Grafting tomato plants to native kangaroo apples shrubs

The world of grafting plants is wonderful and wacky.

You can start with just one pear tree and graft a range of other fruits onto it that are also in the pome family - so you could end up with a pear, apple, medlar, quince and nashi tree.

So even if you only have room for one tree in your garden, you can still have a range of fruits.

Sometimes the plants you can graft together are less obvious. Like when we grafted some common tomatoes (solanum lycopersicum) onto a native kangaroo apple shrub (solanum laciniatum). Both are in the solanaceae family, or also known as, the nightshade family.

Kangaroo apples are hardy, quick-growing evergreen shrubs that grow to 2.5 metres. They have blue-purple flowers followed by poisonous green fruits that become edible when ripe.

Importantly they're incredibly tough and will happily grow in average soils with little to no moisture - whereas tomatoes need lots of compost and water to thrive.

This means you can grow delicious tomatoes in areas where you have less fertile soils. It's a bit magic.

TRANSFORMED: Grafting in action. Pictures: Hannah Moloney.

TRANSFORMED: Grafting in action. Pictures: Hannah Moloney.

How we did it

There are many types of grafting techniques, we did what's called a bark graft.

You basically chop the tree or shrub down to a stump (or just chop a branch off) and then gently peel back the bark and green cambium layer and place a number of tomato branches inside it.

The tomato branch is cut at an angle, which means it can slide into the bark of the kangaroo apple.

You always add more than one branch of the desired plant species you're fostering. This is so there's more chance of getting a yield as it's common that not all grafts will take and be successful.

We used graft tape to hold everything in place and some Tree Stac graft-sealing paint, which protects wounds from unhealthy bacteria or disease moving in.

A few months later and the graft looks completely different. Two out of three of the tomato branches we grafted were successful.

We ate tomatoes off them for weeks.

This particular variety of tomato is a local one simply called George, named after a Greek market-gardener who's since passed away.

This amazing tomato is large in size, but is more of a shrub - so requires no staking and sits at the bottom of the kangaroo apple shrub.

The tomato dies off in the winter months. Then it will need to be re-grafted in late spring for the following season.

While the kangaroo apple fruit is poisonous until ripe, after grafting, the new tomato plant doesn't take on that quality at all.

In simple terms, the tomatoes are just benefiting from the kangaroo apple as a root stock.

Plants are awesome, nature is the best and I love gardening!

  • Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, regenerating land and lifestyles.
This story Grafting tomato plants to native shrubs first appeared on The Canberra Times.