It might sound kind of silly wanting to start new tomato plants so far along into the gardening season, but there are reasons why you might want to. For someone who lives in the extended warm weather climate of the South for instance, fall tomato crops are the norm, while in the North bringing one to harvest stage before frost strikes can be a challenge. So, wouldn’t the perfect time to get your winter tomato plants started to continue the homegrown harvest after the deep freeze season arrives be in summer?
Maybe not just now at the beginning of July, but soon.
The season only has about 14 more weeks to go before it starts cooling down in the North, and the time for planting fall tomatoes rolls around in some parts of the South. Getting those summer tomato plants started under lights in your heated house takes about 8 weeks, and that’s just to get some good sized liners for planting outdoors as soon as the temperatures allowed. Then you have to wait another 60-90 days for fruit. Considering you’ve got all those thriving plants luxuriating under the sun already, why start over again from seed? It’s a lot faster to start your plants from cuttings, and cheaper too.
Instead of making it a last minute decision, scrambling to get disease-free cuttings from plants that are going into decline as the sun progresses into its fall position… why not plan ahead? That’s where my thoughts took me earlier today. So what is the best way to start tomatoes from cuttings?
That’s a good question, and the blogosphere has opinions that go from one extreme to another. Interesting. Tomato plants are so eager to grow roots, that all a stem has to do is come close to contacting the soil for a couple of days, and it’s trying to root itself at a new location. So, barring you making a colossal error in judgement, it should be very easy to pull off, and have plants that will bear fruit not too long after warm, sunny days have ended.
Your Tomato Cloning Options
1) Put your cuttings in a glass or jar with plain old water in it. Like a vase of cut flowers.
2) Same as #1, but add some rooting hormones to the water.
3) Shave the bottom half-inch of the stem. Dip it in rooting hormone. Insert it in some potting soil. Maintain consistent moisture at all times.
4) Remove all leaves but the top 3, and stick the rest of the stem into your garden soil. Keep it moist. Be sure the spot is well-draining.
5) Put your cuttings in a cloning chamber indoors. Quarantine them from the main garden area until you’re sure they have no pests or diseases.
Now, unless you’re after those fall tomatoes for your southern outdoor garden, #4 isn’t what you want at all. You could take them directly indoors, but why pay for lights when the sun is intense and free? Plenty of time for that when the weather turns, so most won’t be interested in #5.
We’re down to 3 choices, and I’ll wager that all three of them work great with tomatoes, but #3 might be more of a challenge than the first two options in the list. Consider how hard it is to keep a potted plant with roots moist 24 hours a day in high temperatures in summer – even in the shade. You can’t let the cuttings dry out. there are no roots to deliver moisture throughout the stem and leaves.
It might be that one works faster than the others, or produces better roots, even if you do manage to keep the potted cutting in consistently moist media. Common sense say to place this little pot in shade to protect it from direct sun, excessive heat, and moisture challenges while its in such a fragile state. Perhaps in bright, indirect sunlight inside the house where it’s a bit cooler.
So, the only way to get an answer to this question is to experiment with all three, and keep track of their progress from fresh cuts to sizable tomato plants several weeks from now. Then you’ll know exactly what the best way to clone tomato plants is. We’ll have the answer before it’s time to gather your cuttings for fall tomato starting, or winter tomatoes for the indoor garden.
Sometimes plants can be surprisingly adaptable. I have a hunch that starting tomatoes from cuttings is a lot easier than some people think it is. Yes, those are my cuttings at the top of this page. Tomorrow I’ll separate them and treat them accordingly to options 1, 2, and 3. Stay tuned for updates on their progress 🙂