February 27, 2013

Perennial Tomatoes

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. However, it didn't materialize, and I was able to also get cuttings from the Early Girl plants before loosing all the plants to winter. If you stick tomato cuttings into a glass of water and wait, you will get roots.

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, until the end of February when their dark green leaves began to lighten.

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 the plant in half and stuck the top half into a glass of water so that it too can root.

This week I potted them up.

I poked holes in the bottom of plastic cups.

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

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

I watered them well, and let them set 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.

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. To me, that's pretty exciting!

 Some varieties might 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.

We're limited only by the number of sunny windowsills we have! (Unfortunately, I have only one east-facing window, no south windows, and only one west-facing window that the housecats can't access.)
Let me know if you do this next winter, what varieties you used, and if it's successful!

Part 1 - 10/10/12

Part 2 - Update #1, Spring (This post)

Part 3 - Update #2, Year Two

Part 4 - How to Take Tomato Cuttings

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

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

  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!

  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.

  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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