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.