The key is to start early, and take cuttings when the plant is still healthy. Within several weeks, you will have new tomato plants. Cloning tomato plants from suckers is quicker than starting a new crop from seed. Here is how to root a tomato sucker!
What is a tomato sucker?
Tomato suckers are the branches that sprout in between the tomato plant’s branches and main stem. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t prune out all of my tomato suckers. I do not feel that it is necessary. The suckers turn into stems that go on to produce blossoms and fruit of their own. Pruning all of these stems reduces the overall yield of the plant.
When to prune
The only time I do prune out suckers is early in the season right when the tomato plants begin to take off. When the plant is about two feet high, I prune the suckers and the lower branches to keep them off the ground.
Benefits of pruning
Removing the suckers and lower leaves at the base of the plant to prevent the foliage from touching the ground and to improve air circulation. Pruning the lower foliage and mulching the plants to prevent soil splash helps to delay the onset of the early blight fungus that is in the soil in most cases. By the time the infection begins climbing the plant, most of the tomatoes are harvested and growing season is nearly over.
What to do with the cuttings?
Instead of tossing the suckers away, I often experiment with rooting them to grow new plants. Since the temperatures are warmer in summer than early spring, the tomato transplants are eager to settle in and begin growing.
How to root a tomato sucker
I have had the best luck with rooting cuttings from indeterminate tomato plants. Indeterminate tomato varieties continue to grow and produce fruit all season. Stems trimmed from indeterminate varieties root within about a week and establish quickly after transplanting. The determinate tomato plants that I have tried with, rooted and produced tomatoes but far less than the indeterminate ones. I recommend using indeterminate varieties for rooting tomato suckers.
When propagating tomato plants from stem cuttings, choose varieties that mature quickly so they can produce a crop before your first frost. Most indeterminate tomato plants need 80-90 days to mature before ripening fruit. Cherry or grape type tomatoes usually produce much quicker than other varieties and are the perfect candidate to experiment with.
Even though our growing season is long, I have had some good success with second and even third plantings of tomatoes cloned from suckers. I found that if I transplant the rooted cuttings to the garden by the end of June, there is enough time for them to adapt and being producing fruit before our first frost in November. If you live in a warmer climate with a longer growing season, you can take advantage of this method to grow a succession crop of tomatoes well into the fall.
How to root a tomato sucker and grow new plants
Choose a dry day to trim or prune your tomato plants so that the cut area heals over quickly reducing the chances of disease.
1. Select healthy shoots at the base of the plant with no signs of disease. Use clean pruning shears or scissors to snip the sucker branches off the plant.
2. Remove the lower leaves and put the stems in water to root tomato suckers. The plants will wilt a little for the first day or so due to the shock of the cutting. Keep the jar out of direct sunlight for a few days so the cutting can recover. Once the leaves look normal again, move the jar to a sunny window or return it outside.
3. Change the water every few days replacing with water so that the old water doesn’t promote diseases.
4. Once the roots are about an inch long, they are ready to be transplanted into larger containers or their permanent location in the garden.
5. Water the seedlings well after transplanting and keep watered until the plants begin to grow. Shade the seedlings from the summer sun until they adapt and start forming new growth.
Rooting tomato suckers and growing new plants is an excellent way of getting an additional tomato harvest for free. If you garden in an area with a longer growing season, cloning new plants from stem cuttings is a great way to grow a second crop of healthy tomatoes in the fall when the temperatures are cooler.
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Also, check out our article on Top 10 Cherry Tomato varieties to grow in your garden or Top 10 Tomato varieties to grow in your garden!