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MUSCATINE — If you're a gardener, you've probably heard of grafted roses and grafted trees. This is a process in which a plant with desired qualities is grafted onto hardy root stock to try to make a more vigorous plant.

But grafted tomatoes?

Yes, it's a new thing, and you can see some examples beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, during the free open house at the Iowa State University Home Demonstration Garden south of here.

The site is one of several around the state; the purpose is to give home gardeners ideas on what to plant and to let them see firsthand how different varieties perform.

In the tomato study, the heriloom 'Cherokee Purple' and the commercial variety 'Mountain Fresh' will be growing on root stock of 'Maxifort,' said Cynthia Haynes, an associate professor of horticulture at ISU in Ames.

The grafted tomatoes will be growing alongside ungrafted plants to see whether grafting improves vigor, disease-resistance and production, said Haynes, who will be at the event.

Also in the tomato vein, 'Celebrity' plants will be growing in different types of raised beds and even soil bags to see "what other options there might be to grow full-sized tomatoes" in a small space, she said.

Another portion of the garden includes a cultivar trial of nine different colored bell peppers, including red, orange, white, yellow and purple.

In the flower area, there will be a "garden of the giants" highlighting oversize plants, including marigolds with huge flowers and sunflowers that grow 12 feet high.

For people who like to sit on their patios or decks at night, there is an "evening garden" with flowers that are white and fragrant. With this combination, the flowers show up in semi-darkness and add a nice scented ambiance to the area, Haynes explained.

Four o'clocks, stalks and flowering tobacco, or nicotiana, are among the stars here.

"It's really pretty," Haynes said of the evening planting.

Finally, visitors will be able to observe a "biochar garden" in which a byproduct of the biofuel process that looks like charcoal is incorporated into the soil.

"The goal is to see if it improves performance and if (the product) would have a potential as a soil amender," she said.

Unlike last year's demonstration garden that was suffering in the heat and drought, this year's garden is thriving under more moderate temperatures.

But because Muscatine has sandy soil, there is always a need to irrigate. And various irrigation systems, including drip and overhead, are something else that visitors can check out, Haynes said.

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