a technique that involves inserting tissue from one plant into another – and this is one of the most commonly used methods of asexual propagation of anything that is grown for commercial purposes.
Typically, one plant is selected for its stock – or roots – and the other for stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits. These are referred to as scions – and the process has been in practice for thousands of years.
Indeed, the Chinese are believed to have been taking advantage of the process since before 2000 BC. After this it spread throughout Europe and Asia and was very well established by the time of Ancient Greece.
Vegetable plants like tomato, cucumber, eggplant and watermelon are very frequently grafted – and tomato grafting in particular is rapidly gaining popularity throughout the US.
One of the main advantages offered by this particular variant of the process is that it can help facilitate the creation and development of superior, disease-resistant stocks.
Professional planter and garden writer Graham Rice added that increased tolerance of difficult growing conditions is another benefit offered by the process. In an article for UK national newspaper the Daily Telegraph, he noted that varieties of fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and others are mainly selected for the quantity and quality of their produce.
As a result of this, features like resistance and tolerance have not been the priority in breeding new strains of them. This leaves many of the more popular varieties quite vulnerable.
The expert said that this is precisely why grafting is so important, as specially developed rootstocks are easily able to resist a wide range of issues, meaning that plenty of flavoursome fruit and vegetables will be able to grow on very healthy plants.
Mr Rice went on to note that this particular method of growing is particularly useful to those who like to make use of a controlled gardening environment like a greenhouse.
"For me, the classic situation is the unheated greenhouse. Grow tomatoes in the same soil year after year and soon soil-borne diseases will usually deplete or even ruin your crop," he explained.
"But the rootstock most often used for grafted tomatoes is resistant to a whole range of soil-borne diseases. For the disease nerds out there, these are: Cladosporium, Verticillium, two races of Fusarium, crown rot, root rot, root eelworm, corky root rot and stem rot, plus tomato mosaic virus," the expert continued, adding: "So even if the diseases are in your soil, your plants will not be affected and you will still get a good crop."
Mr Rice went on to suggest that there are also more generic benefits, regardless of whether or not the individual is making use of a greenhouse. Indeed, he noted that grafted plants tend to crop earlier.
Furthermore, they often produce more fruits and for a longer period. For instance, grafted aubergines can crop up to five weeks earlier than an ungrafted variety.
"There is also evidence that these specially developed rootstocks cope well with the salts that build up in the soil when tomatoes are grown in the same place year after year," Mr Rice commented.