How to Root Fall Tomatoes from Existing Plants

You can root fall tomatoes easily from existing tomato plants. The “old” plants continue to grow and produce in your garden while new seedlings take root. Then, by planting “cloned” seedlings, you can enjoy a whole new late tomato crop. This simple “cloning” method has several distinct advantages.

Advantages when you root fall tomatoes for the late season

Availability.

You’ll grow your own tomato seedlings in midsummer, even at a time when it’s too late to start them from seeds and when it’s difficult to find them at garden centers or though mailing catalogues.

Re-use. You recycle your current tomato plants.

Flexibility. You can root new seedlings on a timetable that allows them to be ready for your fall planting schedule.
Savings. You save money by not purchasing new plants. Familiarity. You work with varieties with which you’re familiar and with which you’ve had success.

Crop overlap. Your older tomato plants continue producing tomatoes until newly-rooted seedlings get established and begin putting out fruit, extending your season.

Challenges to rooting your own tomato plants

Planning. You need to think ahead and plan your fall crop planting in order for new seedlings to be ready to put in the ground at the appropriate time.

How to root fall tomatoes from "old" plants

Follow different steps to root shoots from a tomato’s lower branches and to root shoots from a tomato’s upper branches.

Rooting lower shoots

  • Choose a plant from which to root fall tomatoes. Select a variety you like and a plant that has been producing well during the season.
  • Find a green shoot or sucker on the lower part of the plant, as near to the ground as possible. (It’s OK if the remaining part of the plant is already past its prime.)
  • Dig a small trench in the soil next to the green shoot.
  • Lay the shoot in the trench, keeping it attached to the mother plant.
  • Cover the shoot with 2-3 inches of soil, pressing firmly and leaving 3-6 inches of the shoot tip and leaves exposed. The buried stem sprouts roots. The soil layer covering it keeps the shoot secure. The exposed tip and leaves continue to produce chlorophyll which is necessary for the plant’s food production.
  • Water the buried shoot regularly.
  • Monitor the buried shoot for 2-3 weeks. Then, check to see if roots have developed by gently moving away some soil from its base.
  • Once roots develop, cut new seedling from mother plant. Use a sharp knife or clean garden clippers.
  • Transplant the newly-rooted tomato seedling to its new place in the garden, adding compost to the soil. Or allow plant to remain in its rooted location to replace old, spent plants. Work in a layer of compost around the base of the new plant.

Rooting upper shoots

  • Choose a plant from which to root fall tomatoes. Select a variety you like and a plant that has been producing well during the season.
  • Find a green shoot or sucker that you’d like to root (It’s OK if the remaining part of the plant is already past its prime.)
  • Bury the stem.

    Option #1: Hang a small pot, coffee can, or 2-liter soda bottle (with top cut off) from the sides of the tomato cage or tomato stake, as near the shoot as possible. Fill the container halfway with potting soil.
    Gently lay the shoot across the container. Cover the shoot with 2-3 inches of soil, pressing firmly and leaving 3-6 inches of the shoot tip and leaves exposed. The buried stem sprouts roots. The soil layer covering it keeps the shoot secure. The exposed tip and leaves continue to produce chlorophyll which is necessary for the plant’s food production.
    Option #2: Place several cups of potting soil on a 24” x 24” piece of burlap. Grasp all 4 corners of the burlap – 2 in one hand, 2 in the other. Wrap burlap around green tomato shoot leaving 3-6 inches of the shoot tip and leaves exposed. Tie the burlap to the shoot securely with string or rubber band. The buried stem sprouts roots. The soil layer covering it keeps the shoot secure. The exposed tip and leaves continue to produce chlorophyll which is necessary for the plant’s food production. Water the buried shoot regularly.

  • Monitor the buried shoot for 2-3 weeks. Then, check to see if roots have developed by gently moving away some soil from its base.
  • Once roots develop, cut new seedling from mother plant. Use a sharp knife or clean garden clippers.

How to plant newly-rooted tomato clone seedlings

Transplant the newly-rooted tomato seedling to its new place in the garden making sure to add compost to the soil.

Rooted lower shoots can remain in their rooted location to replace old, spent plants. Work in a layer of compost around the base of new plants.

Water new tomato plants regularly. Start them on a systematic fertilization program.


More on fall tomatoes

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Should I plant second season tomatoes - and when?

Choosing fall tomatoes to extend your harvest ...

Best fall tomato varieties ...

How to take fall tomato cuttings to grow late tomatoes ...

Tips for growing fall tomatoes ...

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