Tomato Propagation for a Winter Harvest

As you can imagine, tomatoes are a staple in our household. We grow a lot of them and process them into many different products. We can tomato quarters, stewed tomatoes, make plain sauce, pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce and tomatoes are the prime ingredient in V-6 juice. Let’s chat about tomato propagation for a winter harvest.

We grow Red Alert cherry, Bellstar and Amish paste, an heirloom variety called Brandywine and a new one called Kalinka We save seed from all except the cherry tomatoes which are a hybrid.

Tomato Cuttings

Tomato Cuttings

Tomato Cuttings

Here’s a trick I’ve been doing forever to have some winter cherry tomatoes. I see no reason why this won’t work with any healthy tomato plant. I propagate it by snipping off suckers that have a “fork” node. I do this by examining the plant in mid-August and selecting suckers that meet my criteria. Use good snippers or a sharp knife and make a clean cut.

The easiest way to explain it is I look at the suckers and imagine what it would look like if it was cut and planted in soil. I’m looking for a nicely formed sucker with a lower fork that if planted, would look like a naturally started seedling. The pictures below illustrate what I mean.

As soon as they are cut, they should be set in water. If you don’t, they will wilt in a hurry as mine did while arranging and snapping pictures. We recycle the bottoms of plastic milk containers with the tops cut off for starting seeds and this is another good use for them. Have them filled with soil. This year I cut 6 pieces and 5 of them took and rooted. You’ll usually lose at least one or more so cut many so you ensure some success.

Interim Transplants

Get the piece of sucker planted into the dirt pronto and make sure that fork is buried in the dirt. Water it so that water is literally sitting pooled on the surface. Be prepared that they may look quite sad and bleak for many days. If they remain perky throughout the process, you’ve done a great job of selection and transplanting. Give them a few weeks and they’ll start to root.

Interim Transplanting

Interim Transplanting

I try to limit direct sun for a few weeks. You’ll notice if you do put them in direct sun for awhile, they will start to wilt and look like death warmed over. The next morning, they will look perky again only to wilt again in direct sun. A little sun is OK but I generally keep them mostly shaded until they are rooted, then they can go in a sunny spot full time.

There’s nothing precise here but roughly 4-5 weeks later when the plants look lush and are obviously doing well, I’ll then transplant them again into a big container; our containers are large enough I put two in each catty-corner from each other. Set them in a little deeper than the original planting, water well but this time there’s no need to have them swimming. Water them like any other house plant as needed.

Final Potting

It won’t be long before they’re flowering and you can look forward to another crop of tomatoes. If you have them on a handy stool or platform by a south facing window, they will look out on a frosty fall morning grateful for the new lease on life you’ve given them.

Final Potting

Final Potting

For those with a greenhouse or cold frame large enough to handle them, keep them in there as long as you dare before bringing them into the house. They will get more sun light here than in the house even if placed on a south facing window sill. Be sure to cover them at night and protect them while they are vulnerable to frosts regardless of where you set them up.

Although I’ve never had the need to try this, there should be no reason why once again after the plant has started to fade into the sunset, that more suckers with a node can’t be cut and propagated again for an early summer start. I may try this myself this year now that I have a greenhouse erected.

Enjoy your winter tomatoes!

Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!

Ron and Johanna

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2 Responses to Tomato Propagation for a Winter Harvest

  1. Margy says:

    I have several volunteer tomato plants that sprouted from the compost I removed from my barrel in July. I haven’t pulled then out, but I’m sure they won’t bear fruit before winter. I don’t have a greenhouse or cold frame and we will be gone for part of the time so they will have to fend for themselves. – Margy

    • Ron & Johanna Melchiore says:

      We too had volunteer plants, both tomato and squash this year. Normally we’d pull them up but they were in weird places so we let them go. By the end of summer, the squash gave us far too much to use and probably sprawled 30 feet. It was bizarre. Just started pulling all that up yesterday. We’ll have close to 50 butternut squash and will be giving a bunch away. Safe travels!

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