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February 27, 2013

Perennial Tomatoes, Spring Update

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

Remember my intention to keep my tomato plants alive all winter?



I took cuttings from my adult plants last fall, before the first frost. I did the Bradley variety first, since they were the easiest plants to get to, and a frost was looming. The frost didn't materialize so I had enough time to also get cuttings from the hybrid Early Girl plants before loosing all the plants to winter.

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

If you stick tomato cuttings into a glass of water and wait, you will get roots. It's almost impossible to fail at this part.

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

Tomato plants are heavy drinkers, so check the water level daily and top it off as needed. If you have city water, let the water set in an open jar overnight to allow the chlorine to dissipate before using it on your cuttings.

I changed the water weekly, but I think the cuttings would benefit greatly from some compost tea during the winter months. I lost the Bradley cuttings in January. Since I'd cut them several weeks earlier than the others, I think they just ran out of energy and sustenance and they gave up. However, the Early Girl plants did well all winter. At about the end of February their dark green leaves began to lighten. They were probably ready for some nourishment. 

How to grow perennial tomato plants.
  
One had grown so tall and had even bloomed once. I pinched the flower off, not wanting the plant to put energy into producing fruit. I cut that plant in half and stuck the top half into another glass of water so that it too could root.

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

This week I potted them up.

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

I poked holes in the bottom of plastic cups.

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

I put some potting soil in the bottom of the cup, but not too much, since the "stems" on my plants were really long and I wanted to plant them deep. I placed the roots and stem carefully into the potting soil, and added more soil with a spoon.

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

Once the cup was full, I compacted the potting soil with my fingers, and added more to bring it back up to the brim.

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

I watered them well, and left them in the sink for awhile to drain. Remember, they've been living in pure water all winter long, so I'm sure they need lots of moisture for awhile until they adapt to their new environment.

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

Now, I have five potted tomato plants, already the size that nurseries will charge a premium price for this spring. They have very healthy root systems. Once the newest cutting develops roots I'll pot it up too, giving me half a dozen plants. I've bypassed the stage of fragile little seedlings that are so easy to lose to fungus, hard to harden off, and so attractive to cutworms.

Only six plants? Well, I lost some, remember. This was enough to test my theory that it would be possible to "clone" your own tomato plants. Next fall I can raise more, using cuttings from these plants, which are clones of last year's plants. That's pretty exciting!

How to grow perennial tomato plants.

Some varieties seem to work better than others. The Bradley cuttings never developed the good root system that the Early Girls did: the Bradleys had a few long, long roots, where the Early Girls had so many more roots.

How to grow perennial tomato plants.
  
It seems that we're limited only by the number of sunny windowsills we have! Unfortunately, I don't have many that my housecats can't access - they like to chew on anything that's green and knock pots over.

Let me know if you do this next winter, what varieties you used, and if you're successful.


Check out these updates on the project:
Part 1 - Perennial Tomatoes 
Part 2 - Update #1, Spring (This post)
Part 3 - Update #2, Year Two
Part 4 - How to Take Tomato Cuttings
Part 5 - Perennial Tomatoes: Year Four
Part 6 - Perennial Tomatoes: Year Five

 
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12 comments:

  1. That is awesome! I am totally planning to experiment using your technique next winter with whatever tomatoes we end up planting this year! :)

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  2. What a wonderful idea!!! Excited to try it next year. Thank you!

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  3. What a fabulous idea! I have tried to keep plants alive all winter and was successful once with one plant (here in Phoenix) but this would be much less work intensive I think. I am going to try it this winter. Thanks!

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  4. Thanks, Connie. It's really easy. Mine grew like crazy this year (their second year, from the original plants bought in 2012) and produced tasty tomatoes. Good luck.

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  5. Anonymous8:34 PM

    You should have planned the cuttings directly into soil or after they had sprouted roots.
    Another good tip for tomatoes (the nursery bought ones). Don't plant them vertical, instead lay them down so only half or 2/3 of the stem is above ground. The stem that you buried will produce roots creating a better rooted plant in the end. You might ask why not dig a deeper hole then? Well that would plant the root ball too deep and kill your little plant.

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    Replies
    1. I do plant the nursery plants (and those I grow) sideways like you suggested. It really works well!

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  6. Holy cow I never even considered that I could do this with my tomto plants. Its like a major AH HA moment....or "DUh Chrissy, ya blonde dolt". ha ha) I have been promising myself I would try to over winter my purple fountain grass which is an annual here in my zone 5, just because I love how huge it got this year and want to start next spring that dramatically. Thanks for opening my eyes and now I am looking at doing the same with tomato plants too!

    Thanks for sharing this at the Dishing It & Digging It Link Party. Hope you found some new friends and had fun as well.

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    1. I hope you can give it a try, Christine, and thank you for stopping by!

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  7. I am definitely going to have to try this! It would make a huge difference to our garden if I could succeed in this next spring!

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    1. I hope you're successful, Danielle. It really gives you a jump on the season.

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  8. I didn't realise that there were perennial tomatoes, Kathi! I really enjoyed this post. How lovely to be able to keep the plants going over the winter. Thank you so much for sharing, and for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party.

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    1. Thank you, April. :-)

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