How to Grow Tomatoes from Side Shoots
by Guest blogger: Jason Johns
author of Growing Tomatoes: Your Guide to Growing Delicious Tomatoes at Home
Listen to his podcast interview HERE
Indeterminate or vining tomatoes produce plenty of side shoots, which we spend all season pinching off and composting. These are prolific on some tomato plants and often you miss one or two shoots which end up growing long.
However, instead of throwing these away, if there is enough of the growing season left, then you can keep these and turn them into new plants! I love this technique because you get free tomato plants. This is especially good when you’ve bought a variety that you really like and only have a couple of plants. So long as there is enough time for the plant to mature, you can get more tomato plants for nothing!
This is a great way to propagate heritage plants. I first used this technique a few years ago when I bought some Black Russian tomato plants for their black tomatoes. They were quite expensive at the time as colored tomatoes were rare in the UK and not very popular. Due to the cost, I bought two plants, but I really liked the idea of black tomatoes. They grew like crazy and I went away for a week and came back to far too many side shoots. It was a shame to throw them away, so I decided to put them in water on the kitchen window sill and see if they would root, and they did!
I soon realized that this was a great way to get extra tomato plants from expensive varieties or from hard to germinate varieties. Best of all, it was incredibly easy and anyone can do it!
Choosing which shoots to use
Start by choosing a side shoot that is around four to eight inches long. Avoid side shoots that are too long as they can get a bit leggy. You can still grow from them, but plant them much deeper in the soil when you plant them out. Use a sharp pair of scissors or secateurs to cut the side shoot close to the main stem, being very careful not to damage the main stem. You can pinch it off with your fingers, but as the shoot is a bit thicker than normal, you have less chance of damaging the main stem if you use scissors.
Next, strip of any leaves so there is two to three inches of bare stem. Then put the shoot in a glass or water on a sunny window sill and leave it for a few days. Make sure the glass is tall enough to support the shoot so it doesn’t fall over and that the bottom two inches of the stem are in the water. Tomato plants are rather unique in that they will produce extra roots from the stem, which allows this technique to work.
When a good root system has established it can be removed from the glass of water and planted on. Plant your tomato into a pot large enough to support the root system.
Planting in the soil
The tomato plant needs to have all the root and some of the stem under the soil. More roots will grow from the stem and the new roots will soon establish themselves in the soil. Make sure the soil is not too compacted so the roots can get through the soil, and put the tomato plant somewhere warm and bright. Keep it well watered until it has fully established itself in its pot.
Simple isn’t it?
Once the plant has established itself, you can harden it off and start moving it outside so it gets used to the weather or transfer it to a greenhouse. Harden the plants off over a week or two, depending on the weather conditions where you live. Once it is happy outside, then you can move it to a larger pot or plant it out, depending on where you are going to grow your tomato plants. Water, feed and stake the plant as normal and keep removing the side shoots diligently.
As the growing season will be shorted for this plant, you need to make sure it focuses its energy on producing fruit. Remember to pinch the growing tip off when the plant reaches your desired height, usually three to five flower trusses, depending on the length of your growing season and whether you are growing them indoors or outside.
You are going to get an awful lot of these side shoots, and it isn’t necessarily practical to grow them all on. Some will be composted, but you can certainly keep some of the side shoots and plant them on. This is an easy way to get some extra tomato plants for no cost at all!
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About this author:
Jason is the author of Growing Tomatoes: Your Guide to Growing Delicious Tomatoes at Home, as well as 17 other self-published gardening books on everything from greenhouse gardening to growing giant pumpkins.
Jason is passionate about gardening, having grown his own produce for over twenty years. He started with a second-hand greenhouse, an 8’ by 6’ patch of his mother’s garden, and far too many tomato plants. After turning the greenhouse into a tomato farm, he was hooked at the taste of the first ripe tomato.
How to reach Jason:
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