Graft in the Tomato Patch?

I’m so embarrassed.  I promised myself I would never pay $8.00 for a grafted tomato plant, even though I’d seen them advertised in several 2013 seed catalogs.  Grafted plants belong in the fruit orchard, not the Tomato Patch—right?  And aren’t I a really Frugal Gardener with 10 packets of tomato seeds costing a dime each?

Then I read a short article favoring grafted tomato plants by Barbara Damrosch.  But I still resisted.  Then a friend, Eva S., of California, sent me another article from USA Today saying—and I paraphrase—that grafted tomatoes are the best thing in a century to happen to tomatoes.

Well, with a smile I’ll confess that I haven’t paid $8.00 for a grafted tomato plant.  I’ve just ordered three from Burpee for $22.95 plus $8.95 shipping/handling for a total of $31.90.  Oops, that’s $10.64 a plant.  Certainly you chuckle and maybe even understand.

What’s a grafted tomato plant?  Think of a grafted apple tree—with sturdy root stock and a grafted scion or top of a favored variety.  For a grafted tomato plant, the root stock is of a vigorous, pest-resistant variety and the scion is a more delicate variety—often a flavorful heirloom variety.
The result is a plant that grows and produces vigorously.  Most growers claim their grafted heirloom varieties yield two, three, or four times the amount of fruit that non-grafted plants produce.

I’ve ordered one each of three old-time favorites—Brandywine Pink, Mortgage Lifter, and Rutgers.  I’ll let you know how this experiment works out as this year’s tomato season progresses.

In the meantime, you may want to educate yourself in the pluses and minuses of growing grafted tomatoes.  Here are links to Chuck Raasch’s article, “Graft and production: Super tomatoes pay off on the table,” in USA Today and Barbara Damrosch’s article, “The benefits of grafted tomatoes,” in the Washington Post.  The USA Today link is especially interesting because it contains both the print article and a short video.  You’ll also find detailed explanations of the grafted plants in some of this year’s seed catalogs.

 I’m genuinely excited about grafted tomato plants.  I guess I never should have said “Never.”  But will I have buyer’s remorse?  Stay tuned.

20 Comments on “Graft in the Tomato Patch?

  1. I'm so glad you're doing this, Bob! I've been curious about the benefits of grafted tomatoes as well, and will follow your experiment with great interest.

  2. Bob,

    The good news is that if grafted tomatoes really do produce 3 to 4 times the fruit, you can plant fewer tomatoes plants and grow other vegetables. I look forward to seeing your results.

    PS. wonder what kind of root stock they use.

  3. Is anyone doing grafted tomato demonstrations in central MD so people can learn how?

    Johnny's usually has seed for the rootstock.


  4. Wow, Liz, wouldn't that be a great workshop! Do it yourself and save $9.50 or more a plant! Damrosch's article indicated her staffers are doing grafts, so I suspect how-to-do-it seminars will soon be available, hopefully here in MD. The USA Today article and video suggested to me the procedure isn't overly complicated. If anyone knows of an online video (YouTube?) on grafting, please post a message so we all can learn.

  5. Ha. I already spent $12.00 (+ S&H) on 20 rootstock tomato seeds from Territorial, and read (and watched) all I could to learn how to do it ourselves. I still have to shell out for whatever the stuff I'll need to conduct the graft, not to mentioned jerry-rigging something for the “healing” process. We (MG's) have a plan here at the Franklin County Extension Office, to compare the ungrafted version with the grafted version on 4, or 5 varieties (depending on our success rate with the grafting).

    Thanks for the link to the USA article. Missed that.

  6. I wandered onto YouTube and searched “grafting tomato plants” and found several interesting videos. Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center (Tomato Lab) has a 5-minute how-to with the basics with more than 71,000 visits. Johnny's Seeds has a 20-minute program using quite a different grafting method but with lots of practical hints. Maybe $8.00 a plant isn't too outrageous a price if you don't have a greenhouse, a high-humidity healing chamber, and other tools of the trade. Happy surfing if you want to do-it-yourself!

  7. Bob, I am growing Rutgers from seed along with a few others. Perhaps we could compare growth and yield throughout the season for seed grown Rutgers vs. grafted Rutgers? Are you growing determinate or indeterminate?

  8. Yes, that would be great, Brian. I don't have seed for Rutgers, so you can grow some from seed and we can compare results, natural v. grafted. Burpee has cut back on some tomato descriptions in recent years, so on the Buree website the grafted Rugers doesn't indicate “indeterminate” or “determinate.” It does say 36-40 inches, so I will assume we're talking “determinate.” Of course, that could mean the promised superabundance of fruit will each be 36-40 inches in circumferance–or maybe diameter? But, back to reality, yes, let's compare!

  9. That is so interesting…I've seen grafted tomatoes on some blogs and didn't quite understand what it was. So like apples, could you have one plant that grows different varieties of tomatoes? That would be really interesting.

  10. I've not seen a double or triple graft offered but I think in theory it could work. Some patient tomato freak (like me) will be tempted to try multiple grafts. Just think of the city gardener, on the 24th floor with sunny balcony, with one container with one grafted tomato plant yielding: brandywine, yellow plum, San Marzano, and Sungold! Possible? Science fiction? I'll not hold my breath, but…I smile!

  11. I smile because I can justify that cost in so many ways. Sometimes we just need to try something different in the garden 🙂 I hope the grafted plants produce a large amount for you!

  12. Charm, I've seen double grafts offered in previous years, but haven't come across any this year. Anyone seen any online?

    I could see up to 4 being grafted onto one plant, especially if they were trellised in an espalier style. Beyond 4 would be tough logistically I think.


  13. Rutgers Project Update…

    Bob, I started my Rutgers from seed on 4/3/13 in a 32 cell flat. I used Miracle Gro seed starting mix. I had a 94% (31/32) germination rate. The seedlings are now around 2″ tall and have their first set of true leaves. Everything is looking good for my 5/15 transplant date.

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