How and Why to Graft Heirloom Tomatoes

Learn how to create sturdy Solanum scions by grafting tomato seedlings onto rootstock for more successful plants and better harvests.

| Spring 2019

Photo by Getty Images/bacillux.

Interest in tomato grafting is high among gardeners these days, and grafting isn’t limited to modern hybrid plants. Heirloom tomato cultivars can benefit from being grafted onto sturdier rootstock than they naturally possess — the rootstock won’t alter the growth habit, fruit, or foliage of the plant, but it will offer more disease resistance and productivity. However, grafted plants can be expensive, and sources of grafted tomatoes are few. You can save money by learning how to graft yourself, and with a little practice, you’ll be skilled enough to graft any cultivars you wish.

There are several styles of grafting, all of which involve carefully cutting a shoot from the desired plant (called a “scion”), inserting it into a cut or slice in the desired rootstock plant, and caring for the wound until the plants grow together and make a strong join. I’ll focus on splice grafting, which is very similar to the grafting used on fruit trees. Because the technique was first developed in Japan, it’s also known as Japanese top grafting.

Materials for Grafting Tomatoes

To successfully graft tomatoes, you’ll need one specialty item: silicone grafting clips in sizes that will fit your plants’ stems (1.5 and 2.0 millimeter are the most commonly used sizes). The clips look like short tubes with a slit down the length, and you’ll use them to hold the scion and rootstock together while the graft heals.

Transparent grafting clips make aligning the cut stems of the scion and rootstock plants much easier, which makes the graft more likely to take. Photo by Adobe Stock/vallefrias.

You’ll also need a new, straight-edged razor blade, a spray bottle filled with sterile water, and a lidded, clear plastic bin that’s large enough to hold a tray of grafted plants.



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