How To Grow Grafted Veg
Improve yield and disease resistance by growing grafted vegetables
If you haven’t heard about the benefits of growing vegetables from grafted plants then read on! Suttons have been grafting vegetable plants for some time & use a process where they graft the rootstock onto the fruiting plant below its seedling cotyledon leaves.
This has been successfully done with all their vegetable varieties of tomato, aubergine, pepper, chilli & cucumber. The great advantage of the grafted plants over non-grafted plants is that they crop earlier & for a longer season whilst being more resistant to soil-borne pests, diseases and nutritional disorders.
Amongst the choice of grafted veg is the Midi cucumber F1 Quatro which produces tasty, crisp refreshing fruits all summer. It can be grown outside in a sheltered, sunny spot and has a strong resistance to powdery mildew, cucumber neck rot & downy mildew. If you fancy something a bit more exotic why not try F1 medina which is a chilli that ripens from green to bright red, it is not too hot but will spice up any dish. It can be grown outdoors in a sunny, sheltered location or in a greenhouse or conservatory but will not require additional heat early on.
Suttons were so impressed by these grafted plants that they have been developing a new grafting technique in the UK to ensure there is a plentiful supply of superior grafted plants available. So far they only carry out this process on their range of tomato plants but the results have been tremendous. The process involves growing two plants simultaneously, one with a tasty fruit and the other with a super-strong healthy rootstock. A sharp blade, slicing at an angle, is then used to remove the top from the fruiting variety & the bottom section of the rootstock. The two parts are then grafted together using a special clip which holds the two sections in place but drops off as the plant grows. The difference between this method & the old method is that the graft occurs above the first true leaf formed above the seedlings cotyledon leaves. This gives the plant a head start, making it think that it is older than it really is which makes it fruit lower down the stem & earlier in the season thereby increasing the yield.
The resultant plants grow on to produce up to 75% more fruit than the standard tomato plant as they crop further down the stem & have a longer fruiting season with a higher yield, a single grafted plant will produce at least 6-8 trusses. The grafted plants have excellent resistance to soil borne pests & diseases but there are other advantages too. Not only are these tomato plants perfect for growing in a small space such as a patio but their strong rootstock allows them to thrive at lower temperatures making them more suitable for growing outside as well as inside.
This year we have doubled our range of grafted tomatoes to 12 varieties in a range of sizes & flavours. The F1 Belriccio (main image) is a fleshy ‘Beefsteak’ tomato which produces huge crops of large, juicy tomatoes perfect for grilling, frying or baking. If you want a tomato which is ideal for eating or cooking then there is the deliciously sweet F1 Cupido which is a mini plum tomato.
A great choice for easy growing or for a beginner is the grafted bush tomato F1 Lizzano (above). This variety will grow vigorously in a pot without pinching out & is resistant to tomato blight. Just feed & water to get masses of tasty red cherry tomatoes for your summer salads. Tomato Hundreds & Thousands (below) lives up to its name by producing literally thousands of sweet, juicy, grape-sized tomatoes all summer long & is ideal for the patio or balcony.
Suttons didn’t stop at single grafted plants, they also produce ‘Double’ & ‘Duo’ grafted plants in some varieties. The Double plants have their tops pinched out after the graft has ‘taken’ which produces two fruiting stems on one plant.
They include a choice of three of Sutton’s most popular varieties & with two stems you get twice the crop with 5-6 trusses of fruit per stem. F1 Elegance produces standard sized fruits that are ideal for everyday use & are juicy & delicious. There are also doubles of Orangino & Juanita which is a vigorous cherry variety producing long, fishbone-shaped trusses of shiny red, deliciously sweet and tasty fruit.
The Duo grafted plants are formed from a rootstock plant which has had its top pinched out allowing two stems to grow. Each of the two stems then has a different variety of fruiting stock grafted onto it resulting in one plant with two different tomato crops producing at least 5-6 trusses per stem. The Duo that Suttons chose combines F1 Orangino & F1 Florryno on one plant. Both are cocktail sized tomatoes, Orangino is an orange colour which has a sweet refreshing flavour, due to its lower levels of acidity and the delicious Florryno is a red coloured tomato with a different flavour to Orangino.
To care for your plants when you bring them home check the compost is moist at & if required leave the plant to soak in approximately 5mm water for 5-10 minutes or until the top of the compost is damp. Start the plant off in a warm, light, airy place such as a windowsill or conservatory allowing it time to acclimatise & checking regularly to see if it needs watering. As the plant grows, pot it on according to the growing instructions ensuring that the graft is above the compost to stop the fruiting stock from rooting. Once the plant has grown to approximately 40cm (16”) in height or has started flowering, it can be moved to its final growing position in a greenhouse or, once the risk of frost has passed, in a nice sunny position on the patio or in the garden. As the plants are high yielding they will need regular feeding to make them crop well. Suttons recommend feeding with a high potash fertiliser from the time the first flower buds appear. A 9 litre (2 gallon) watering can full of a water & feed mix should be sufficient for each plant once, or twice a week as the season progresses. It may be necessary to water more frequently if the plants are drying out & the ideal time is early morning or late evening when the sun is not so strong.
During the summer you may need to carry out certain maintenance tasks on your plant depending on the variety. The F1 Lizzano tomato is pretty self-sufficient & will just require the removal of dying leaves as necessary, chiilies & peppers may need some support & leaves thinning out to allow more light to the maturing fruits, although this should be kept to the lower leaves initially. Maintenance on the other tomato varieties will include removing side shoots & decaying leaves, thinning of leaves, training the plant upwards & supporting fruits off the ground. Later in the season when your plant has a good crop of tomatoes growing, simply remove the growing tip or tips to direct all the nutrients and growth into the ripening fruits allow them to mature into large, juicy tomatoes. Pick your tomatoes when the fruits are an even orangey-red colour but are still firm, check your plant every couple of days as the fruits ripen gradually, then just snap the stalk off where it swells just above the tomato.
Chillies & peppers can be picked at different stages depending on the desired flavour, chillies become hotter and peppers sweeter as the red colour increases, simply cut the stem about 2.5cm (1") above the fruit using secateurs.
We also have grafted cucumbers, courgettes, aubergines & sweet potatoes for you to try! So if you fancy ‘growing your own’ and only have a small outside space these grafted plants can produce a plentiful range of veg for the table or barbecue all summer long!