Skip to main content

Why we graft vegetables?

Zack Black, a horticulture sciences student, concentrates as he grafts two tomato plants together in Xin Zhao’s lab. 

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Why do we really graft vegetables such as tomato while we can simply plant it directly to the soil?

Let’s go back to vegetable grafting history. Vegetable grafting is a unique technique that started in East Asia to overcome issues related to intensive cultivation using limited lands. There is an evident of self-grafting on gourd to produce larger fruit in an ancient book written in china in the 5th century. To increase yield and pest/disease control, it was used on watermelon using a squash rootstock in Japan. Research on grafting cucumber started in the late 1920s and eggplant in the 1950s. In 1990s, nearly 60% of open fields and greenhouse in Japan and 81% in Korea were reportedly planted with grafted seedlings. So, vegetable grafting has an old history in Asia and it is not just a fancy practice, but very practical.

Objective of using grafted seedlings:

  1. To achieve resistances to soil born disease and nematodes
  2. To increase yield and quality
  3. To improve the physiology of plants making them more adaptable to harsh environments (cold, hot, dry, flood).

Intensive labor input and resulting high costs of grafted seedling production have been issues preventing this technology from being widely adopted outside of Asia. The downside to grafted vegetables, apart from their added expense, is that its performance may not be dramatically different. For example, in some cases, better root system results in getting more water from soil and consequently production of fruits with less flavor.

Is that still worth? The answer is yes if you must grow vegetables in a difficult condition of poor soil and inadequate irrigation and high disease probability. Also, if there are low price grafted seedlings in the market available. For example, the price of just one grafted tomato plant in Burpee is $9, that is expensive when you compare it with non-grafted tomato seedling.