Do you want more compact and higher-yielding tomato plants this season? Of course you do.
This method is not a gardening hack but a great way to use the tomato plant’s ability to grow new, fresh roots from the stem.
Quick answer: Take a cutting, leaving at least two pairs of true leaves on the donor tomato plant. Trim the cutting, put it in water, and place it in a spot with plenty of light. Roots will form in 7-10 days and your new plant will be ready to transplant.
All you need is a tomato seedling with at least four sets of true leaves, sharp garden scissors, and a container filled with water.
5-steps to turn one tomato plant into two
This is my go-to method for developing low-growing and high-yielding plum, mini, and cherry tomato plants. Remember, with more fruit-bearing branches; it is essential to feed your plants to sustain growth and fruit development.
Follow our 5-step process and watch the video below for more information.
1. You need a tomato plant or seedling with at least four sets of true leaves
2. Cut the seedling just above the second pair of true leaves. Leave the donor plant in its pot; the plant will branch out and create new fruit-bearing stems
3. Trim or prune the cut-off top to leave only a few sets of top leaves. We want the cutting to use its energy to produce fresh roots, not leaves.
4. Place the seedling in a glass of water and place it in a location with plenty of light, but avoid direct sunlight. I place my tomato cuttings under a full spectrum grow light that gives plenty of light but no heat.
5. Transplant the tomato seedling in soil when new solid white roots form after about a week to 10 days.
You have now created two genetically identical tomato plants from one donor plant.
When you transplant the seedling from water to soil, you may experience what is commonly called transplant chock. The leaves lose their vigor, and the seedling looks like it is dying.
Related: Check out the video below for tips on transplanting tomato seedlings.
Stay with it. This is not unusual. Give the seedling plenty of light but avoid direct sunlight. You want light, but not heat.
In my experience, tomato seedlings have a remarkable capacity for bouncing back. See the photos below, taken about an hour apart.
Yes, you can keep going and create 3, 4, or more plants
Given time, there is no limit on how many plants you can create from one donor plant.
But of course, as most of us grow tomato plants as annuals, there will always be a trade-off between the number of plants created and the time needed for the plants to develop and start producing viable fruits.
I do my topping early in the spring to give the plants plenty of time to develop and grow into complete plants by summer.
Why not just start more seeds?
You can, of course, always start more seeds if you want more tomato plants, at least if you have enough time for the plants to grow and develop. But sometimes, we may lose plants along the way, and starting new plants from top cuttings is simply easier.
And then, we have the scenario where we decide to spend a little bit more on F1 tomato seeds only to be disappointed to find a mere handful of seeds in the packet. Using top cuttings effectively creates two genetically identical plants from one seed.
Topping plants also create bushier, compact, and lower-growing plants. And if you are not a big fan of creating elaborate support structures for your tomato plants, this is a bonus.
Does this really work?
Yes, sometimes the simple things in gardening work. This is one of those garden hacks that many home gardeners try once on one plant and then go full out the following season.
This is also why leggy tomato seedlings are not that big of a deal. Sure, strong and compact are better. But we can work with leggy tomato seedlings.
Are there any disadvantages?
This method is not for you if you are all about that early harvest of fresh tomatoes in your garden. But then again, you do not have to top all your tomato plants.
Five of my strongest-looking and most compact-growing cherry and plum tomato plants and my Sungold tomatoes are, by definition, my early harvest plants. All other tomato plants are candidates for topping to grow more plants to get that harvest of fresh tomatoes that lasts through to October and sometimes later.
There is also a risk that your top cutting will not survive the transplant or pot up. You will still have the original plant, producing a later harvest.
It is common for cuttings to wilt and look miserable for a couple of hours following a transplant. Make sure you water thoroughly, give the wilting transplant plenty of light but not direct sunlight, and watch it bounce back. Not always, but from my experience, it rarely fails.
Tip! I place seedlings suffering from transplant chock under a full spectrum grow light. The grow light will give full light but generates no heat.
What are F1, F2, and F3 hybrids?
For all hybrid tomato plants, you start with the parent plants.
The off-spring, cross, or result of crossing the parent plant will give you F1 hybrids. The parent plants are carefully selected for certain desirable traits. These first-generation hybrids promise higher yields, better resistance to pests and disease, and solid seedlings and plants.
The only downside with F1 hybrids is that you tend to get fewer seeds per packet at a higher cost per plant overall.
Should you harvest seeds from your F1 tomato fruits, you will be growing what are called F2 hybrids. If F1 hybrids are the children, the F2 hybrids are the grandchildren.
Some F2 seeds will show similar characteristics to the F1 hybrid plant, whereas others may produce significantly different plants and fruits.
As you may have guessed by now, the F3 hybrids would be the great-grandchildren, and here, we can expect an even broader spread in characteristics, traits, and plant development.
And then, finally, to make it a bit more complicated, some hybrids carry sterile genes where seeds harvested would produce plants that do not produce viable flowers or fruits.
Summary: using tomato cuttings to grow more tomato plants
Home gardening should be fun, but we also want the yield or harvest. And trying new things is the best way to learn what works for you in your garden.
Do you have a spot in your garden that could be ideal for tomato plants, but you are unsure if there is enough sunlight?
Are you using large containers or grow bags just to be safe and ensure your tomato plants will develop and thrive?
Would you prefer not to have to build those elaborate support structures every year for your cherry tomato plants?
Topping a couple of plants is a great way to test without risking the main tomato plants you rely on for your harvest.
You may find the answers you are looking for. I wish you a fantastic and high-yielding tomato season.