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October 14, 2013

How to Take Tomato Cuttings

I woke up one morning last week to a low temperature of just 37°! Yikes! The forecast was for 42° and I hadn't worried about the tomato and pepper plants at all. I threw on a jacket and ran out to the garden at first light,  but fortunately it wasn't cold enough to frost-nip the plants - yet. This just reinforces the fact that we can't count on that "average first frost date". It is, after all, just an average.

So, in order to keep my "perennial tomatoes" going, I took cuttings from my plants that very afternoon. I wasn't going to let winter claim my plants.

I cut more than I want to plant in the spring. Inevitably, some of them will die over the winter. On the other hand, I know from experience that I will be taking cuttings from these cuttings as winter progresses, to keep them from getting too tall and leggy. I never know how many I'll have when spring arrives.

Since my plants were sprawling across the lawn, I pruned off the longest branches and took my cuttings from those. That left the main body of my plants to continue ripening the last green tomatoes.

On the cut-off branches, I looked for suckers that were long enough and cut those off. Suckers are new stems that will grow at a junction point. It will look like the middle spike of a fork, sort of. See the photo above.

Of what was left of the branch, I cut off the flowers (above), and then the lower leaves (below), and discarded those.

It isn't necessary to have a leaf node on the stem you will keep; tomatoes will root from the tiny hairs along the stem. So I just cut the stem to a good length.

You might be tempted to use the leafy branches you cut off the bottom of the cuttings, but if there are only leaves on the stem - like the one below - don't keep it. It will root, but it won't ever divide and grow into a plant that will produce tomatoes. (I tried it, it doesn't work.) There needs to be a "fork" in the cutting that you keep.

Then I just stuck them all in jars of water. Yes, these are crowded and I'll need to divide them into a few more containers. Once they begin growing roots, I'll spread them out into even more jars. The roots tangle easily and it can be difficult to separate the plants later. You can use whatever containers you have on hand: jars, tin cans, plastic cups, etc. I like glass so I can see the level of the water inside.

They are heavy drinkers, so check the water level daily.

I've been asked if I only use suckers but I don't discriminate, I use both the tops of branches and suckers. I've only ever used an indeterminate tomato variety, so I can't vouch for the success of using a determinate variety.

A word of caution: if you are growing a rare heirloom, or a variety that you really don't want to lose, please don't "keep all your eggs in one basket," in other words, save seeds too. Things happen, and you could lose all of your cuttings before spring arrives. It never hurts to have a back-up plan!

Check out these posts for more information about my perennial tomato plant experiment:
Part 1 - 10/10/12
Part 2 - Update #1, Spring
Part 3 - Update #2, Year Two
Part 4 - How to Take Tomato Cuttings (This post)
Part 5 - Perennial Tomatoes: Year Four
Part 6 - Perennial Tomatoes: Year Five

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  1. Great minds think alike!!! I have started additional tomato plants before by taking cuttings but I have been pondering the possibility of taking cuttings before frost and maintaining them through the winter for spring plants. Thank you for documenting and sharing your work. :)

  2. :-) I've done the same, started new plants with cuttings, or stems that have broken off. Tomatoes are so easy to root, aren't they? It's a little more challenging keeping them alive over the winter, but still very doable. Good luck!

  3. Thank you so much for this informative post. It is Spring in my part of the world, so not quite time for cuttings, but now I know how to prepare when Autumn comes. :-)

  4. You are welcome, Krista!

  5. i'm headed out to our garden right now to find some suckers! =) so excited to decrease the initial expense of planting our garden in the spring in this manner! thanks for your info!

  6. You're so welcome, Joanna!

  7. I really enjoyed this post. I had no idea you could root tomatoes. I have so much to
    Kelly at Crackerdog Farm

  8. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Kelly. Yes, tomatoes root very easily. If you accidentally break off a branch of a plant, you can easily root it and plant it.

  9. Thanks so much for this perfectly-timed post! I am planning on doing hydroponics indoors this winter, and my husband and I were JUST discussing how to do tomato cuttings for this project. I said, "I will look it up!" and the next morning, there was your post. Thanks for the info! Also, I posted your article on my website's facebook page. :) Hope you don't mind!

  10. You're welcome, Raven. I'm glad it was timely.

    And thank you for posting it on your facebook page.

  11. I didn't know it was that easy! Great tips! I do appreciate you sharing with Home and Garden Thursday,

  12. I never thought of taking tomato cuttings! It's too late to do this year, since everything has frozen, but will give this a try next year. Thanks for the idea!



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