Tomato grafting allows you to grow 2 types on 1 plant

Posted: August 13, 2010

For the most part, we get the principle of grafting fruit trees, grapes, and roses. A variety of fruit or flowers that we love, but might be a little iffy for various reasons, is grafted onto a sturdier rootstock than the plant would produce on its own.

The advantages are many. Known rootstocks (like Dr. Huey when it comes to roses) are vigorous, crop heavy, cold hardy, and disease resistant. And any top plant (scion) grafted onto them will gain these advantages by association.

Grafting woody plants has been around for centuries. But this year tomato grafting - a technique that has been used in Europe and Asia - is making its way around the West.

The principles are the same. Take a known stellar tomato rootstock and graft a fussier tomato scion onto it.

Log House Plants in Cottage Grove, Ore., is introducing grafted tomatoes this year in the United States. According to its website, grafted tomatoes produce heavier crops and improve disease resistance in fussier cultivars.

"Heirloom varieties have the rich flavors, but are not disease resistant," said Alice Doyle, the nursery owner. "Grafting makes for a healthier, more vigorous plant."

The technique is especially useful to organic farmers who plant tomatoes in the same soil year after year. Carefully curated rootstocks resist nematodes, blight, wilt, root rot, blossom-end-rot, and will even produce bumper crops in depleted soils, all without chemicals.

Doyle says she finds her rootstocks in Holland and buys grafting clips in Japan. The newly grafted tomatoes sit in a dark and humid room for three days to reconnect the vascular tissues. Then they go through a weaning period before they are moved to the greenhouse.

For the home gardener, planting a grafted tomato is a bit different. In this case, you do not want to plant your tomatoes "deep." Instead you want to be sure the graft is clearly above the ground so only the rootstock roots in the garden.

Grafted tomatoes need support as the graft can be a weak spot that can break if the plant flops over. Cage and tie these tomatoes right away.

"We've been playing around with grafting two kinds of tomatoes on one plant," Doyle said. "For gardeners who don't have a lot of space, one plant in a pot makes a colorful salad."

Doyle has been combining Red and Yellow Brandywines and Black Cherry and Snow Wild Cherry tomatoes on one plant. These multi-variety tomatoes are available this year.

Log House Plants has probably started a movement toward grafted tomatoes and vegetables in general. It is something European farmers have been doing for ages, and Doyle believes it will benefit backyard gardeners by eliminating a host of common problems.

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