You can grow more tomato plants faster by rooting cuttings including suckers. The cuttings will grow roots and become new, fruit-producing plants faster than it takes to grow from seed.
This is part of a series on 5 Best Tips for Growing Tomatoes.
Grow Tomatoes From Suckers & Other Cuttings
Tomato | Genus: Solanum
Tomato Growing Tips
Annual vegetable, truly a berry
• Vines (indeterminates) or bushes (determinates)
• Full sun
• Soil: well-draining and fertile
• Propagation: seed or cuttings
• Self-fertile with help from wind and insects
• DIY tomato cages | Seed Saving | Ripen after picking
Shop Online: Buy tomato seeds at Botanical Interests (US Shipping)
Did you know you can remove leaf stems including “suckers” from tomato plants and grow them as new plants? It is an easy way to get new fruit-producing plants plus you get a jump start by starting with established stems.
First let’s look at the parts of a tomato plant to understand what you can remove. In the diagram below you can see the main stem, a leaf stem, and a sucker.
For cuttings, you can take anything growing from the main stem, whether it’s a leaf stem or sucker.
What Are Suckers?
Suckers are stems that form between a main stem (the thickest one) and a leaf stem, often at a 45-degree angle. We’re often told to remove suckers because “they deplete the plant’s resources” but I cannot find any research to support this. Suckers are just another stem that can flower and fruit like the other ones. We may remove them due to crowding though and they make good cuttings.
Pruning and taking cuttings go hand-in-hand, of course, because whatever you remove while pruning is a candidate for rooting into a new plant.
How you approach it will depend on where you are in the growing season.
Early on, I take select cuttings to root into new plants while leaving much of the original plant in tact.
Look at the overall structure of your plant and just remove stems that are impeding air flow, low to the ground and vulnerable to diseases like tomato blight (fungus), or blocking sun exposure. Retain at least five good flowering or fruiting stems, otherwise you’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Later on in the growing season, I may “top” the original plant—if it’s an indeterminate (vining) variety that just keeps growing—to stop further unnecessary growth since time is running out. At this point you’re looking at some indoor growing for any cuttings if you live in a cold climate like I do.
At the end of the growing season, after harvesting the fruit, any stems are fair game. Each fall, I take about a dozen to grow as houseplants. Of these, perhaps a third will last long enough to flower and fruit on my windowsill in the winter. You can learn more about growing vegetables indoors here.
First I’ll show you how to approach pruning, and then how to root the cuttings.
How to Prune Tomato Vines
In most instances, we’re pruning vining (indeterminate) tomatoes and leave bush (determinate) tomatoes alone. This said, pruning is optional—many gardeners just add supports and otherwise leave their tomatoes alone for the growing season.
Have a look at this video.
The goal is to have healthy plants that produce as much fruit as possible without risking damage from things like the weight of the tomatoes or disease.
A general guideline is to have about 4-5 productive stems (ones with flowers/fruit) on your indeterminate tomato plants. Each flower cluster can provide a handful of tomatoes, so that can mean 20 tomatoes per plant or more. This varies greatly, of course, depending on the variety and its size, but no matter—that’s a lot from just one plant.
In addition to removing some stems, toward the end of the growing season, we also may ‘top’ or pinch off the top of a main stem, which by now may be growing beyond the height of the cage, since there’s no value in it getting taller before frosts set in. When this is done, the plant is ‘topped’.
When we say, “pinch off”, you may literally use sharp fingernails to remove the sucker right at its base if you can do it cleanly without peeling the plant. Alternately, you can use fine, clean scissors or a sharp blade or scalpel (my favorite). You’ll get a feel for it as you try it. The less damage or open wound on the main plant, the better, of course.
If you plan to root your pruned cuttings, keep reading.
Rooting Suckers & Other Cuttings for New Plants
If you plan to root your cuttings, have your supplies ready before you prune.
The process is simple.
- Have mason jars ready, filled with approximately 3-inches of clean, warm water. I prefer to keep just one cutting (plant) per jar to avoid the roots getting tangled as they grow.
- Choose stems that are at least six inches long (or more), have some leaves, and (preferably) are not flowering or fruiting.
- Submerge the cut end in the water jar immediately after pruning. There should not be any leaves in the water, just stem.
Caring For Your Cuttings
- Keep the jars in a warm, sheltered location, away from direct sun.
- Change the water every few days (or more often). I rotate jars so I can just move the cuttings to fresh jars of warm water and wash the old ones in batches.
Within a few weeks you will see roots growing out the submerged stems.
Transplant Your Cuttings
While transplanting can be done any time, I like to wait about 4 to 6 weeks so some roots are established but they’re not so long that they’ll be crowded in the flower pot.
Plant your rooted stems in organic potting mix at the same depth they were submerged in the water or a little deeper.
If growing outdoors, gradually transition to regular growing conditions (full sun). Transplant into a larger container or the ground when plant is outgrowing its pot. The plant signals it’s (past) time when the potting mix is always drying out.
If growing indoors, once potted, gradually introduce plants to full sun windowsill and be sure to keep watered. Increase pot size as needed.
Wherever you’re growing them, put trellis or cages in place early on so supports are there when needed. It’s too easy to break stems when retrofitting tomato cages.
Frequently Asked Questions
1Do Marigolds Help Tomatoes?
Have you heard the advice to plant marigolds near tomatoes to thwart pests? Have a listen and find out what this study found about whiteflies and tomatoes:
2What Causes Blossom End Rot?
It’s a condition that shows up on tomatoes both in the garden and commercial greenhouses. The gardening world is filled with theories about calcium and watering but the research is not so conclusive.
3How Do You Ripen Green Tomatoes
Yes, you can ripen some tomatoes after picking. But you need to know what to look for.
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