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Grafted Watermelon Seedlings Improve Crop Success

How Grafted Watermelon Seedlings Help Improve Crop Successes in South Africa

More and more commercial farmers in South Africa propagate watermelons from grafted watermelon seedlings as available from nurseries that specialise in the bulk supply of such seedlings. However, appreciating the significance of this trend starts with gaining insight about the advantages of grafting.

Advantages of Growing from Grafted Seedlings

Apart from the advantages of growing from seedlings as opposed to growing from seeds, grafting provides the commercial crop grower with several benefits, such as these:

• The plants exhibit improved tolerance for soil-borne diseases and pests.

• Improved root vigour.

• Improved fruit quality.

• Improved tolerance to environmental conditions.

• Shorter period for establishment of the crop.

• Homogenising of fruit varieties.

• Plant uniformity.

• Reduced juvenile period of the plant.

• Uniting of one plant with another variety to get certain desired characteristics.

Origin of Grafting

Grafting entails the use of two living parts of plants and uniting them to create a plant that eventually grows as one. Though only one nursery in South Africa provides grafted watermelon seedlings in bulk for commercial farming practices, vegetable grafting is already well established in many European countries. The practice is also common in countries in the Far East. It can be traced back further than the 17th century, although the first commercial grafted vegetables were only grown in Asia in the 20th century. Grafted eggplants became common in the fifties, followed by tomato and cucumber production in the sixties. By the year 2000, more than 680 000 such vegetable crops were reported in the Far East. However, the cost of grafting and compatibility problems have, until recently, hindered the widespread use of such plants in other parts of the world. Now, however, South African farmers can order grafted watermelon seedlings for large-scale production at affordable prices.

Why Grafted Watermelon Plants Are Recommended

Continuous crop cultivation has led to problems with vegetable production. Soil-borne diseases also cause excessive crop damage. Chemicals have been applied in the past to address the problem but overuse of chemicals leads to environmental damage. Alternative means for fighting soil-borne diseases and nematodes have become essential and grafting has proven to be a viable alternative. The plants available today have higher tolerance for root diseases, especially Fusarium. It has also been shown that grafting improves the tolerance to sudden wilt. Another advantage is longer storage life, which is certainly beneficial for farmers wanting to export some of their crops. Grafting makes it possible to plant vegetables in fields where Fusarium wilt would otherwise be a problem. With the rootstock being considerably stronger, sufficient nutrients can be supplied to the scion, resulting in more fruits that are not only larger but higher in nutritional value.

Advantages of growing from seedlings as opposed to seeds include:

• Improved uniformity in fruit and stand.

• A lower risk of financial losses associated with the early stages of the plant.

• A lower number of chemical treatments is necessary.

• A shorter period from planting until readiness for harvesting.

• Pest- and disease-free plants from the nursery.

With watermelons being a popular crop in South Arica, gaining a competitive advantage in the market with disease-free and -tolerant plants helps farmers to position themselves more favourably for higher profits. The seedlings are grown in a controlled environment, ensuring optimal conditions during the early plant stages. As such, the probability of crop success is better because the farmer starts with good-quality stock. Considerable investment into research and testing by well-established nurseries such as Hishtil SA ensure top-quality grafted stock. Farmers receive technical support and advice, helping to improve the success rate of vegetable propagation in South Africa.

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