Propagating from Cuttings
Tomato propagation is not some arcane science. It is perhaps the easiest way to start tomatoes. It’s simple and produces known results.
We had a fantastic year with our tomatoes. The plants in our soil garden produced early, took a breather during the hottest part of the summer, and then came back like gangbusters. Our greenhouse tomatoes are still producing.
A New Direction
This year we are taking a new direction in our preparation for next season with our tomato plants. I intend to take cuttings from the most productive of our plants and overwinter them in our greenhouse. There are several reasons for this plan.
Tomatoes started from cuttings are true clones of the original plant. Saving seeds from hybrid varieties is always a risky game. You never know if the plants will stay true to the original plant when starting from seeds. By starting a plant from cuttings, this risk is eliminated.
These plants also have a season of growing in our soil and our climate. They have this season of acclimatization. Another growing season will further acclimatize them and should make them stronger and more productive. That is my hope, at least.
Lastly, these are proven producers. I know that they can survive and flourish in our garden. I hope to carry those characteristics into next year by preserving those characteristics through the propagation process.
The process of taking cuttings from tomatoes and rooting them is easy. You need a sharp knife or garden shears. Make sure they are clean. You can sanitize your cutting tools with a 10% bleach solution or hydrogen peroxide. Sanitizing your tools between cuttings will insure that you don’t contaminate your cuttings with diseases or pests from other plants.
Select sides shoots from your tomato plant for your cuttings. These are easy to identify. Side shoots spring from a larger branch near where it attaches to the main stem. Many people routinely prune these side shoots from their tomato plants to encourage the plant to focus its growth and fruit production. It will not set your tomato plant back to take these cuttings.
Trim the Cuttings
Remove the side shoots carefully to prevent damaging the branch or main stem of the tomato plant. On a clean work surface, you should begin to trim down your cuttings to prepare them for potting. Each cutting should be 4 to 6 inches long and have just a few leaves on top. Trimming will help the plant survive by reducing the leaf structure it has to support and give it time to establish a root system. Move as quickly as possible through this step to keep your cuttings from drying out.
To Hormone or not to Hormone
Using a rooting hormone is hotly debated. I don’t. However, many gardeners feel that using a rotting hormone helps stimulate the cutting to form roots. My opinion is that if the cutting is placed in healthy potting media that has a rich soil biome, the life in the soil will stimulate the rooting process better than any manmade product.
The key to potting your cuttings is the media. You need a rich, healthy potting media. You can find a recipe for the potting media I use at this link; Potting Soil Recipe.
Fill your container with potting media. Don’t pack it in. Leave the media relatively loose. I use a pencil to create a hole into which I place the cutting. Don’t simply ram the end of the cutting into the soil. Pushing the cutting through the soil can damage the end of the cutting and cause it to fail.
With the cutting in the hole, gently press the potting media around the cutting to close the hole. Water the cutting well and place the cutting where it will stay warm but not hot. I try to avoid exposing the fresh cuttings to direct sunlight, especially if it is coming through a window. To much direct sun can sunburn the tender plants.
Some gardeners will tent their cuttings with plastic bags to keep the humidity level raised around the plant. Tenting your cuttings can be helpful if your cuttings are indoors where the humidity level may be low because of heating or air conditioning or if the area where you keep your cuttings is cooler.
You may notice some wilting immediately after you pot your cuttings. Don’t worry, this is normal. Keep them moist but not soppy wet, and in a few days, your cuttings should perk up and begin forming roots.
Establishing a healthy root system can take 4 to 6 weeks. If you are using clay or plastic pots, you can gently lift your pots and watch the weep holes in the bottom of the pots for the appearance of roots.
A neat idea is to use clear plastic drinking cups for rooting. These can be purchased at most supermarkets. Be sure to poke a few drain holes in the bottom, fill the cup with potting media. Make your hole for the cutting along the inside of the cup so that you can see the cutting below the potting media surface. You can then watch the cutting as it begins to form roots. Kids will enjoy this experiment.
More about tomatoes
Tomatoes are perennials. With a little care in most planting zones 7 and greater, you can winter over your tomato plants, and they will continue to grow next season. Unfortunately, as the plants mature, they tend to produce less from season to season.
However, propagating those plants from cuttings preserves all the characteristics of the plant and will keep you in fresh and tasty tomatoes year after year.
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