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Gardener's Dirt: Grafting vegetables increases production, disease resistance

By By Roy Cook
March 10, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 9, 2011 at 9:10 p.m.

It is not necessary to invest a lot of money in grafting materials. Small hair clips can be used for cleft grafts and small pieces of drinking straw, slit down the side, can be used for top grafts. These, in addition to a plant marker and pencil to mark the plant, two sizes of plastic cups to serve as mini greenhouses, a razor blade and plastic gloves, complete the list of needed materials.

Materials neededA GRAFTED HEIRLOOM TOMATO PLANTLUNCH AND LEARN WITH THE MASTERS

Tomato rootstock

Tomato scion

Container labels

2 plastic cups of different sizes (to make mini-greenhouse)

Razor blade

Silicone grafting clips or short piece of drinking straw slit down the side

Rubber gloves

Pencil (for marking labels)

Source: Thomas LeRoy - Montgomery County AgriLife Extension Agent- Horticulture

PROVIDES THESE QUALITIES:

Resists soil-borne diseases

Healthier, longer-lived plants

Flavor, color and shape diversity

Improves fruit production by using rootstocks that are efficient in water and nutrient uptake.

Topic: "Spring Vegetable Gardening," presented by Victoria County Master Gardener Gerald Bludau

Noon-1 p.m., Monday

Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, 2805 N. Navarro St.

Free to the public

Bring your lunch and drink

At this point, you are probably asking "What did he say - grafting tomatoes?" Yes, that is what was said.

Surprisingly, grafting of vegetables has been going on for hundreds of years.

GOING ON FOR YEARS

Grafting of gourds is documented in 5th century China. Grafting eggplants became popular in Asia in the 1950s and, by the 1960s, cucumbers and tomatoes were commonly grafted.

JUST GETTING STARTED IN U.S.

Today, more than 95 percent of the watermelons and oriental melons in Japan, Korea and Taiwan are being grafted on squash and gourd rootstocks before transplanting, according to The Journal of the Japanese Society for Horticultural Science. That accounts for more than a billion grafted seedlings per year in Korea and Japan.

So, you see it is quite commonplace in Asia, but just getting started in the United States.

GRAFT TO PREVENT DISEASE

Why graft vegetables? The main reason to consider grafting vegetables is to increase production because of losses from soil-borne diseases such as fusarium wilt, bacterial wilt, verticillium wilt and nematodes. If you have ever tried to grow an heirloom variety of tomatoes, and they were growing well for awhile, and then turned yellow as they wilt, the most likely reason is the infection of one or more strains of fusarium wilt, common in soils in warm climates.

All these soil-borne diseases are difficult to control and many heirlooms have no resistance. Thus grafting them onto resistant varieties can provide the needed resistance.

EASY-TO-GRAFT TOMATOES

You will be surprised how easy it is to graft tomatoes.

Start by selecting a hybrid for the rootstock that has good resistance to diseases. Use a variety that has VFN, VFFN after the name. I like to use celebrity, big boy, large red cherry, etc.

Your selection for the heirloom is strictly your choice. My favorite is brandywine.

The desired graft piece is called the scion, which will go on top of the rootstock.

STEPS TO SUCCESS

Plant your seeds so the seedlings will be the same size when you do the graft - the best stage is when they have 3 to 4 true leaves. While you are waiting for the seeds to germinate and grow, go on the Internet or to your extension office and study the different ways and procedures for grafting tomatoes.

Simply slice at a 45-degree angle the top (scion) off the desirable plant and do the same with the rootstock, placing the scion on top of the rootstock and holding it in place for about a week.

Clamps, such as tiny hair clips, can be used for cleft grafts and small pieces of drinking straw, slit down the side, can be used to hold them together.

Graft plants of the same size and keep them covered, shielded from light for 3 to 5 days after grafting.

After about another week of vigorous new growth and hardened off, they are ready for planting. When planting in the garden, keep the graft union well above the soil line and stake or cage the tomato to prevent rooting above the graft.

RESULTS

Because of the rootstocks resistance to soil-borne disease, it has been reported that some tomato yields have increased by as much as 21 percent. Fruit pH, flavor, sugar, color, carotene content and texture can sometimes be affected by grafting and/or the type of rootstock used.

While the novelty is there, the grafting procedure is fairly simple, takes several weeks of special plant care, and is usually accomplished to improve quality by minimizing soil diseases through resistant rootstock. It is not a panacea to all vegetable production problems, and growers must manage their crop for other pests. It certainly is interesting, though.

SUCCESS WITH PRACTICE

Go ahead and try your hand at grafting tomatoes. You will find out it is relatively simple, even for beginners. You can expect at least half of your grafts to succeed. And after practice, you will hardly ever lose a plant.

I think that you will agree, grafting tomatoes is a lot of fun and can produce some nice vegetables.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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