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Propagating tomatoes from cuttings

Overview/background:

I recently stumbled upon a fairly simple method for growing tomato plants from cuttings.   It happened by accident when I unintentionally knocked off a tomato branch. Because I felt bad about the plant trauma, I put the broken branch in water.  Turns out that roots grew from the cutting.

The following are steps/details for this technique to help optimize your growing success.  This is a great option if you want to grow lots of tomato plants… esp from branches that you may have trimmed off anyways in the process of training your plants.

Fresh, organic, homegrown, Cherokee tomato’s. Yum!

Step 1:

Cut a growing branch from a healthy tomato plant.  Making a clean cut is probably a good idea.  However, I discovered on my first attempt that it didn’t matter how clean the branch cut/break was.

 

Step 2:

Trim back lower branches and flowers/fruit to redirect energy to root growth.  Also cut off any sad looking-yellowing or browning branches. A good overall length/height for a cutting seems to be about 6-8 inches.

propagating tomatoes from cuttings

Remove lower branches from branch cutting.

Step 3:

Put the cut end of the branch in a container of clean water.  No need to add any growth hormones or other chemicals. Replace the water when needed to keep it clean. Put the cutting in bright shade.  Having the tomato cutting located by the kitchen sink makes it easy to regularly monitor and address water issues when indicated.

tomatoes from cuttings

Tomato branch in clean water (Removed flowers and branches to the side)

Step 4:

Wait for a good root ball to form (it typically takes a few weeks).  Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work; its not 100%, but it works more often than not.  Doing a bunch of cuttings at once increases the chances for success.

Groing tomato roots

Tomato cutting roots growing in water

Step 5:

When the root ball is robust looking, remove the cutting from the water.  Cut back lower leaves and branches to reduce evaporation stress related to root-maturity discordance.

propagating tomatoes from cuttings

Tomato plant cutting taken out of water to show the new root system

tomato cutting roots

Close up picture of the tomato cutting’s new root system

Step 6:

Carefully untangle the roots. Gently place your rooted-cutting deep into a container and fill in with additional soil to cover all the roots as well as several inches of the stem above.  This deep planting technique will encourage additional root growth above the existing root ball and also promote stability of the plant.

propagating tomatoes from cuttings

Untangled tomato roots placed deep in container with some soil at the bottom.

Step 7:

Stake the plant for stability. I like to use the green-Velcro adjustable plant ties to secure the plant in place because it is just easy and forgiving. However, natural fiber string etc, works great too. Then water the heck out of your new transplanted tomato plant.

Propagate tomato cutting

Stake propagated tomato plant

propagating tomatoes from cuttings

Deeply water newly planted cutting

Step 8:

Place newly planted cutting/plant in cool bright shade and keep the soil moist.  After a few more weeks, you should see new growth. At this point move to partial shade/sun and then full sun.  Congrats on a new cloned plant!

As a side; there are so many awesome/tasty heirloom tomatoes that are perfect for home growing. One of my favorites is the Purple Cherokee tomato. Its definitely worth trying out if you see the seeds in your local seed store.

Also; a similar process of cloning works great for propagating rosemary plants (with a few specific modifications).  For more info about that technique, see link for specific details on easy rosemary propagation.

propagating tomatoes from cuttings

Put newly planted cutting in shade.

 

Tomato propagation

Healthy, mature tomato plant flowering and ready to produce lots of fruit.

 

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

2 comments

  1. Hi, Doc! I like your step-by-step instructions on how to propagate tomatoes. I’v cloned San Marzano, and others, easily, with much success. I’d like to do the same with my one Purple Cherokee, but it’s not working… My question is: has this particular variety ever given you problems in the past? Thanx

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Larry
      Great question.

      I am not surprised that you have found variation in your tomato propagating success.
      Some tomatoes seem to be ultra programmed to do this and you can see it on their branches… The little white nubs on some tomato branches are roots just waiting to happen.

      I havent thought about it till you mentioned it, but I wonder if the ‘indeterminate’ (vining) varieties of tomatoes are more likely to root because their branches are more likely to be on the ground rambling along and are typically ready for this type of opportunity. That is in contrast to the ‘determinate’ (bush) varieties that dont typically have branches laying around on the ground.

      Thanks,
      Tom

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