Grafting Tomato Plants & Native Kangaroo Apple Shrubs!

Feb 25, 2019

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 (plus more). Wow. 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. This season we grafted some common tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) onto the native Kangaroo Apple shrub (Solanum laciniatum) which are both in the Solanaceae family (aka the nightshade family).

Kangaroo Apples are a hardy, quick growing, evergreen shrub that grow to 2.5m. They have blue/purple flowers followed by poisonous green fruits but that turn edible when ripe. Importantly they’re incredibly tough and will happily grow in average soils with no, or little 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.

Kangaroo Apple shrub thriving in the foreground and Frida and goats thriving the background. 

Here’s how we did it…

There are many types of grafting techniques, we did what’s called a bark graft. For more detailed instructions on bark grafting, see our previous blog on bark grafting our wild plum here. You basically chop the tree or shrub down to a stump (or just chop a branch off) and seen below.

You 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 that means it can slide into the large branch 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. Below is one of the finished products (we did two branches) with graft tape holding everything in place and some Tree Stac which protects wounds from unhealthy bacteria or disease moving in.

A few months later and the graft is looking completely different. Two out of three of the tomato “branches” were successful and we’ve been eating tomatoes off them for weeks.

That black surface is the aged Treesac goop and the graft is growing over it. 

The particular variety of tomato is a local one simply called “George”, named after a Greek market gardener who’s since passed away. He grew and sold this amazing tomato which is large in size, but is more of a  shrub – so requires no staking (awesome). Hence, it sits at the bottom of the Kangaroo Apple shrub as seen below. We had some seed gifted to us from Fat Carrot Farm and it’s now our favourite tomato to grow as each plant has huge yields and requires less inputs (mainly staking).

In closing, I’d just like to say that plants are awesome, nature is the best and I love gardening!

your thoughts:

24 Comments

  1. Anita

    That’s fabulous. Are you treating the tomatoes as annuals and will regraft each year? Perennial chillies would be great if it’s a super warm spot!

    Fortunately, I decided to leave the self-seeded Kangaroo Apple here so I’ll try next summer!!!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      We’ll watch and see, but think we’ll have to re-graft each year as our winters get too cold for the graft to survive.

      Reply
  2. Rayna

    Great graft idea! I’m interested to know what you do at the end of the season when the tomato dies off.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      This is our first time Rayna – so we *assume* it will die iff in our cold winters and that we’d have to re-graft again in late spring :-).

      Reply
  3. Jen

    That’s so cool. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  4. Ali

    This is so cool, I will try it in spring 2019.. where did you find kangaroo apple seeds in melb?

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Just ask your local native plant nursery Ali- and see if you can get a seedling to speed up the process :-).

      Reply
  5. Chip

    Do you think a pepper graft would work?

    Reply
  6. Riley

    Hey guys, any update on whether or not the grafts have survived a few colder months?

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Riley, they didn’t survive the frost. So we would need to do a fresh graft each year :-).

      Reply
  7. Ruby

    Did the nursery say its safe to graft onto the kangaroo apple? The kangaroo apple fruit are abortive. So do the tomatoes you grow from them have the same properties?

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      The tomatoes don’t “take up” that quality at all. I can’t give you a scientific explanation (cause I’m not a scientist), but the general jist is that the tomatoes are simply benefiting from the kangaroo apple as a root stock.

      Reply
  8. Ali

    Did you cover the grafts with anything or they just took after they were put in the bark?

    Reply
  9. dan

    This may be a silly question, but it would work with a cucumber vine being grafted onto it the same way? Or would it just die?

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      They’re not in the same plant family (nightshade) so that wouldn’t work 🙂

      Reply
      • dan

        Ohh I see, would be awesome if it did work though aha

        For the grafts did you cover them with a plastic bag or something to keep the moisture in or just leave them like that?

        Reply
  10. dan

    Does honey help with the grafting?

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Dan, Honey is used for cuttings as an anti-bacterial layer and as a rooting hormone. I haven’t heard of people using it in grafting though…

      Reply
  11. Amy

    Hi Hannah, I’ve been looking for info on growing kangaroo apple from seed (as I have a couple of large plants that popped up on their own) but I can’t find anything useful! Did you grow yours from seed then graft onto them or were they “volunteers”? I’m in central Victoria.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Amy, I haven’t – these ones just popped up. Best to ask your local nursery for advice.

      Reply
  12. Louise

    Hi Dan
    Can you graft eggplant onto the kangaroo apple?

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Louise, yes you could as they’re in the same Solanaceae family.

      Reply
  13. Denis Ball

    Hi all,
    I grafted tomatoes seedlings onto Kangaroo Apple seedling back in 2009. They grew rapidly and produces a great, disease free crop with no detectable taint of flavour. I can’t grow successful tomatoes in my new place so will give it another go. I grew the KA from seed but I never thought of grafting to an established KA.

    Reply

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