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October 14, 2013

How to Over-Winter Your Tomato Plants

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.

How to over-winter your tomato plants.

So, in order to keep my tomato plants going, I took cuttings from my plants that very afternoon. I wasn't going to let winter claim my plants. My goal is to keep these cuttings alive indoors over the winter and plant them in the garden in spring, as a kind of tomato clone. I've done this for the past couple of years with about 50% success.

I take more cuttings 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 also 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.

How to over-winter your tomato plants.

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, such as in the image above. It looks sort of like the middle spike of a fork.

How to over-winter your tomato plants.

I cut off any flowers (above) and the lower leaves (below), and discarded those.

How to over-winter your tomato plants.

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.

How to over-winter your tomato plants.

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, and it will be a waste of your time and energy. There needs to be a "fork" or a split stem in the cutting that you keep.

How to over-winter your tomato plants.

Then I just stick 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.

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Change the water in the containers daily. If you have city water or rural water, let the water stand uncovered for at least 24 hours before putting your cuttings in it to allow any chlorine to dissipate into the air. After losing some cuttings one year for no apparent reason, I think it was the result of our rural water. I use filtered water now and let it stand for 24 hours.

How to over-winter your tomato plants.

As soon as the tomato cuttings form roots, I plant them in plastic cups filled with potting soil.

How to over-winter your tomato plants.

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 used indeterminate tomato varieties, so I can't vouch for the success of using a determinate variety.

How to over-winter your tomato plants.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so they will probably need some diluted fish emulsion, compost tea or other plant food. 

How to overwinter your tomato plants

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.

Related posts:
How to Can Tomatoes, No Matter What Kind You're Growing
An Easy Garden Trellis
A Comparison of Five Heirloom Tomato Varieties
When to Plant Your Fall Garden

How to keep your tomato plants alive all winter long and plant them again in the spring. #tomato #tomatoes #gardening

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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. Anonymous9:54 AM

    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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