Gardeners will be hearing about grafted tomato plants for spring, if they have not already. I get an armful of mail-order catalogs almost daily, and I’m noticing grafted tomatoes are being offered as the big news.
Maybe a couple of companies offered them in 2012, but I did not notice them. Nor did I see them in nurseries last year.
On paper, they sound like a brilliant idea. Botanists in Japan and Europe have been fooling with them and certain other vegetables as a way to produce a bigger and better crop for years. I received my first one to trial, a Mighty ’Mato, in 2011 from SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables. I received several grafted plants last spring from Burpee.
As often happens with trial plants, however, they were not ready to be shipped until Dallas already was warm at night and hot during the day, with high humidity. By that point, tomato plants need to be well-established to survive, not young transplants.
Heat and disease vanquished my trial plant in 2011 before it even got its roots settled. Last year’s June hail storm turned Burpee’s young grafted plants into mush in seconds.
I have no idea, therefore, whether grafted tomatoes will live long enough to be productive. But the growers and their data have convinced a few retailers to stock them this year.
“I had great success last year with them,” Tim Runte, a buyer for Calloway’s Nursery, says in an email. “Very impressed with vigor and production.” Calloway’s expects to receive its shipment the last week of March.
Nikki Rosen with North Haven Gardens reports: “We will have the Mighty ’Matos grafted tomatoes and the veggies, as well. The first round arrives the first week of March. The second round arrives about the second or third week of March.”
One of the touted benefits of grafted plants is their improved vigor and disease resistance.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, for instance, has a graph on its website showing its own results comparing nongrafted hybrids to the same hybrid grafted onto a preferred rootstock. In every case, the yields from grafted tomatoes averaged 40 percent higher than the crop produced by its nongrafted counterpart. Burpee touts a 50 percent bigger yield.
GardenLife, a mail-order company, has 33 varieties of single-graft tomatoes, including what are called heat-tolerant varieties such as “Costoluto Genovese,” “Anahu” and “Homestead 24.” The company also inventories grafted eggplants and peppers.
“Our grafted tomatoes are excellent choices . because of the disease resistance and vigor of the SuperNatural rootstock,” John Bagnasco, president of GardenLife, writes in an email. “Besides producing at least double the crop, the plants will be more resistant to environmental stresses like heat, cold and drought.
“While the rootstock is vitally important,” Bagnasco says, in hot climates, “it is always wise to choose a scion variety that does well in . heat, like ’Costoluto Genovese,’ ‘Heatwave II’ or ‘Chocolate Stripes.’ Another good idea is to pick varieties that ripen before it gets hot. At gardenlife.com, you can buy a tomato called ‘42 Days’ that is actually ripe 42 days after being planted. There is also a beefsteak-type tomato called ‘Mrs. Maxwell’s Big Italian’ that is ripe in only 69 days.”