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Learning to Grow: It’s tomato planting time

Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 5:02 p.m. CST
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Since this process is a bit tricky and time-consuming, a grafted tomato plant is considerably costly.

It appears spring has finally arrived. The forsythia, crab trees, magnolias and redbuds have all bloomed. One thing nice about the cooler, spring weather was having these beautiful trees and bushes hold onto to their blooms a bit longer. 

A couple of weeks ago, at the community garden plot I share with my friend MaryAnn, we planted potatoes, onions, broccoli, collard, and kale plants and beets and swiss chard from seeds. Now, I am getting ready for the warmer season vegetables, and this year I am excited about tomatoes – specifically grafted tomatoes!

Grafted tomatoes are the biggest thing to hit the vegetable growing world in 20 years according to some industry specialists. Grafting has been used in other food production crops such as apples and grapes for a century but only recently has grafting of vegetables become popular in this country for commercial growers; now they are finally reaching the home gardener.

A grafted tomato combines disease resistant rootstock with a variety known for its great taste. Using the grafting technique of combining these two tomato plants should give us the best of both worlds – strong production along with a great tasting tomato.  

Briefly, seedlings for the rootstock and the above-ground portion of the plant – the scion – are grown separately. When they reach the appropriate size, they are grafted together.

There is a healing period, and then they are packaged for shipping to the greenhouses where they are grown for the consumer.

Since this process is a bit tricky and time-consuming, you should expect to pay considerably more for a grafted tomato plant.

In order to ensure success with your grafted tomato plant, it is very important to plant to tomato with graft above the soil line – not deep – which is typical. Tomato plants root very easily so the graft must be above the soil line to maintain the integrity of the rootstock.

Some of the varieties that I have seen available in the local area are Defiant, Big Beef, Brandywine Red, Early Girl, and San Marzano. 

I’m off to purchase my grafted tomato plant before they sell out. My plan is to plant a grafted Brandywine next to an heirloom Brandywine and do a side-by-side comparison. I’ll keep you posted later with the results.

My mouth is already watering at the thought of that first tomato picked from the garden, and placing it between two slices of toasted bread, with lettuce and bacon. Mmmm.

• Vicki Hagstotz is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the office at 630-584-6166.

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