So why would you want to graft a tomato plant? After all, tomatoes are easy enough to grow from seed. Well, firstly, you don’t want to do it – you want to get someone who knows what they’re doing, and has done thousands, to do it and then just buy the plant.
But why bother at all? One big big reason: resistance to disease. If your plants die of disease you get no crop at all. Grafted plants are resistant to soil diseases.
The problem is that it’s impossible to find varieties that look good, taste good, crop well and don’t suffer from diseases. Most of the worst diseases are soil borne and, if you grow tomatoes in the same soil every year, outside or in the greenhouse – and often if you grow them in fresh soil every year – soil borne diseases will often bring them down or weaken them.
So here’s the thing. Instead of growing from seed, buy a plant that’s grafted on to a rootstock that’s disease resistant. To make clear how valuable disease resistance in a rootstock is, one of the most popular tomato rootstocks is resistant to: crown rot, root rot, corky root rot and stem rot, plus two kinds of Fusarium plus Verticillium and Cladosporium plus root eelworm. That’s impressive.
Even in conditions where disease is not suspected to be a problem, grafted plants do well. Grafted plants of the variety ‘Elegance’, a well-flavored traditional style tomato, produced an average of 50% heavier crop across a range of conditions than non-grafted plants. You can see in the pictures how obvious it is. Cherry tomato ‘Sweetheart’ (at the top, grafted plant on the right, obviously) is growing in Oregon, traditional tomato ‘Elegance’ (right, grafted on the left) is growing in Devon, England. And look at the difference in the roots of 'Brandwine' (below, grafted plant on the right) (Click the pictures to enlarge.)
And it’s not just tomatoes. You can also buy grafted plants of egg plants (aubergine), chili and sweet peppers, cucumbers, melons, watermelons and squash.
In Britain, Suttons were the pioneers and now offer plants both mail order and in garden centers and list more varieties than anyone. In North America Log House Plants have led the way and have gone from not grafting veggies at all in 2006, to perhaps hitting a million plants this year. They do not sell direct to gardeners.
Check out my recent piece in Britain’s Daily Telegraph for more on grafted vegetables.
In Britain you can buy grafted vegetables from Suttons, from Mr Fothergill’s, from Marshalls, and from Simply Seeds and Plants amongst others.
In North America you can buy grafted vegetables and from Garden Life and from The Territorial Seed Company, and from Burpee. For retail outlets in the west, check out the Log House Plants retail outlets page.
UPDATE: Harris Seeds has trial pro discounted packs of grafted heirloom tomato plants, but you have to purchase by March 8th, 2013. Use coupon code 3PRP046 to get free shipping too. They want feedback on how well they grow. Varieties include 'Brandywine', 'Cherokee Purple', 'Mr. Stripey', 'Old German', and 'San Marzano'. They are available only in packs of fifteen or thirty six. Full details at: http://www.harrisseeds.com/storefront/c-184-grafted-tomato-plants.aspx
Thank you to Log House Plants for the images of 'Sweetheart and 'Brandywine', and to Suttons Seeds for the image of 'Elegance'.