Best Tomato Plants are Grafted for Heat and Harvest
The growing season got off to a painful start this year. Frigid temperatures in early May delayed the season by two weeks; even now the evenings are chilled. Early cold took its toll on several of my tomato, pepper and squash plants that normally take off and thrive. Once a plant stunts, or shows signs of weakness it needs to be replaced by a vigorous new plant. The first week of June is the window for this transition. New grafted varieties are the best plants for heat and increased harvest.
We are now grafting tomatoes just like fruit trees, grapes and roses have been for years. A grafted tomato may sound odd, but they make a difference in mountain gardens. The most delicious tomato varieties are weak and disease prone heirlooms your grandfather grew. By grafting these better tasting heirloom tomatoes onto a productive, disease resistant rootstock we get the best of possibilities in the garden. Most of this years garden is dedicated to these awesome new tasty varieties.
Now we get bigger, great tasting crops on healthier, vigorous plants with greater tolerance for seasonal temperature swings while extending the growing season in both directions. The root system on a grafted tomato grows 4-5 times larger a than regular tomato that allow lusher foliage and produce several more pounds of fruit than the tomatoes from yesteryear.
Indigo Rose grafted – The 1-2 oz cocktail sized fruits have a plummy overtone. The traditional red meat exhibits purple skin when exposed to sun.
San Marzano grafted – One of the few tomatoes that is low in sugar and acid. For canning, paste, and a killer spaghetti sauce, it’s hard to beat. The 4 inch long fruits are very prolific forming in clusters of 4-6 fruits.
Pineapple grafted – the best tasting right off the vine. A beefsteak type with huge fruits often striped in red and boasting fewer seeds and more solids. Very aromatic with a fruity aftertaste, for a ‘real tomato’ experience you just can’t find with less robust, milder hybrids!
Replace slow starters and those wrecked by the cooler than usual spring. If you add a new grafted tomato they will be planted differently than hybrids. Do not follow the usual practice of deep planting or mulching, since roots formed on the scion lack the advantages the rootstock brings to the union. Keep the graft well above ground and pinch off any suckers from beneath the graft. Handle grafted plants gently and stake them well, providing ample support to avoid damaging the graft.
The rapid growth of a healthy tomato plant often leads to problems. Whether grafted, heirloom or traditional your pruning techniques affect production.
A tomato is a solar powered sugar making machine. For the first month, all of the sugar a tomato produces is directed towards new foliage. During this stage, tomato plants grow very rapidly, doubling in size every 14 days. Eventually, a plant makes more sugar than the single growing tip can use, which signals the vine to make new side branches and to start blooming. This usually happens when the vine is just over a foot tall.
If unsupported, the increasing weight of new fruit in combination with multiple side branches forces the plant down onto the ground. Once the main stem is horizontal, there is an increased tendency to branch even more. Left to its own, a vigorous indeterminate tomato plant can easily cover a 4 x 4 foot area with as many as 10 stems and less fruiting vigor.
Prune for plant health – Suckers form in the axils between the leaves and the main stem. Encourage a strong main stem by removing all suckers below the first flower cluster; this is especially important for graphed tomatoes.
Maximize the efficiency of photosynthesis while minimizing the risk of disease. This is best accomplished by ensuring each leaf has plenty of room and is supported off the ground. When a tomato vine lies on the ground, or when its growth is extremely dense, many of its leaves are forced into permanent shade, greatly reducing the amount of sugar they produce. If a leaf uses more sugar than it makes, eventually it will yellow and drop off. A pruned and staked plant will produce larger fruit 2-3 weeks earlier than an unsupported vines.
A properly pruned and supported single stem tomato presents all its leaves to the sun. Most of the sugar produced is directed to developing fruits, since the only competition is a single growing tip. The result is large fruits that are steadily produced until frost. If more stems are allowed to develop, some of this precious sugar production is diverted from the fruit to multiple growing tips. Grow your fruits, not more tips.
‘Tomato & Vegetable Food’ 4-4-6 applied every 6 weeks insures continuous fruit success well into fall. Keep the vines cleaned, upright and always facing the sun for problem free tomatoes that produce by the dozen.
Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.
http://wattersgardencenter.com/2013/tomato-pruning-best-practices/ Tomato Pruning - Best Practices