Recently, Grafted Tomatoes have been introduced to local gardeners. Grafted tomatoes give you the same great flavors and colors of other homegrown tomatoes but the big difference is in the hearty root stock that benefits their growth. Just like roses and fruit trees, tomato plants are mated or fused to a vigorous root stock to provide maximum nutrition availability to the plant and fruit. There are several wonderful benefits of the grafting process including superior disease resistance, increased fruit productivity and size as well as increased brix levels (sugar content). It also increases the plant’s tolerance to hot and cold temperatures, providing a long growing season. Because grafted tomatoes grow a bit differently, I’ve put together a few planting tips for you. Follow these instructions (especially the first one) for grafted tomato success!
Do not plant grafted tomatoes too deeply: This is the most important planting tip! Make sure that the graft line or scar across the stem appears at the base of the plant above the soil line. Soil should never be placed above this line or you will lose all the benefits of the graft. We usually plant regular tomatoes quite deeply but, in order to ensure the benefits of the graft, you must not bury the graft line when planting. Take a close look at your stem and find the graft line (see the photo above). Just keep the line in your sight as you plant and you are on your way to success!
Add amendments to the planting hole: Before planting your grafted tomato, give it a boost of nutrition and beneficial microbes by adding in your favorite amendments and fertilizers. I recommend using Espoma Tomato-tone, John and Bob’s Optimize, Maximize and Nourish as well as some good, old fashioned compost. Just a handful of each and your tomato growth will be exponential! Stake and support them right away: Employ a LARGE stake or tomato cage. Grafted tomato plants can grow up to 30% larger than regular tomatoes so support is essential. If possible, look for stakes that are at least 8 feet tall and 2 inches in diameter. The average cone-shaped cage will NOT be enough to hold these plants up by harvest time. Install your support system right after you transplant your starts. This is to prevent root damage. As soon as a tomato is planted, it begins shooting out new roots horizontally across the soil. If you wait a few weeks to drive stakes into the ground around your start, you run a high risk of damaging those new roots. So, stake those tomatoes early using strong, sturdy support.
Pruning is recommended: Prune to the fifth leave section then allow the plant to produce a second runner (allow a sucker to form a “V” and allow it to grow as a second main stem). Prune any lower branches keeping them away from the ground. These lower branches can root, effectively losing the benefit of the graft. Use Large Containers: If you are planting these in containers, use one that a soil volume of at least 20 gallons. Remember larger the plant, larger the root system and grafted tomatoes have enormous root systems! Get more planting and growing tips on my blog at Gotomato.us.com and stay tuned to my Facebook page for more tomato advice!