Grafting to Create a Healthier Tomato Plant

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Tomato grafting is a great way for gardeners to grow their favorite tomatoes on rootstock that is resistant to the soil-borne diseases that plague many gardens. When grafting tomatoes, the preferred tomato cultivar (scion) is clipped to a disease-resistant root stock then left undisturbed. By providing the right conditions, the two vascular systems grow together, producing a plant with desirable fruit and strong, resilient roots.

Young grafted tomato. Photo credit: Marty Fisher, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer of Durham County.

Young grafted tomato. Photo credit: Marty Fisher, Master Gardener volunteer of Durham County.

Forty tomatoes, a combination of grafted and ungrafted, were planted at Briggs Avenue Community Garden on May 1. Pink Berkley Tie Dye was chosen as the “scion” or top. For the sake of comparison, 12 each of two different root stocks, RST 04-105 and DRO 141TX, were used. Both were chosen for their resistance to wilt and verticillium, common tomato diseases in the Piedmont. Eighteen ungrafted tomatoes were also planted so we could compare performance of grafted vs non-grafted. To replicate what is often typical in a home garden, the 4’ X 10’ plots were densely planted with two rows of four tomatoes. There are 2.5’ between tomatoes and 2’ between rows. They will “grow up” on stakes. The tomatoes are being monitored three times a week for leaf health and wilt. Ultimately the poundage and quantity of fruit will also be measured, and produce will be donated.

Over the last several months, Master Gardener℠ volunteers of Durham County have also been working to develop information that will help tomato lovers throughout the Triangle succeed in grafting their favorite tomatoes onto disease-resistant root stock. To see how our tomato trial is going, check out the “Tomato Grafting Project” tab on the  Master Gardener volunteers of Durham County’s blog.

Tomato grafting project experimental beds. Photo taken by the author.

Tomato grafting project experimental beds. Photo taken by the author.