If you are lucky enough to live in an area with a long growing season, you may be able to fit in two growth cycles for your tomato plants. Wouldn’t it be nice not to start from seed the second time around? Or, if your growing season is nearly over, you barely have to plan ahead to have year-round tomatoes. Learn how to “clone” your tomato plant: start an entire plant from the cutting of an existing plant, young or old. Leave those seeds in the shed!
Why clone your tomato plant?
If your garden has become too crowded, you may have to sacrifice a new plant in order to save the thriving one. Cloning the plant is a good alternative to simply thinning it. You’ll transplant a cutting somewhere that has more space, or even to a container. Read more about growing tomatoes in containers.
You may also want to share a beautiful plant with neighbors or family. Or, if you happen to admire someone else’s tomato plant and wouldn’t mind having your own piece, you can clone that plant starting with a simple snip. Cloning is also a good option if you just want to bypass the 6-8 week period before tomato seedlings become transplantable.
And, of course, it’s free! Tomato plants are particularly easy to clone–indefinitely–because even their stem cells can turn into roots.
Required and optional materials
Few materials are needed. You’ll want clean, sharp gardening shears or a razor blade. You will be temporarily transplanting your tomato cutting to a vessel, so choose one that’s about 4” deep (transparent vessels work best, as you can see whether the root system has developed). You’ll also want to pick up some potting soil and rooting compound (optional).
Taking a tomato plant cutting
Cut your existing plant right where the branches come off the main stem in a “V” shape, which indicates new growth. Using your shears or razor blade, cut at a 45-degree angle. Veteran gardeners also scrape the bottom inch of the new cutting. If preferred, you can dip the clean, wetted root into rooting compound before burying in soil.
Rooting your tomato plant
At this point you have multiple options: plant your cutting into a container filled with potting soil and mist with water twice per day. If the soil dries out too easily, cover the vessel with a plastic baggie, which will retain moisture. Keep near sunlight (not direct) and within 2 weeks you can transplant the now-rooted cutting.
Or, put your new cutting in a glass of water located in a sunny spot. Within 3-4 weeks, it will be rooted as well as you can transplant into soil.
Transplanting your new tomato plant
Once your cutting has a root system, carefully transfer the contents of the vessel into a non-translucent container, since roots are sensitive to direct sunlight. If weather permits, transplant your cutting directly outside in your garden bed or container. If you choose a container, pick one at least 12” deep.
If the weather outside is still frightful, simply move the cutting to a larger indoor vessel. Even a red plastic cup will do. Eventually, it will need to be planted in an even larger container outdoors.
For additional resources, see the following sites.
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of Andy / Andrew Fogg