grafted tomato plants: a juicy followup

WHEN MY FRIEND ANDREW AND I TRIED GRAFTING tomato plants last spring in his greenhouse, the conversation went like this: “I wonder when we’ll see them ‘readymade’ in the garden centers,” he said. “Soon, I bet,” I replied. “Yes,” he agreed, “soon.” The garden center’s still closed up this way, but I can tell you this: At least one prominent mail-order catalog is selling grafted tomato seedlings. 

I’d first read of the tactic being used commercially, particularly in greenhouse growing, to improve yields from less-vigorous varieties like some heirlooms, and counter certain tough conditions or diseases. Now it’s available to the home gardener, too–and you don’t even need a razor blade or grafting clips of your own.

The extensive article I wrote last January on tomato grafting explained all the steps, with help from a video from Ohio State.

Our plants did fine; the grafts took easily, once the initial awkwardness of the slice-and-dice-and-reconnect motions were semi-mastered. Matching up rootstock (which you behead) with a scion (the top of another plant, the one you want the tomatoes from) was the trickiest part, since our faster-growing rootstock had reached a heftier diameter than the young scions. Matchmaking is always a little tricky, though, isn’t it?

  1. The first time I heard about grafted tomatoes was about three months ago and that was their use in greenhouse tomatoes. I didn’t imagine their usage in our gardens because I thought it would be cost prohibitative. That perception was reinforced when I came accrose Terratorial Seed catalog. They want $6.95 for a single graft and $11.50 for a double graft. OUCH! So I’m happy to hear it’s relativly simple to fdo yourself.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Karen. Windowsill experiments! I have tried many myself over the years. :)

      Welcome, Patrick. Yes, not cheap…but non-grafted tomato six-packs are $30.50 at Seeds of Change and three-packs are $14.95 at Burpee and so on, so $5 a mail-order seedling was the basic price I was seeing grown from seed in many places. The clips and rootstock seed are not cheap, either — but I experimented because I suspected it was something that would come to a greater level of awareness soon. Interesting.

      Hope to see you both again soon.

  2. Willi says:

    Your post on grafting tomatoes last year was one of my all time favorites, and it inspired me to want to try it myself this year. Then I moved and I don’t really have a spot for seed-starting, so I was thrilled to see that Territorial is also offering the grafted plants. Even though they cost a fortune, I think I won’t be able to resist trying a couple!

  3. Cary says:

    But Margaret Dear, how did the tomatoes do throughout the season? Were the heirloom tops more vigorous, resistant to disease, uber productive? I’ve been waiting patiently since last Spring to hear :)! Stay warm dear girl. thanks as always for your terrific words!

  4. liz says:

    territorial’s grafted plants are $6.95 each, but White Flower Farm is offering regular plants for $7.25 each! WFF is not a frugal source for anything, but that makes territorial’s plants seem a bargain.

  5. Nan says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Just wondering how your grafted plants did last season? Were they bountiful? Were they a disappointment? Worth the trouble.

    Love your website, btw!

  6. John says:

    I wonder if it would be practical to join the rootstock and scion with superglue? Perhaps a wedge cut on the scion and a slit in the rootstock would work?

    I’m going to try grafting my favorite tomato, Brandywine, on Oregon Spring hoping that the Spring rootstock will make for greater success in our Oregon Mediterranean summers.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, John. I don’t think the living plant tissue will like the glue to get inside its vascular system. Ouch! :) Some people cut v-shaped grafts, others angled cuts, etc. — so there are varying styles — but the idea is to get as much tissue of one plant touching as much tissue of another, and to have the right clip shape to hold it all together. Each grafter seems to have a preferred cut style, and a preferred tactic for holding things together. But no, not glue, tee hee.

  7. John says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Of course you couldn’t expect success is you put the glue between the scion and the rootstock, rather put the glue on the outside.

    It seems nuts, perhaps, but with a thick cyanoacrylate formula and the application of an accelerator I think that one could join the two parts with a sturdy ‘sleeve’ of glue.

    I’ll let you know this spring if it works.


  8. Louise says:

    Hi Margaret
    I found your excellent site when i googled tomato grafting, as the latest RHS (Royal Horticultural Society ) magazine has an article about the subject .Here in the UK most major seed and plant companied sell a limited range of grafted tomatoes, egg plants, cucumbers, peppers and melons for around £10 for 3 plants.

    The RHS suggests the following method for the amateur gardener:
    Establish the germination and growth rate of your chosen varieties and sow accordingly so the seedlings are the same sort of size at grafting time.

    Plant seeds of the rootstock and scion next to each other in the same pot.

    When the seedlings are around 4″ tall, cut the top off the rootstock to leave 1 or 2 leaves. Make a downward cut 1/2″ long in the side of the stem, not quite halfway through.

    Make a corresponding upward cut in the side of the scion, and fit the cut lips together. Do NOT cut the Scion from it’s rootstock.

    Gently bind the graft with adhesive tape and stake the plant.

    Grow on in the normal way with both root systems intact, and once the graft has taken cut off the rootstock of the scion just below the graft.

    Plant out as normal and always keep the plants well supported.
    There is no information on the removal of the tape so i guess it is down to common sense.

    Anyway, hope this might be encouraging as there are no clips required and it appears the plants are just grown on as usual. I’m certainly going to try. The article suggested Aegis and Arnold as rootstocks


    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Louise. Love this simpler version, thank you. And especially the “it is down to common sense” part, which I think should be the Step 1 of every garden how-to, right? Look at the thing, see what seems to be happening, respond in kind. See you soon again, I hope.

  9. judith dalmas says:

    old story in the “New Yorker” about a man who grafted a tomato unto a Joe Pye Weed and poisoned and killed several people. He gave away the many tomatoes the graft produced and the story went on week after week while they tried to figure out the connection of the people who were ill and those who died. His tomatoes were passed on hand to hand to complicate it.

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