A lot of research is focused on answering that two-part question for watermelon and other crops (e.g., cucumber, cantaloupe, tomato, pepper). Full answers will emerge as growers and researchers share and integrate their experiences then evolve as circumstances change. Currently, most agree that using grafted plants is most beneficial when a resistant rootstock is selected to help offset the effects of a significant soilborne disease (e.g., Fusarium, Verticillium), regardless of crop. However, rootstocks with additional traits are being tested under other troublesome conditions (e.g., salinity, heat, cold, drought, flood). Growers are encouraged to listen as peers and research-extension and industry personnel share new information on the performance of grafted plants under various conditions. Information will be specific to crop, setting (field, high tunnel), system (conventional, organic), market, farm size, and other key variables.
Soil and other production conditions are not the only factors that influence the value of grafted plants to growers. Practices used to grow the plants are also important. Plant and row spacings (plant populations), irrigation and fertility programs, and planting and harvesting dates may also affect growers’ experiences with grafted plants.
Industry-research/extension partnerships can help fast-track arriving at answers to where and how grafted plants should be grown for growers to benefit most. We work with plots at OSU and on farms to understand the impacts of in-row spacing, fertility programs, and more on watermelon fruit yield and quality. Grafted and standard (ungrafted) plants are included in each experiment. Results from a multi-year study in Wooster through 2020 are summarized in a short video at https://go.osu.edu/vegeprosystemslab. Overall, fruit number and total weight have been significantly greater in grafted plots and at an in-row spacing of five versus four feet (between-row spacing of six feet in all cases). The results suggest growers can reduce plant populations but increase yield meaningfully – i.e., reduce plant costs while increasing income potential. Importantly, evidence of Fusarium in this experiment has been absent or minimal in all previous years. As explained and shown in the panels below, Fusarium is affecting the experiment significantly in 2021. Standard (ungrafted) Fascination and Sweet Dawn plants are very weak or dead while grafted versions of both (Carnivor, Pelops as rootstocks) remain healthy and vigorous. Harvest will begin soon and fruit yield data will be available by season’s end. Please contact me if you would like more information on this experiment or grafting.