How to Propagate Tomato Plants from Cuttings
How to propagate tomato plants from cuttings including tips on taking the cuttings, rooting hormone powder, and the benefits of growing tomatoes from cuttings.
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Growing tomato plants can take a long time. From seed to small plant it can take well up to eight weeks and that’s not counting the work you’ll do thinning, pricking them out, and re-potting. I’ve found an easier way to grow them though — propagating tomato plants from stem cuttings. If you’re growing tomatoes this year, you can use cuttings from your plants to create new ones in late summer. If you’re not growing them but a friend is, they’ll probably be more than happy to give you some side shoots. After all, these need to be removed anyway.
The benefits of growing tomatoes from cuttings
If you’re growing a tomato plant that you love then there’s a high chance that you’ll want to grow it again next year. Instead of buying new seeds and raising them the hard way, take cuttings. The growing tips of tomatoes take root easily and that includes the side shoots. These are the side stems that sprout out of your plant that need to be removed as it grows. Instead of consigning them to the compost heap, you can pot them on and let them grow their own roots. It’s easy!
Propagated plants have a head start on those grown from seed so you can also expect to see them produce fruit earlier. Creating new tomato plants from cuttings is the only way to propagate F1 hybrid varieties, too.
Step 1: Take the Cuttings
With a sharp knife, cut several strong side shoots from your tomato plants. They should be healthy and its length should be 4-6″ from the point you cut to the top of the smallest leaves.
On a clean cutting board or potting bench cut off any flowers and trim down the number of leaves. You want each cutting to be only 4-6″ long and with just a few leaves at the top. The more leaves it has, the more the cutting has to work to supply them with water and food. If you leave these extra leaves on, the cutting might have difficulty surviving. Move straight along to step number two without giving the cuttings a chance to dry out.
Step 2: Rooting Hormone Powder
Many gardeners propagate cuttings without using rooting hormone powder but it can help increase the chance that cuttings will root. Dip the bottom 1″ of each cutting into rooting hormone powder and then insert the cutting along the inside of a (preferably) clay pot filled with compost. Use a pencil to create a space to insert the cutting into.
Water the compost well and place the pots in a warm greenhouse that isn’t scorching hot. Hot greenhouses will fry those little cuttings before they have a chance to grow — especially if the leaves are wet. If you don’t have a greenhouse, place a clear plastic bag over the top of the pot to simulate one. You can also propagate cuttings inside of a propagator.
Free-Draining Potting Mix
It’s recommended to blend one part Perlite or vermiculite with two parts peat-free compost to create a good draining mix for cuttings. This time I didn’t add the Perlite and the cuttings grew just fine, though I did ensure that the compost was never waterlogged.
The reason that clay pots are recommended for propagating is that clay, as a pot material, breathes. This helps keep the compost inside from waterlogging since moisture can wick through and evaporate from the surface of the pot.
Tomato Cuttings Aftercare
Initially the cuttings might wilt in their pots but within a day they should perk up and begin forming roots. Keep the compost moist but not soaking and the leaves dry and they’ll happily form roots for you. It takes 4-6 weeks for them to get to a state where you will see roots coming out of the drainage hole of the pot. The image above is of my smallest cutting inside my smallest terracotta pot after just four weeks.
To ensure that the plants survive until next year, pot them on into larger pots when you spot the roots. Keep them in a light, warm, and frost-free place such as inside the house until you can plant them up next year.
Apparently tomatoes are perennials but don’t produce as much after their first season. Keeping a plant going by taking cuttings makes sure your plants will stay true to the original and will keep giving you bumper crops of sweet juicy tomatoes.
If you’re interested in saving seeds from heirloom and organic tomatoes, I have a great tip for you. Save the seeds on paper towels! It’s very easy and all you do is plant the seeds, paper and all, the next spring. Here’s how to do it.
what is the best time (growth stage) to remove the suckers from the main stem in order to have good performance of suckers?
Any suckers you see at any time in the growing year can form roots and grow well.
Great article, thank you. Two questions:
1. You say to use peat-free compost. I usually mix compost, peat moss, and vermiculite to make potting mix. Why peat-free?
2. I see the article is copywrited. Can I share it with my gardening group if your name as the author is also copied?
Hi Steve, peat is a truly contentious material and will be completely banned from use in gardening in Great Britain (where I live) from 2024. Although it works amazingly well in propagation, the dirty side of peat is that harvesting it from the ground ruins the land and there’s no easy way to repair it. Peat is dug out in great quantities yet only grows back 0.1 to 1 mm (0.004 to 0.04 inches!) per year. It’s also a massive store of carbon that gets released when it’s dug up, so falls under the same category as gas, oil, and other petroleum products in terms of releasing greenhouse gases. That’s why I, and many other professional gardeners, don’t use peat and advocate for peat-free alternatives when gardening. Instead of peat, you could use coco coir, wood fiber, or just more compost in your mix. For propagation, I roughly mix 50:50 compost to vermiculite and have great results. As far as sharing, you’re welcome to share the link to my article with your gardening group. Many thanks :)
Great article, thank you. 2 questions: Have you done this successfully with determinate tomatoes? If yes, do you have to get cuttings before the determinate tomato stops fruiting, or even before it starts fruiting?
I tend to grow indeterminate tomatoes, but this method works for determinate too. It’s best to choose side shoots that haven’t formed flowers on them though, so the plant knows to continue growing, rather than to go into fruit production. The same principle is relevant for both determinate and indeterminate varieties.
I’m experimenting with different ways to propagate to help cut costs for gardening and this was great info, thank you! With using a terracotta pot, do the roots attach to the pot, and will that do damage to the roots when transplanting to a bigger pot?
Hi Terri, the roots won’t attach that firmly to the pot sides and the plants should pop out, no problem :)
Great article! Question: if I use the plastic bag method to simulate a greenhouse, how long do I leave the plastic bag on?
I’d leave it on until you see the cutting begin to grow new leaves.
does the propagation have to be from a sucker? or can it be from another off shoot of the main stem or from a topped plant? I had 1 sun gold and the stem broke when moving it, can I use that stem? thanks!
Suckers are much more likely to form roots since they’re primed with natural growth hormones. The top of a plant should have plenty too, and would grow true as well! If you tried taking cuttings from the main stem of the plant, and they rooted, then the base of the plant would likely consist of the thick piece of the original stem with a side growth that you could train to grow vertically. I’ve not heard of anyone doing it before, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t/shouldn’t be done.
Fantastic article! Can I overwinter the popagrated tomatoes in a cool greenhouse covered with fleece?
Hi Maria and if your winters are cold, then it can be difficult. Tomatoes are tropical plants and will die if it comes close to freezing so inside the house in a cool but bright place is best.
Can you grow a new plant from seed per say in late fall and then take cuttings from this one plant to get more plants. In other words if this works then I can plant one plant of each variety of tomatoe and then take cuttings from these instead of planting seeds.
Hi Vern, tomato seeds sown in autumn will not grow much over the winter. This technique is better for propagating tomato plants from cuttings from spring to autumn. It’s a great way to get free plants from F1 hybrids without having to buy more seeds. Also very useful for if a hybrid version of tomato isn’t available any longer through seed catalogs and you want to keep growing it.
Since you say tomatoes are perennials but don’t produce as much after their first season, should one take cuttings before they produce fruit? If one takes a cutting after the first season I assume the cutting will also not produce as much fruit when it matures?
Good question, but I don’t think it matters when you propagate a plant. The new one will act just like a new baby plant rather than carry on where the parent plant left off.
Should you use only indeterminate plants?
You can use this same method for all tomato plants.
Any idea if a cutting would be viable from a plant that didn’t produce tomatoes but has healthy foliage? That’s what I have here. I am trying to decide what to do with them and I’m looking for experienced advice. Thanks!
The question you want to ask yourself is why would you want to propagate (clone) a plant that didn’t produce fruit.
Great read! I’ve been experimenting with propagation on goji berry plants. I DID notice that branches with a lot of leaves end up shedding the leaves and I’ve yet to find out if the plants will survive yet. Thanks for the info!
I just saw this tip about taking cuttings from toms. I am so excited to try this at the end of the season this year. I have always grown my toms from seeds and though I generally have good luck with this method, I love new ways to learn and experiment. This sounds like fun. I love reading your info tips on almost anything and your vids, as well. Thank you so much for all your help.
Patty in NH (USA)
You say to take cuttings in late summer. How do you overwinter them to have transplants for the next season?
Inside the house or in another place that’s slightly cool with a lot of light. They’ll stop growing in the winter and begin putting on new leaves when it begins warming up.
Why do you not center the cutting in the pot?
Cuttings grow better against the side — they appreciate the better drainage and support.