Occasionally, we here at Ars like to nerd out about things that aren’t smartphones, processors, or dark matter. For a few of us on staff, one of those nerdy pastimes involves the plant biology that is literally right in our backyards. People pick up gardening for numerous reasons, but one reason I got into it was because of the science. There’s so much to learn about plant biology when you go hands-on, even at a small scale. I grow a lot of stuff in my Chicago garden, and while not everything is a success, it provides great opportunities to learn and iterate.
But not a lot of people are into gardening, relatively speaking. Or so I thought—when I semi-jokingly tweeted that I would begin making garden posts here on Ars, the response was overwhelmingly positive. So we thought we would experiment with a weekend feature on cloning plants to get things started.
- How to root a tomato cutting (aka “clone” a tomato plant)
- Taking a cutting from a mature plant
- How to Clone a Tomato Plant
- Step 1: where to prune the cuttings from a bigger tomato plant.
- Step 2: propagate the tomato cuttings in a jar filled with water.
- Helpful tips on how to grow tomato plants from cuttings:
- Here are a few additional resources on growing tomatoes you may like to explore:
- Starting Tomato Cuttings: Rooting Tomato Cuttings In Water Or Soil
- How to Root Tomato Cuttings
- Mighty Mushrooms”Carpe Diem”
- (and fill your garden for FREE!)
- How to Grow Your Own Tomatoes, Part 2: Transplanting
- Hardening Off
- Soil Preparation
- Transplanting Tomato Seedlings Into Garden Beds
How to root a tomato cutting (aka “clone” a tomato plant)
Tomatoes are some of the most popular fruits to grow at home, and they’re my personal favorite as well. Depending on where you live, you might have a long enough growing season to get back-to-back plantings going, and it’s not always fun to start from seed. Or you might want to give away some plants to friends and neighbors. You might even have a friend who grows amazing tomatoes and you want one of those for yourself.
Whatever the case, it’s extremely easy to grow new tomato plants from cuttings. If you’re not familiar, it is exactly what it sounds like—a piece of an existing plant that you cut off. No roots, no nothing. Just a piece of a plant and some dirt.
For the first part of this tutorial, I’m using a two-week-old baby tomato plant as the example. Toward the end, I do the same thing, but with a cutting from an adult plant in order to “clone” it. The process is exactly the same for both, though you may have to be gentler with the young plants versus mature cuttings.
Why might you start with a baby tomato plant that has been cut off? I had to cut this plant from its roots because it was too close to its sibling in the starter cup. (The roots were too intertwined for me to feel comfortable separating them without damaging the one I wanted to keep.) Typically this is just called “thinning,” when gardeners go in and cut off all but the best seedling. But sometimes you want to save the ones you’re cutting off. Like I said, the process is exactly the same whether you’re dealing with baby plants or mature branches.
So you have the cutting (seen above). Some gardeners like to scrape the sides of the stem with a sharp knife or a razor blade in order to stimulate root growth, but it’s not required:
Once that’s done, I also like to slice the bottom at a clean, diagonal angle.
I put my root down
At this point, people sometimes like to use rooting hormone. In my experience this is entirely unnecessary for tomato plants—they root so easily, there’s no need to spend the money on it. Plus, many commercial rooting hormones contain pesticides, meaning they’re not fit for organic gardening. But if you want to use it, you can—there are other plants that don’t root so easily, so if you plan to take cuttings from other things, it might be useful.
Commercial rooting hormone contains auxin, which is a naturally occurring hormone that plants also generate themselves. Auxin is key for plants’ cell growth; in particular, its presence helps a plant decide when it’s time to put out more roots (versus, say, more leaves up top). Synthetic auxin is what you find in the bottle at the garden center. Applying it to a root-less stem or cutting boosts the auxin levels in that area of the plant, essentially telling it to start putting out more roots where it has been applied. (This is a very basic explanation; there are white papers upon white papers about the effects of auxin if you’re interested in going down the rabbit hole.)
But tomato plants are already dying to put out new roots along the length of the vine—sometimes, gardeners notice tomatoes trying to put out new roots above ground on their own if the stem is constantly being splashed with water. You can bury a fairly large tomato plant with only the top poking out of the soil, and it will eventually put out roots along the entire length of plant that you buried. Many other plants do not do this—by default, they only put out roots from the original root ball—which is why you might want to use a rooting hormone to help those cuttings put out new roots. If you choose to use rooting hormone with a tomato cutting, though, it usually just means it will put out roots even faster than it would have on its own.
For rooting hormone, there are two kinds: gel and powder. If you’re using the gel, you would use something (a knife, or whatever you have) to lightly coat the outside of the cutting. If you’re using powder, dip your cutting into some water and then into the powder to coat the stem.
Now, whether you’re using rooting hormone or not, stick the stem into a smallish cup filled with soil. (I used compost because that’s what I had available, but you could use any garden soil or seed starter mix. I personally do not recommend just using soil from your lawn, although if you did, I’m sure it would work fine.) Make sure there are holes poked in the bottom of the cup—I poke holes in plastic cups using a barbecue skewer. I like to use the translucent cups for cuttings because it lets me know when the plant has finally rooted, but they’re not the best choice once you get to growing. We’ll get to that later.
Once you have your cutting nestled in a cup full of soil, water it well (to the point where water is dripping out the holes in the bottom), and place a plastic baggie over the top:
The baggie is to help keep moisture in so the plant can continue to live while it works on putting out new roots. Without the baggie, the cutting would lose all of its water through its leaves and die, so this is a necessary step. Within a few hours of doing this (whether with a baby plant or a mature cutting), your cutting will most likely wilt and look like it’s about to die:
Enlarge/ Sad tomato is sad.
That’s because it’s no longer getting water through its roots. During the editing of this piece, one Ars staffer asked why the cutting doesn’t just shrivel up and die. As long as it’s getting water somehow—in this case, by basically “submerging” the stem in wet soil and making sure it doesn’t lose too much water through its leaves—a cutting can stay alive for an almost alarmingly long time. But exposing a root-less stem to water will only work for so long, because it’s more difficult to absorb water through its stem than through roots, and it will die eventually without more help. (This is why cut flowers from the flower shop can stay alive and beautiful for days after you purchase them, as long as you keep them in a vase with water. But the vase isn’t magical, so they eventually die.)
That’s why auxin is important; the plant is generating its own auxin in order to put out new roots so it can stay alive for the long term. Or if you’re using rooting hormone, the synthetic auxin is there to help tell the plant “put out roots now!”
Don’t worry; as long as you watered your soil and have a bag over the top, the wilted cutting should come back in about a day or so.
Taking a cutting from a mature plant
Here I have a horrible-looking tomato plant that I grew indoors all winter. It’s not particularly large—maybe a foot tall at best—and I’m ready to just clone it and start over outside. (See? Easier than starting from seed.)
First, you have to select a good cut. You can do this from the “top” of the plant or from one of the suckers (or side shoots), as long as it’s big enough. Keep in mind that it can’t just be any old leaf you select from the plant. New growth has baby leaves coming out of it—it’s not a leaf itself. I decided to make my cut a few leaves down from the top, like so:
I’ve made a diagonal cut and am now holding my cutting that I will turn into a clone of the original plant.
But this piece is huge—it will lose a ton of water through its leaves if I leave it as-is. As such, it’s wise to cut off all the bottom leaves and suckers in order to come out with a bare minimum of leaves to survive.
Enlarge / All trimmed down, except I should have also trimmed those flowers on the left.
Above is the piece I had left after I trimmed everything I wanted to trim. I should have also trimmed those flower buds that you can see on the top left side. By leaving them on, I’m risking this cutting trying to flower and produce tomatoes immediately after it roots, and I don’t want that because I want the plant to put its energy into growing bigger first. Luckily, I can cut off those flower buds at any time.
After scraping the sides (like I did above with the 2-week-old seedling), once again stick it into a cup with some soil, water it, and put a baggie over it. For the first day, you may want to put it in a shaded area. After that, put it in a sunny windowsill (but not outside) so it gets some light, but not enough to stress the plant while it’s putting out new roots. Make sure to keep the soil moist (but not soaking) during this time.
After about a week (give or take a few days either way), your tomato cutting should have formed new roots. It will look something like this:
This is why I like to use translucent cups for rooting cuttings, because it allows me to see when the plant has rooted without me having to constantly remove it from its cup. But if you used opaque cups, that’s fine—after a week or so, put your hand over the top of the cup with the stem in between your fingers, turn it upside down, wiggle the cup a bit, and slide the cup off. You should see at least a few roots; if you don’t, put it back in and wait a little longer.
Once your cutting has rooted itself, it’s basically a new plant. If you’re using translucent cups like I am, you’ll want to re-pot into something opaque (and preferably larger). Roots can easily die off when exposed to sunlight, so you don’t want to continue growing in something that can allow light through. If you’re cheap like me, you could pot up into something like a 16oz Solo cup (with holes poked in the bottom) and it would be fine. Or, since it’s getting to be nice out already, you could plant your newly rooted tomato plant directly outside, or into its final container that it will grow from.
There are a number of reasons why this is cool. As I wrote earlier, doing this can speed up the process and remove some of the tediousness (plus lots and lots of failure) of starting your own seeds. It’s even cooler, though, because you basically get unlimited free plants out of it—you could take a cutting from a friend or neighbor, or take your own cuttings in order to multiply the plants you’re growing in your own garden. If you live in a climate with warm winters like Florida or Mexico, you could take cuttings from your plants that are already finished and dying in order to start new plants for a second growing season. Or if you’re like me, you just like making clones for the sake of doing so, because generating independent new plants from existing ones is a fun activity. Kids love it, too.
Again, you can do this with tons of different plants. Roses are a common one (though you should be careful—many rose varieties are now patented, and the companies forbid you from propagating them via cuttings without paying. To them, it’s like torrenting an illegal copy of the rose). Herbs like basil and rosemary are also very common; in fact, I find starting rosemary from seed next to impossible, so cuttings are really my only hope.
You can also clone pepper plants, eggplants, grape vines—the list goes on forever. I once took a cutting from my grandmother’s hydrangea bush in California, wrapped it in a damp paper towel, put it in a plastic baggie, and flew with it back to Chicago before rooting it at home. The only thing to keep in mind is that some plants take a lot longer than tomatoes to put out new roots—cuttings from woody plants, like roses, can sometimes take months. But once you get the hang of the process, it’s kind of addictive to just start trying to root everything.
If posts like this interest you and you’d like to see more, or if you have other garden science questions that you’d like to see answered, please leave your comments in the discussion or shoot me an e-mail directly. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about how gardening can change communities, I recommend watching guerrilla gardener Ron Finley’s TED talk and then heading outside to, as he put it, “plant some sh*t.”
How to Clone a Tomato Plant
Cloning a tomato plant propagates an identical copy of the parent plant. If you have a tomato plant in your garden that produces particularly delicious fruit or has shown a strong disease resistance, clone the plant to produce a full garden of the prize tomato plant. Cloning also allows gardeners to share their best tomato plants with fellow gardeners with little effort.
Step 1 – Select a Plant to Clone
Clone only disease-free tomato plants. Candidates for cloning include tomato vines that are exceptionally prolific producers or that produce tomatoes with a particularly desirable fruit. Gardeners may also clone hybrid plants for which they no longer have seeds, since the daughter plants will come true to the parent plant, unlike saving seeds from hybrids.
Step 2 – Take a Cutting
Cut a six-inch length of tomato stem to make the clone. The cutting can be from a sucker, the branches that grow between the main stem and primary branches, or from a growing tip. Many gardeners prefer cloning tomatoes from the suckers, since removing suckers doesn’t affect the mature size of the mother plant. Keep the cutting wrapped in moist paper toweling until it is rooted.
Step 3 – Prepare the Cloning Medium
Fill a pot at least four-inches deep with the growing medium. Tomato clones root well in vermiculite, sterile seed-starting medium, peat-sand mixtures, or standard potting mix. Ensure that the growth medium is moist. Use a pencil or dibble to create a four-inch hole in the medium. Plain water also works as a cloning medium for tomato plants.
Fill a glass with clean, filtered water to root the cutting in. Tomatoes cloned this way may need some time to adjust when moved to soil, since the roots they grow initially aren’t adapted for taking up soil nutrients.
Step 4 – Root the Cutting
Remove all flower buds and all but the top two leaves from the cutting. Insert the stem of the cutting at least four inches into the prepared growth medium, and press the medium firmly around the stem. Powdered rooting hormone on the stem may encourage the cutting to develop roots. However, tomatoes root so readily from their stems that rooting hormone is not necessary. When using plain water as a growth medium, suspend the stem so it doesn’t touch the bottom or sides of the glass.
Step 5 – Let Roots Establish
Roots establish on cloned tomato cuttings within a few weeks.
Keep the cuttings moist but not soggy, and place in partial shade while they put out roots. After two weeks, check the progress of root development by gently pulling up on the cutting stem. As the roots establish, the cutting will stay firmly in the medium.
Once tomatoes cloned in water have developed significant root structures, transplant as you would a bare-root plant into a six-inch pot of good quality potting mix.
Step 6 – Transplant the Cloned Tomato
When the cloned tomato has established a good root structure in the soil and the main stem is at least the diameter of a pencil, the cloned tomato plant is ready to be transplanted into the garden or a permanent container.
A short cut for anyone who loves to grow tomatoes: you can grow tomato plants from cuttings in as little as 1 week, ready to plant in the garden! That’s much faster than starting from seeds, don’t you agree? 🙂
Check out this quick and easy way to tomato plants from cuttings of a bigger plant! And our favorite 5 secrets on how we grew 100 lbs of tomatoes in just 20 square feet!
We don’t need any fancy supplies here. All we need is water, and a healthy bigger tomato plant of the variety you love.
Step 1: where to prune the cuttings from a bigger tomato plant.
See photo above. A lot of gardeners recommend pruning these side shoots aka suckers to make the plant more vigorous, which is even better for us, because now we have the perfect cuttings to propagate.
In fact, we tested it in our 5 secrets on how we grew 100 lbs of tomatoes in just 20 square feet, and it works!
Sometimes these side shoots can grow quite big, a bigger cutting means a bigger tomato plant! The ideal size of a tomato plant cutting should be 5″ to 10″ tall.
Step 2: propagate the tomato cuttings in a jar filled with water.
Fill a clean glass jar with room temperature water and set it in a warm place such as a sunny window sill. Remove the bottom sets of leaves from the base of each cutting, leaving the top 4 to 6 leaves, and set it in the water.
In about 1-2 weeks, you will see new roots coming out, and these newly propagated tomato plants are ready for transplanting into the garden, or in a pot.
Helpful tips on how to grow tomato plants from cuttings:
For the first few days, give the plants extra water and a little protection from the sun using this simple trick. This tried and true (and FREE ) method will help the plant adjust from water to soil in the summer heat.
grow tomato plants in pot after cuttings are propagated
Tomato plants love heat, and when you grow tomato plants from cuttings, the roots will grow stronger with warm soil temperature. Here’s a tutorial on how we use black plastic bags to warm the soil and get super productive tomato plants!
Rooting new tomato plants also gives you an extended harvest season!
Here are a few additional resources on growing tomatoes you may like to explore:
Bonnie Plants guide to growing tomatoes in different climates, the Almanac’s guide on planting and harvesting tomatoes, how to build sturdy tomato cages via instructables, one of our favorite tomato seed source Baker Creek, and our collection of 20+ favorite DIY trellis ideas for your veggie garden!
20+ favorite DIY trellis ideas for your veggie garden!
If you have other great tips, feel free to share in comments or tag us on instagram @apieceofrainbow! Wish you a summer filled with juicy tomatoes!
propagate tomato cuttings in water
Similar posts you may enjoy: How to start seeds in 1/3 time with 3X more success-
Make a strawberry tower with reservoir-
Starting Tomato Cuttings: Rooting Tomato Cuttings In Water Or Soil
Many of us have started new houseplants from cuttings and maybe even shrubs or perennials for the garden, but did you know that many vegetables can be started in this manner too? Tomato propagation by cuttings is a perfect example and very easy to do. Read on to find out how to root tomato cuttings in water or directly in the soil.
How to Root Tomato Cuttings
If you admire a neighbor’s lush tomato plant, starting tomato plants from cuttings is an excellent way to clone their plant and, hopefully, get the same vigorous result; just be polite and ask first before you snip from their prized plant. Rooting tomato cuttings is cost saving as well. You can purchase a couple of plants and then root additional ones from the cuttings.
The advantage of starting tomato cuttings in this manner is that it can take seedlings, from seed, six to eight weeks before they are of transplant size. Provided you keep tomato cuttings warm, the transplanting time is reduced to just 10-14 days! It’s also a great way of overwintering tomato cuttings.
Currently, I am starting two houseplants from cuttings, simply in glass bottles. This is very easy and rooting tomato cuttings in water is just as simple. Tomato cuttings are amazingly fast and easy root growers. To begin, look for some of the sucker shoots on the chosen tomato plant that don’t have buds on them. With sharp pruners, cut about 6-8 inches of the sucker or new growth at the tip of the branch. Then, you can simply immerse the tomato cutting in water or plant it directly into some soil medium. In water, the cutting should root within about a week and will be ready to transplant.
Roots will be stronger, however, if the cutting is allowed to root in soil. Also, rooting directly into soil medium skips the “middle man.” Since you are eventually going to transplant the cuttings to soil, you might as well start propagation there.
If you choose this route, it is also extremely easy. Take your 6- to 8-inch cutting and clip off any flowers or buds, if any, and snip off the bottom leaves, leaving only two leaves on the cutting. Put the cutting in water while you prepare the soil. You can root in peat pots, 4-inch containers filled with damp potting soil or vermiculite, or even directly into the garden. Make a hole with a dowel or pencil for the cutting to slip easily into and bury it up to where you cut off the lower leaves.
Put the cuttings in a warm, but shaded area either indoors or out. Just be sure it isn’t scorching hot and the plants are protected from sun. Keep them moist in this area for a week to acclimate and then gradually expose them to stronger light until they are finally in the sun for most of the day. At this point, if they are in containers, you can transplant them into their permanent large pot or garden plot.
Tomatoes are actually perennials and can live for years in warm climates. However, they do not produce fruit in their successive years nearly as well as the first. This is where overwintering tomato cuttings for spring clones come into play. This idea is especially useful in areas of the southern United States. Just follow the above instructions up to transplanting the cuttings into a larger pot and keep in a warm, sunny room to overwinter until the spring.
Voila! Tomato propagation couldn’t be easier. Just remember to take cuttings from plants that have the best yields and tastiest fruit, as the cuttings will be a virtual clone of the parent and, thus, retain all its characteristics.
Mighty Mushrooms”Carpe Diem”
(and fill your garden for FREE!)
For this instructable, I will show you how to increase the amount of produce you can grow at your home for free.
Cloning may sound like a very complicated scientific process, but for the at-home gardener it is a very simple thing that anyone can do.
( TRUE! I paid $3.33 for a fancy patio cherry tomato bush, and successfully cloned it straight into the dirt! It was before reading this article. The center stem got broken, and rather than throw it away, I stuck it into the dirt in the pot, and WOW, a second fancy tomato plant!!!!! Yea! ~MavenM )
Step 1 Materials needed: The actual list of items needed to clone a plant is very short and anyone who gardens will have no problem at all locating these items around the house.
Absolute must haves:
A container or containers around 2 inches deep
(I used one of my wife baking dishes, Ha ha)
Other optional items :
Seed heat mat
I realize that most gardeners probably have the humidity dome and seed mat, but I was aiming this instructable for the weekend warrior gardener in hopes of expanding minds and showing how simple and cost effective this act of cloning can be. The optional items will greatly speed up the cloning process BUT are not required to complete this process.
Now take a look at your plant where a large branch comes off of the main stem of the plant.
Where the branch comes off of the stem forming a “v” there will be new growth. This “start” or new growth is the target of our cutting.
This “start” if left on the plant will continue to grow and produce more branches. It has what is called “nodes” to start blossoms and new branches.
Important note: Selecting starts from the bottom stems of the plant have a better chance of producing roots because of increase in natural rooting hormone in the plant. ( I have had luck propagating starts from all areas of the plant though.)
IMPORTANT : As soon as you cut your start you should dip it in some tepid water
Now for the optional part. I have read, at this point you can stick it straight into moistened soil and mist and wait. the following steps are purely optional but guarantee success .
After dipping my cutting into the tepid water I use my razor and scrape the bottom inch of the cutting stem.
After scraping the stem I dip the cutting again in the tepid water and then dip directly into the rooting compound.
These cutting should be put under some light but not in direct sunlight. I always mist my cuttings twice a day to ensure their chances of success.
After a week (usually 2) your cuttings will have developed a root system, and can be transplanted outside.
When transplanting your cutting outside, bury it as deep as possible and more roots will grow from the stem.
How to Grow Your Own Tomatoes, Part 2: Transplanting
“Hardening off” tomato seedlings means gradually introducing them to the outdoors. This should happen over a 10-day period. Acclimating tomato seedlings to outdoor conditions is a bit like helping your child adjust to kindergarten – it takes plenty of patience and hand-holding.
- Find a sheltered place outside where the seedlings can sit in filtered sunlight, out of the wind. One option is to string a shade cloth overhead and on the windward side.
- Take your tomato seedlings outside and leave them in this protected place for a few hours on day one.
- Bring them back inside.
- On day two, leave them outdoors for a little longer.
- Continue taking them back and forth each day, leaving them out a little longer each time and slowly increasing their sun exposure by inching them out of the shade.
- After five or six days of going back and forth, leave the seedlings out overnight for the remaining four or five days. Keep an eye on the weather and bring them in if there is any danger of frost.
The warmer the soil is, the faster they will grow. And because heavy, waterlogged soil covered in weeds or cover crops is slow to warm up in spring, it’s helpful to prepare tomato beds a week or more before transplanting. Day one of the hardening-off period is a good time to start preparing the soil. Tomatoes prefer a location with 8 hours or more of direct sunlight and rich, well-drained soil.
- Using a Rototiller or a digging fork, loosen the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches.
- Spread 2 or 3 inches of compost over the surface and thoroughly mix it into the soil.
- Using a hard metal rake, sculpt the loose soil into a low broad mound no more than 4 feet wide.
Tomatoes are ready for transplanting into the garden when the seedlings are 3 to 4 inches tall, and the nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. Consult a biodynamic calendar or farmer’s almanac to time your planting according to the optimal alignment of the moon and other celestial bodies – or just plant them when you have the time.
- Dig a hole in the middle of your tomato bed that is at least a few inches deeper than the depth of the pot the seedlings are in. Check the seed package for the recommended spacing between seedlings for each variety you are planting. Spacing is based on the mature size of the plant and may range from 30 to 60 inches (avoid the temptation to plant the tiny seedlings closer together – overcrowding can contribute to the spread of diseases).
- Remove each seedling from its container and loosen the roots very gently.
- Plant the seedlings deep with only the topmost leaves aboveground. This technique is a death knell for some plants, but it helps tomatoes in many ways, improving drought tolerance, root establishment and wind resistance.
- Tamp the soil firmly around the seedlings with your hands and then give them their first watering.
A lot can go awry in the short life of a tomato plant, so take a few extra steps to give your seedlings the best chance for success:
- Tomatoes need slightly acidic soil conditions (a pH between 6 and 6.8 is ideal). You can test your soil pH with a kit available at most garden centers, though your local cooperative extension office likely offers the service for a small fee, too. Excessively acidic soil is remedied by adding lime; alkaline soil requires sulfur to lower the pH. It takes a few months to adjust the pH, so the fall before planting is the best time to add these amendments.
- A long list of soil-borne pathogens prey on tomato plants, so it’s best to avoid planting them in the same part of the garden for too many years in a row. If last year was a bad year for blights or other tomato diseases, this year is a good time to move them to a different area.
- After preparing beds for tomatoes, covering the soil with black plastic for a few weeks prior to planting is one way to get it warm. The air temperature may be above 50 degrees at night, but the soil is always colder. Black plastic absorbs the heat of the sun during the day and transfers it to the soil so it’s toasty once the seedlings go in. In cool climates with a short growing season, you can leave the plastic for the first few weeks after planting, putting the seedlings in the ground via a small slit.
- A healthy dressing of compost at planting time is a must for tomatoes, but adding some fertilizer ensures they get off to a strong start. One method is to dig a trench down the middle of the bed, a couple inches below the depth where the roots will be planted, and spread a band of fertilizer for them to grow into. A bone meal-based fertilizer, which is high in phosphorus, is best for root establishment. A few weeks after planting, a fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content (such as those with blood meal, fish emulsion, or bat guano) can be applied on the surface of the beds to support lush vegetative growth.
- Water your seedlings whenever the soil dries out an inch or two below the surface, which may be daily if a heat wave comes early. After three or four weeks of growth, mulch the beds with a thick layer of straw to conserve moisture and keep the weeds down.
Join us again in early June for part three of this series, where we learn the different options for staking, training and pruning tomatoes to keep them tidy, healthy and productive.
Transplanting Tomato Seedlings Into Garden Beds
Whether you are growing your tomatoes from seed, or planting seedlings you have bought from a nursery, it is important to follow the correct transplanting procedure. Even if you have sown seed directly into garden beds, in seed rows, there will be a certain amount of transplanting that will need to be done to make sure that plants are nicely spaced for maximum yield. Many gardeners in any case move them all to an entirely new area which has been properly prepared for the crop.
This doesn’t mean that if you simply toss tomato seeds into well-prepared garden beds, and generally take a hit and miss approach that you won’t succeed in growing juicy, tasty tomatoes. It is just that if you do it right, they’ll be even better, and you will be guaranteed of a superior and considerably more bountiful crop.
If you are growing tomatoes from seed, you should keep the packet and follow the supplier’s instructions. But still bear these tips in mind.
Generally by the time seedlings have been growing for about three to five weeks, depending on the cultivar, season and general weather conditions, you will find that they are between 100 mm and 125 mm high. This will usually be anything from six to eight weeks after the seeds were sown. If you are going to buy seedlings that are ready to plant, make sure they are dark, green sturdy plants that look healthy. If you have grown your own from seed, you will inevitably find that some plants are stronger than others, and it is best to discard those that are either yellow or spindly.
Once you have seedlings that are ready to be transplanted, you need to be sure that soil conditions are right. Apart from preparing your garden beds to ensure that the soil quality, drainage and so on is as good as it can be, you need to be sure the temperature of the soil is no lower than 15° C (60° F). Tomatoes are primarily a summer crop, but you can grow them throughout the year with relative success in areas that do not suffer from winter frost – provided you take soil temperature and ambient conditions into account. Guess by all means; but if you want to get it right, use a soil thermometer before you start transplanting. If the weather is very hot, it is also best to wait for a cool snap since hot sun can annihilate newly transplanted seedlings.
If you are transplanting tomato plants that have been growing in pots and other containers in protected places, it is essential to harden them for at least a week before moving them. In this case what you need to do is increase their exposure to sun and other elements before you transplant.
When you plant the seedlings out, make sure that they are a little deeper in the soil than they were either in the pot, seedling tray or in the rough seed rows. Make a small hole, pop the seedling into the hole and then backfill with good quality soil and compact around the plant. Alternatively prepare shallow trenches and plant rows of seedlings in these, backfilling and compacting as you go.
Ideally trough the seedlings before you plant, removing all but the top four leaf stems.
Water well after planting and then follow the guidelines given in How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes.
Photo of windowsill tomato plant by Olga Oksman.
The tomato has many claims to fame. A fruit used as a vegetable, it’s the first ingredient in cans of Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli and the reason soggy school cafeteria pizza slathered in sauce is categorized as a vegetable.
The pride of the New World, exported across the globe, along with pasta it changed Italian cuisine, took a place of pride in salads and help create the Heinz empire. There is a reason tomatoes took off the way they did across cultures and culinary traditions. Tomatoes are remarkably easy to grow, reasonably forgiving if you forget to water, and reach maturity in only around two to three months.
And you don’t need to look any further for the right tomato seeds than the sandwich you’re eating or the salad you’re making. So wow your friends and family with your amazing tomato facts. Then wow them with your amazing homegrown tomatoes.
1. Pick Your Tomato
Evaluate your growing environment. Do you live in a city with nothing but a windowsill and an oversized terra cotta pot for a garden, or are you in possession of an actual plot of land? Tomato plants vary in size, and naturally the ones that support larger tomatoes also generally tend to grow bigger than the cherry tomato variety.
If you’re growing them on your windowsill, cherry tomatoes may be the way to go. These days you can get a variety of tiny tomatoes at the grocery store, so pick your color, size and taste. Depending on where you live, you probably want to plant your tomatoes in late spring or early summer, when the weather is consistently warm and there is no frost. If you are growing on the windowsill at home, that means you don’t have to wait for a specific season as long as your home is nice and toasty through the winter.
2. Plant Your Tomato
Put a handful of orchid bark or pebbles at the bottom of a seed pot for drainage, fill it with general purpose soil and you’re ready to go. Be sure to only use a pot that has a drainage hole. Then simply bite into your juicy little tomato, scoop out a few seeds and push them into the pot with your finger a few inches apart from each other until they’re covered with soil. Keep the soil moist and wait for the seeds to sprout.
3. Growing Your Tomato
Once your seeds have sprouted and pushed tiny little green leaves towards the surface, make sure you keep your pot on a windowsill that gets plenty of sunlight throughout the day. Tomatoes grow remarkably fast, and you will see your tiny plants push up noticeably higher practically every day, which is incredibly satisfying to watch.
You will probably also notice little white hairs along the stem as the tomato grows. These little hairs can develop into roots, helping the tomato grow stronger. When your little tomato plants are a few inches tall and growing plenty of leaves, it is time to transplant them into a pot big enough to support their adult size.
Pick a pot that has a drainage hole and that is 18 inches to 24 inches in diameter, fill with drainage materials and soil, and bury the tomato stems when replanting, covering most of the fuzzy white hairs. It might look funny to bury part of the stem, but it will allow the fuzzy hairs to develop into roots, giving the plants a firmer support and better ability to seek out and suck up moisture, which is an added bonus if you sometimes forget to water.
Make sure the tomato has plenty of food to grow fast by giving it fertilizer. There is an astounding number of commercial fertilizers geared specifically towards tomatoes, so take your pick and use according to the instructions on the box.
When it comes to water, tomatoes love it and suck it up at a remarkable pace so water generously to keep the soil moist and ensure that water reaches the bottom of the roots. If you are unsure if the plant needs water, push your finger into the top of the soil in your pot till about the first knuckle; if it feels dry, it’s time to water again. If you forget to water once too often, your tomato will droop dramatically, but not to worry, all is not lost and a good watering will perk it right back up.
4. Keeping Your Tomato Plant Upright
Tomatoes can’t really support their own fruit and tend to grow along the ground. To keep them upright you can get a tomato cage online or at most gardening or hardware stores. Place the cage over the plant, pushing down into your pot when the tomato is still relatively small and has not yet developed fruit. That will give it a chance to grow inside the cage. After about a month to two and a half months, depending on the variety, your tomato will develop little flowers, which will eventually grow into your tomatoes. As the tomatoes grow and weigh down the vines, you might need to help the plant lean on the tomato cage or wrap around it better to support the fruit.
5. Enjoy and Show Off
It might not be scientific, but tomatoes you grow yourself just taste better. There is something about picking them off the vine and popping them into your mouth knowing that you nurtured them that just makes them juicer and sweeter. Pick the little tomatoes as they get ripe, which will allow the plant to devote more resources to the tomatoes that are still developing. And as an added bonus, while you are waiting for your homegrown harvest, they make for a wonderful ornamental plant. When tomatoes first made it to Europe, they were actually grown as a decorative plant, so enjoy the bright colors and cheerful foliage on your windowsill.