If you have one tomato plant, you can turn it into many. Tomatoes are natural re-rooters, meaning that the stems can easily sprout new roots at any time.
Thanks to this, cloning tomato plants is an easy and efficient way of multiplying your plants, and thus your harvests. In this article, I’ll share how to propagate tomatoes from cuttings, properly.
Why Clone Tomatoes?
If you’ve grown tomatoes for years, you likely have a routine that works for you. However, even the most veteran growers will want to consider cloning their tomato plants.
Reasons to clone:
- Save 2-4 weeks vs planting from seed. If you have the space to grow more tomato plants, you can always start them from seed. However, cloning an existing plant saves anywhere from 2-4 weeks over starting from scratch.
- Replace failed plants. Maybe one (or a few) of your tomato plants were hit with an early disease. Or, perhaps a few of your seedlings were neglected and are not very healthy. This is the perfect time to use a healthy tomato plant to create more.
- Sucker shoots go to waste. If you are growing indeterminate tomato varieties, you are likely pruning the suckers anyway. By allowing a few to grow a few more inches, you can easily turn them into full-fledged plants.
- For fun! At the end of the day, I think most of us gardeners love to tinker and experiment. Tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to clone, so if for no other reason, try it just for the fun of it!
How To Clone Tomato Plants (8 Easy Steps)
Once you try this method for the first time, you’ll realize just how simple cloning tomatoes is. Under each step, I’ll share some important tips to set yourself up for a successful propagation.
What you’ll need:
- Sharp knife or razor blade
- Glass jar
- Aluminum foil (or just use an opaque jar/cup)
- 70% isopropyl alcohol (optional but recommended)
1. Choose the right shoot.
Cloning a tomato plant requires you to have a suitable donor plant. In other words, I wouldn’t recommend trying to clone a small tomato seedling.
Instead, choose an established plant with many branches and leaves. The plant used in this guide was approximately 2.5 months old and about 3′ tall at the time of cloning.
While the main branch can be used to clone a tomato, I prefer to use an over-grown sucker shoot for propagating. Ideally, choose a sucker shoot that is between 6-12″ in length.
The shoot can be slightly smaller or larger, but try to avoid any that have many flowers or have immature fruits on them.
2. Remove the shoot.
Using a razor blade or a very sharp knife, carefully slice off the shoot at its base. Pruning shears can be used as well, but I prefer to get a clean cut all the way across the branch.
Note: The method of removal isn’t all that important, as you can re-trim the cut end of the branch after removal. More important is to sterilize the blade before cutting (I use 70% isopropyl alcohol).
3. Remove most of the foliage and all flower buds.
After removing the cutting, you need to prepare it for rooting. This means removing any excess leaves, flower buds, and cleaning up the cut end if necessary.
Be sure to leave at least a few of the smaller leaves intact. Removing the largest leaves and all the flowers will encourage the plant to grow roots rather than trying to set fruits or grow more foliage.
4. Place the cutting in 2-3″ of water.
With your tomato cutting prepared, place it in about 2-3″ of room-temperature water in a jar or cup. I use filtered tap water, but some prefer to use distilled water for propagation.
Algae growth can occur in the water if too much light hits it directly. I use aluminum foil to block out the light, but you can just as easily use an opaque cup, such as a solo cup or similar.
Once the cutting is in the water, place it in a warm, shaded location. I like to keep it simple and use the shade from the tomato plant itself!
Direct sunlight can stress the plant, and may encourage the plant to grow more foliage instead of roots (we want roots at this stage, not leaves!).
5. Check for root growth after 1-2 weeks.
Keep the plant shaded during the entire rooting process. The plant should be warm (between 70-90°F), but should only receive indirect sunlight.
Typically, roots will begin forming around 1 week after taking the cutting. However, I highly recommend allowing the roots to grow to 2-3″ before re-potting into soil.
If you are going to run into problems, it would most likely be at this stage. Keep in mind that not all cuttings are successful (though most are when it comes to tomatoes). If you’re struggling with the rooting stage, skip ahead to see some tips for successful cloning below.
6. Re-pot the cutting in fresh soil.
After the roots have reached 2-3″ in length, get ready to transplant your cutting into soil. The cutting should be treated just like a tomato seedling, only with bare roots.
In this example, the cloned tomato is being planted in a fabric grow bag. However, propagated tomato cuttings can be planted in a raised bed, in the ground, or even into a hydroponic system!
7. Harden off the plant to full-sun.
In my experience, propagated tomatoes are more resilient than tomato seedlings, and require less hardening time. It usually takes about 1 week of transitioning for the plants to handle full sun.
8. Get ready for a huge harvest!
With your tomato cutting successfully planted, all that is left to do is nurture it to a full-grown plant! From this stage, the plants usually grow very quickly.
Tips For Success
The steps above have been fool-proof in my experience. However, if you run into problems while cloning tomatoes, try some of these tips:
- Try rooting hormone. If your plant just doesn’t seem to want to grow roots, try using a rooting hormone. While this may sound scary and unnatural, hormones simply trick the plant into performing the desired function: setting roots.
- Avoid direct sunlight during rooting. While you wait for the cutting to form new roots, keep it in a shaded location. Sometimes, underneath another tomato plant isn’t enough, so consider moving it beneath a tree or umbrella.
- Keep the water topped-off and clean. Over the course of 2 weeks, the water level will likely drop from evaporation and transpiration through the leaves. Keep an eye on the water to fill it back up. If it becomes murky, dump it out and replace it with fresh water.
- Plant the cutting deep. I am a big fan of planting tomatoes deep (or sideways) for enhancing the root system. It is no different for cloned cuttings! After the roots form, transplant the cutting 1-2″ below the top of the roots.
- Don’t forget to harden off the plant. After spending 1-2 weeks or longer in shade, your cutting will need some adjusting to direct sunlight. Start in partial shade and slowly move your plants into full sun over the course of a week or so. For in-ground plants, use 40% shade cloth for 1-2 weeks.
- Fertilize after a few weeks. If your plant is showing signs of stunting (slow growth, yellow leaves, etc.) you may wish to fertilize. I would wait at least 2 weeks to allow the plant to adjust after transplanting. Then, a light feed may be beneficial to kick-start growth.
If all else fails, simply try a new cutting! Perhaps the shoot you chose was too small, or the temperature wasn’t right. Thankfully tomatoes grow quickly and new sucker shoots are a dime-a-dozen.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and that you are on your way to cloning tomato plants! Propagating tomatoes is incredibly rewarding, and is a great way to increase your overall yields.