I love visiting garden centres at this time of the season and checking out the tomato seedlings on sale especially the grafted tomato plants.

Grafted Tomato PlantGrafted plants are becoming very popular with the advantage of being able to grow a red and yellow variety on the same plant. If you think that’s unusual, you can even buy a tomato and potato plant grafted together called the “Tomtato”.

You may ask … why don’t we just grow two separate plants instead of one – it would be less expensive than buying a grafted plant? good point!

Although one plant with two stems takes up less soil space than two plants, you can probably achieve a better result from growing two plants. If you wish, you can create a double stem on any tall variety without having to graft a plant.

What Is Grafting?
For those who wonder what grafting is, it is growing two plants and healing (grafting) them together – the bottom of a disease resistant plant grafted to the top of a favourite variety.

This maximises disease resistance and vigour in the bottom part, and you can add your favourite variety to the top. This gives a disease resistant plant that produces a bigger harvest.

Here’s a brilliant video – don’t let this machine near your seedlings!

Here’s how to create two stems on one plant.
Allow a side shoot to grow into a second stem below the first truss. This is particularly successful on vigorous cherry varieties.

Some gardeners don’t prune their tall varieties and allow all the side shoots to grow. This works best if you live in an area of the world with a long growing season – I wouldn’t advise it in the UK with medium or large varieties.

Bush Varieties
Of course the above is for tall indeterminate varieties, bush varieties are not usually pruned because their flowers and fruit grow on leaf branches rather than on trusses that are directly attached to the main stem.

Potting On
One of the issues with sowing early is that plants may become slightly leggy.
When potting on I always wish that pots were a bit deeper but without being wider at the top because a wider pot takes up more room.

Enter the plastic pint glass and the take away coffee cup!
They are deep and should keep your plants happy until final position planting. The only disadvantage is stability and making holes in the bottom – be careful!

Tomato plants in plastic pint pots.
Tomato plants in plastic pint pots.

Safety and Support Canes
On the subject of safety, A+E departments see plenty of gardeners each season and one of the most painful experiences is to have the end of a support cane in your eye. Canes around 2 to 4 feet are the most dangerous because it’s difficult to see the tip when you bend down to inspect a plant – it’s easy to make the tips more visible.

Watering – A Big Issue
For me, the biggest issue when growing tomatoes in containers is watering – if I can get that right, the rest is taken care of.

With water comes nutrients, so feeding is sorted and if plants can be watered in a wet/dry cycle, roots will receive both moisture and air.

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at some of the watering systems available and also set-ups that can be put together without spending a lot of money.

If you haven’t sown your tomato seeds yet … now’s a good time!



Two conditions seedlings hate are:
Damp air and wet saturated roots. Try not to over water your seedlings.

Having dry-ish soil just before transplanting makes it easier to pot up and keep the roots from breaking.

Propagators with hoods
If you are using a propagator with hood, open the vents as soon as the seedlings germinate and remove the hood within 24 hours. This will help to reduce the threat of fungal disease and “Damping-off”. This condition is caused by fungal spores in damp conditions.


5 Responses

  1. Johann olafsson
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    I grow all my tomato plants in trays and have them all outside. Due to the weather I have left it till the last minute to seed. 10 days ago I seeded rootstock seeds. Last Saturday I seeded my tomato plants. This is the second year I am trying this, last year was a total flopp.. Any advice on how would be best to treat the rootstock plants before being grafted? Last year most of the died about a week after I had grafted them. And are there any particular tomato plants that are more suitable for grafting.?

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Johann,
      In order to graft successfully, you will need to keep the newly grafted seedlings in a warm dark place such as an electric propagator with a cover over the top for the first 3 or 4 days then slowly allow more light in.
      This stops plants from transpiring and losing moisture until the graft has healed.
      It can take up to two weeks before a graft is fully healed. It is possible to graft in the airing cupboard but the temperature needs to be reasonably constant.

      • Johann olafsson
        | Reply

        Hi Nick,
        Thank you very much for your reply and advice. Last year I did keep the seedlings in a dark place. As you point out I recon I was too quick putting then into direct light. after 5 days I took them straight to the propagator I had outside. I will have that in mind this time. Fingers crossed I will have better luck this time.

  2. Helen
    | Reply

    Hi Nick
    As you have said watering is an issue here too
    My seedlings are doing very well, but its starting to get very hot here now
    I only water them every other day and just put a little water into trays at bottom of pots
    Am I doing it right?

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Helen,
      That sounds fine. It’s best not to sit them in water overnight. If they can use up the water in their trays before bedtime so much the better!

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