How to Over-Winter Your Tomato Plants


How to over-winter your tomato plants.

Did you know that tomato plants are actually perennials? They are! I started experimenting with this in the winter of 2012 and have honed my methods until now I'm able to keep them alive over the winter with a pretty good success rate. Here are my secrets.

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 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 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 pruning these plants as winter progresses to keep them from getting too tall and leggy, which gives me more cutting that I also nurture until spring. 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.

Oh, about those green tomatoes. Here's what you can do with them.


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 all of my 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 before I put my tomato cuttings in it.

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. I poke a hole in the bottom of the cup for drainage.

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 benefit from some diluted fish emulsion, compost tea or other plant food occasionally over the winter.

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.

Did you know that tomatoes are perennials in warm climates? Here's how you can over-winter your tomato plants indoors and plant them again in spring.

Yes, you can grow perennial tomato plants! I've been doing it for years. Here's how to keep them alive over the winter.


Related posts:
Can you keep tomatoes alive over the winter? The experiment began here!
How to Can Tomatoes, No Matter What Kind You're Growing
The Best Way to Root Tomato Plants from Cuttings
An Easy Garden Trellis
A Comparison of Five Heirloom Tomato Varieties




This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops


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30 comments

  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. :)

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  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!

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  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. :-)

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  4. You are welcome, Krista!

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  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!

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  6. You're so welcome, Joanna!

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  7. Anonymous9:54 AM

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

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  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.

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  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!

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

    And thank you for posting it on your facebook page.

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

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  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!

    Vicki

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  13. Very good info. Do you mind if I publish the name of your site on my fb gardening page? I'm not going to put the pics or info, just suggest people to go to your blog for the info. Thanks

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    1. Sure, sharing a link is always appreciated!

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  14. Great tips Kathi, thank you. Sadly, all our tomato plants were done in by an early frost this year - last week in August! I'll take some clippings from my neighbour's greenhouse tomatoes though and give this a shot!

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    1. I'm sorry to hear that, Sarita. I'm glad you have a neighbor you can get some cuttings from.

      All the cuttings I'd nurtured through last winter and planted out in spring were killed by a late freeze. You just never know...

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  15. Going to give this a try but will still keep some seeds just incase. Simple homestead Blog Hop Link Party.

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    1. Absolutely! I recommend saving seeds FIRST, and doing this as an added extra so you can have some established plants when spring arrives.

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  16. farmgal8:18 AM

    I often bring in a few cherry tomato plants to overwinter, while they tend to not produce tomoato's for a certain part of hard winter, they are lovely to have fresh tomato's into Christmas and then again early into fall. I like the idea of starting new plants that grow over the winter and are planted out as big plants in the spring.. Thanks for sharing on the hop.. Enjoyed reading your tips.

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    1. I'm envious! I wish I had a good spot to overwinter a plant or two indoors!

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  17. I love the idea of some early tomatoes so I am tempted to give this a go but it will have to wait until next winter when our house extension should be finished and I will have room on window sills to grow them on. Popping over from the Simple Homestead blog hop 💚

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    1. Don't forget by next fall. :-) Windowsill space is at a premium here too... there are only a couple of windows that the cats can't reach.

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  18. Oh my gosh! Just in time! Thank you for sharing this how to! I'm definitely saving mine before the frost kills them this year. Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop!

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad you saw it in time, Kelly!

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  19. Thank you for the information. I'll try with some cuttings and i'll share my experience in spring. Good luck to everyone!

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  20. I've been cloning my heirloom tomatoes by water rooting for many years now. No one ever taught me to do it, it just made sense to do. If you can clone house plant trimmings in water then why not vegetable trimmings? I don't limit it to tomatoes, I cloned several garden plants that way. I have never limited my new plant choices to suckers or pruned top growth. I always use the lower branches.
    so use all the lower limbs that I remove that would be touching the ground or end up below the soil . I read what you said about lower branches not forming proper plants and that the section to be cloned has to come from a fork in the plant (a sucker) but I have proven that is not the case. Year after year I stick my lower branches in water, root them, plant them, and they turn into a plant no different than any other. They branch out form flowers and produce fruit and by the time they are full size you can't tell they are any different than a plant started from seed . I'm not sure if using the suckers has any benefits over using the lower branches, but the lower branches produce perfectly acceptable fruit producing plants. I pinch my suckers as soon as I notice them, at their smallest size, usually about a quarter inch. I never let them grow big enough to root which is why I always use the lower branches for cloning.

    I guess if you fail to pinch a sucker and it gets big, you can clone it, but my 45 years of organic gardening has demonstrated year after year that the lower branches of tomato plants, rooted in water, produce a very healthy, multi branched, well fruiting duplicate and actually I have taken lower branches off the plants cloned from lower branches to make a 3rd Generation clone all in the same season.

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    1. Some people told me it would never work, but it made sense to me so, like you did, I tried it anyway!

      I guess I didn't explain myself well about the lower branches. I tried cutting the lowest "branch" off and cloning that, but it was just the one stem with no "fork" in it - one stem with leaves growing off of it. Because there wasn't a "fork," there wasn't any place for the stem to continue growing "up" and for more stems and leaves and flowers to form, so in that regard it didn't work. Certainly if you cut a lower branch that has more than one stem with leaves, it will work!

      I've used branches that weren't suckers too - branches that I pruned off, and branches that broke! It doesn't have to be a sucker.

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  21. Great idea! This would be a good way to propogate new tomatoes this year since I didn't get any ripe fruit on my plants!

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    1. Yes, let those plants be good for something, Lisa!

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