If you’re a home gardener, you know many different types of tomatoes to choose from. But you’ve probably never planted grafted tomatoes. Grafted tomatoes are created by putting two tomato plants together – one that is resistant to disease and one that produces delicious fruit. Growers can get the best of both worlds by grafting these two plants together. Wondering if grafted tomatoes are something you should add to your garden? Keep reading to find out!
What Are Grafted Tomatoes?
Grafted tomatoes are tomato plants that are technically from two different tomato plants. The top of one tomato plant (the scion) is carefully cut at an angle on the main stem and attached to the bottom of another tomato plant (the rootstock) at its main stem. The two parts are held together at the cut for weeks until the cut heals over. Once the cut (also called the graft) has healed, the plant is ready to go into the ground.
The rootstock used for grafting tomatoes is a super-specialized hybrid crossed with wild tomato varieties to improve qualities.
Benefits of Using Grafted Tomatoes
There are several reasons people graft tomatoes. We’ll go into all of them below so you can decide whether you need to add grafted tomato plants to your garden!
Grafting Allows You to Grow Your Favorite Varieties in Less-Than-Ideal Conditions
Everyone loves the juicy, sweet, unmistakable flavor of an heirloom tomato. A sun-warmed Cherokee Purple fresh from the garden is hard to beat. Heirlooms are some of the most popular tomato varieties because of their flavor, but they can be difficult to keep healthy throughout the season. They often succumb to blight earlier than their hybrid counterparts.
Hybridizing tomatoes creates varieties that have improved disease resistance, but these hybrid tomatoes have a downside: they are often short on flavor. Some hybrids can be downright flavorless. It’s disappointing to carefully tend to tomatoes all season only to harvest bland fruit.
Grafted Plants Are More Vigorous
Grafted tomato plants grow a healthier root system than regular varieties.
The rootstock used for grafting tomatoes is a super-specialized type that is perfect for growing vigorous, disease-resistant roots, but terrible for growing tasty tomatoes.
The fruits will usually taste awful if you grow a rootstock seed into a plant. Some of the fruits won’t even turn red. This is because the rootstock has been optimized to the highest degree to give disease resistance, vigor, and high yield to the plant. It is not intended to bear fruit, so the resulting tomato plant will never yield a desirable tomato.
On the other hand, grafted tomatoes taste just like the scion variety, so if you have a Cherokee Purple as the top variety, your grafted tomatoes will taste JUST like a Cherokee Purple because they are Cherokee Purples.
Grafted Plants Have Much Higher Yields
The stronger root system of a grafted tomato will yield more tomatoes per plant than non-grafted plants.
Not only do grafted tomato plants have increased fruit production, but they also have a longer life. Because they are resistant to late blight, they will produce longer for you. Blight often overtakes tomato plants as the season wears on, but grafted plants last longer at the end of the season. So not only do they produce more fruit at any given point in the season, they also have a longer season.
They May Require Less Pesticide
Another very good reason to use grafting to strengthen your tomatoes is that they may need less pesticides that regular plants.
Pests can often detect weakness in plants via chemicals that the plant gives off in its weakened state. This causes the pests to attack the plants and cause even more damage, leading to a vicious downward spiral in plant health.
By grafting, your tomato plants start out with more disease resistance which will reduce or possibly eliminate any chemicals the plant would give off to signal weakness.
Ways to Add Grafted Tomatoes Into Your Garden
You may be ready to add grafted tomato plants to your plant mix, but you don’t know exactly what steps to take. That depends on whether you want to graft yourself or buy grafted plants.
You Should Try Grafting the Plants Yourself If:
You have average to above-average hand-eye coordination, and your hands don’t shake excessively.
You’re patient and can check on plants a few times daily for a couple of weeks.
You are willing to control the humidity near the plants for the first 72 hours after the grafting process.
You have many varieties of heirlooms that you love to grow but aren’t impressed with their yields and performance.
You’ve purchased a lot of heirloom seeds that just don’t perform well. You’d love to find a way to use those seeds.
If most of the above are true, you should try grafting the plants yourself. They are true for me and I plan to graft tomato plants for the first time next year.
A humidity dome or some other way you can keep the freshly grafted tomato plants at close to 100%. If the cut doesn’t stay moist (not wet, but moist), it will not take.
Buying Grafted Tomato Plants
If you aren’t sure you want to invest in the items and the time you’ll need to graft, you can still pick up a few grafted plants to see if they are worth growing.
Things to Be Aware of When Buying Grafted Tomato Plants:
There are a couple things to keep in mind if you plan to buy grafted plants:
Buying just one or a couple of grafted plants will be the most expensive way to purchase them. You can find places that will let you buy just one plant of whatever you want, but they will be more expensive, often well over 10 dollars per plant plus shipping.
To reduce the price of the plants, you can buy in larger quantities, but your variety will be limited. You’ll have to buy several of one type of plant to get a sizeable discount. So for example, to get a price break on 20-30 plants, you’ll need to buy all the same variety.
I have grown for five seasons in the same space, and soil-borne diseases here in the humid southeastern United States mean crop rotation is necessary to keep plants like tomatoes as healthy as possible.
However, a complete crop rotation is not in my future for another few years because I don’t have the space. Therefore, I’m planning to perfect my grafting skills this winter so I can graft the tomato plants that are going in my garden. I’ll plant 75 tomato plants next year for the farmstand, and I plan to graft all the heirloom varieties. This way I can keep my yields high while growing in soil I’ve grown in many times before.
Grafted tomatoes are becoming more popular among home gardeners as they offer many benefits over traditional tomato plants. Grafting can help to extend the growing season of tomatoes, and the plants will be more resistant to late blight. If you’re interested in adding grafted tomato plants to your garden, you can buy them or graft them yourself, so there are ways for everyone to incorporate grafted plants into their garden!