Should I Try Tomato Grafting?

A question for you, our dear readers. Have you ever grown grafted tomatoes? Have you ever tried to graft your own tomatoes?

In case you’re not familiar with the idea, you can graft, for instance, an heirloom tomato on to a more hardy root stock tomato to increase disease resistance and yields. You can also graft tomatoes onto potato plants (two crops in one!) as well as graft tomatoes onto eggplants for plants that are more hardy in soggy soils. In the bad idea department, you can graft tomatoes onto tobacco (for nicotine laden fruit) and jimsonweed (for poisonous fruit–note this strange incindent).

The Illinois Extension service has detailed tomato grafting instructions and notes on root stock selection here.

So what do you think? Intrigued? Comments!

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  1. I have purchased a variety of grafted tomatoes over different seasons with the hope of noticeably better yields. As a test over several growing seasons, I have grown the same variety of tomato , grafted versus non grafted, side by side in the same conditions. What I find consistently is that my regular non grafted open pollinated seeds by far and away produce larger yields of better tasting fruit. For the extra expense of buying grafted tomatoes and now potentially grafting my own, I’d recommend skipping the hassle, expense, and disappointment of bothering with grafted tomatoes.

  2. Yes, if you have a death wish. Sarcasm intended. I have tried about six times to graft tomatoes. Word to the wise, practice with Rutgers for root stock before you use the expensive ones. And DO buy the clips, I tried tape and it molded under that tape. I have decided to give up, but because my eyesight is poor, I can’t see well enough to get a really perfect joint AND you must have very good conditions, the right humidity and temps for the healing process. Don’t make the splice too close to the growing medium line, it will send sucker roots down from the scion into the soil. I can tell you half a dozen DON”T because I have done them all. Giving up this year and having the local university (well, 50 miles local) do them for me.

  3. OH, and there is no point to grafting unless you are growing in a greenhouse type environment. There is not a noticeable difference in outside growing. KU really is the best around that I know of on the grafting. Our own MU and Lincoln tried to make it sound MORE difficult than it is. KU does classes at conferences for commercial growers here in the MidWest

  4. I was intrigued by this technique and did some reading on it a few years ago. The big reason I could see to go to the extra expense/trouble would be if you had nematodes and wanted to grow heirlooms – you could do that on nematode resistant rootstock. But I solarized my nematode-infested beds instead and had really good results, so that reason for grafting went out the window.

    If you really could get a higher yield per plant with the same amount of water, maybe you could justify it based on water consumption? Don’t know. But my garden is complicated enough at this point without grafting (plants grown as) annuals.

  5. All of the above comments seem pretty conclusive. But I think you should do it, so I don’t have to.

    Jean-Martin Fortier, who wrote the very excellent Market Gardener, makes a sizable chunk of his income with grafted tomatoes, which was the first I had heard of the technique. Fortier is quite relentless about stripping out waste, so he must find grafting to be worthwhile.

    As an aside, Fortier grows his tomatoes in the same soil, year after year, despite the caution you should move your beds to avoid disease.

  6. I have friends in the UK who purchase grafted tomatoes and find they do better for them in their poor tomato growing climate than regular tomatoes do. The grated ones are quite pricey but apparently worth it to get a reasonable crop in the land of blight.

  7. I know one of my coworkers at the msu student organic farm was working on grafted tomatoes, and I remember them growing absurdly huge with good yields in the hoophouse. They must have been at least ten feet tall (trellised from the top purloins of the hoop down). But he had university lab resources and funding. I can’t see myself ever bothering with them personally.

  8. I attended a workshop that included grafting some tomatoes. I would say it’s a great idea, IF you have a year-round greenhouse and are using indeterminate varieties. Or live in a climate that doesn’t freeze. Otherwise I think it is far more trouble than it’s worth. Unless of course space is at such a premium that you can only have a few tomato plants.

  9. My experience matches Cathy Geary’s sentiments. I tested three varieties for a seed company. I did get significantly better yields from the grafted plants (grown side by side under exact conditions) but they were in a high tunnel. The grafted plants outlasted the non-grafted when blight moved in. The soil was tired and needed a fall/winter/spring wash from rain and snow. In a natural setting that doesn’t happen unless you’re growing in a drought situation for several years in a row.

    I think you should try it. It’s worth the time and grafting isn’t that hard. Graft extras to make up for those that die and enjoy the experiment.

  10. I bought Territorial’s grafted tomatoes for a couple years (half-day of good light in our urban lot in Oakland, CA).

    They didn’t perform as well as their non-grafted counterparts (Sungold and Costoluto Genovese).

  11. I’ve been playing around with grafting for a few years. I’m based in SoCal and have found after a few years of growing regular varieties that I have trouble with root knot nematodes. Basically the plants do well initially but later in summer with increased soil temps plants dwindle and shrivel and die.
    I’ve found it works Ok, one year I measured yields from matched pairs of several different varieties and definitely got greater yields and longer lasting plants. It can be tricky though and requires a bit of practice and some years my success rate isn’t too high. I still do it but I also make use of some of the newer nematode resistant varieties as well. But like the flexibility of using any variety I want to graft, usually that’s a Brandywine variety.

  12. I do have a greenhouse which I use for seed starting but the house came with it and I don’t think its necessary. Just raise seedlings to get approximately the same stem diameter and splice together. You will need either the silicone grips or spring loaded clips. After initial grafting you will need a chamber with high humidity and closed to light to give a chance for the scions to take. Johnnies seeds has some good videos I seem to remember. Also make sure the rootstock you ordered has nematode resistance not all of them so although most do. Good luck

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