Salvaging Super Skinny Tomato Plants

scslimApril 1, 2010

I have around 20 tomato plants that were started too early and apparently not given sufficient light. As a result, they are very long and skinny, so much so that they are even difficult to move around without damaging them. The plants probably measure almost 4 ft in length and aren't much thicker than a pencil.

I am planning on planting them deep, but even so they will need to be trimmed back somewhat. Should I trim them back and if so, how much is too much?

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

If they are 4 foot tall/long I'd just root some cuttings from them and pitch the rest of the plant.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 4:26PM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

Dave has the right idea, unless you want to dig long trenches for planting.

It looks like you are in zone 7, do you have enough time to take cuttings?

When I want to take cuttings, I put some potting mix in a cup or pot, poke a hole with a pencil while wigglinig it slightly to enlarge the hole and to pack the potting mix on the sides of the hole somewhat. I usually clip the top of the plant so that I have 2 or 3 sets of leaves on the stem and remove any below that. Then put the cutting into the hole as deeply as possible, almost to the lowest leaves. I water well, and then put the container in a flat with about a half-inch of water, so the plant is rooted in very wet potting soil and will not suffer shock when like it can when rooted in water then put into soil. (Best of both methods that way.) Each day I make sure there is that half inch of water in the tray. The cuttings will droop badly for a few days then perk right up. When they perk up they have some roots, and I let the tray dry and water them the way I normally water seedlings.

Are your plants leggy because they are reaching for light? If so try to get them some good lighting, like an inexpensive shop light. Put a fan near so that it can blow on them, preferably with a timer, and run it on them for an hour or two a couple of times a day. That will help give you stockier stems.

Hope that helps.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 7:44PM
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Yes, Dave has the right idea. I do it all winter with an ultrasonic cloning machine which speeds things up, but it's not necessary. Use the main tip and as many suckers as you want. But don't trash the plant, leave the last sucker on.(lowest), and allow it to become the new main stem. This one should grow quite rapidly due to the large root structure. You can find more information in the propagation forum and in the hydroponic forum. Good luck

    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 8:57PM
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You already have roots and a stem. Plant them horizontally in trenches, would be a waste try to root cuttings.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 10:47PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

would be a waste try to root cuttings

Why? Easy to do. Quick to do. And you end up with a stronger, healthier plant in the long run without all the leggy handicaps.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 10:57PM
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Plant them in a trench. I've done it before with plants started in February and not put in the garden till July for a fall garden. They end up with a great root system and grow of nicely.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 11:34PM
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Thanks for that info. I'm still learning. I didn't know you could do that with tomato plants. I will make that an experiment this year with one plant.

Let me tell you this story. Last year my mom and I raised about 50 tomato plants...we do this at her home. She has her plants and I have mine. We repot from cups to two quart pots when the plants are 9 to 12 inches high and then they are placed outside in the little greenhouse I built for a couple weeks for hardening. When we planted them to the garded we cover them for frost. She uses 5 gallon plastic buckets. I pound three stakes at each end of my row and run three heavy nylon strings, one over the top of the plants and one on each side forming a triangle. I then placed plastic over the strings creating a tent and bed sheets over the plastic. We had a frost that night where the temp went down to 28*. My plants didn't freeze except where a few leaves were pressing against the plastic. All her plants froze, about 20, and I mean froze, white frost on the leaves. It was a sad sight. I had about 10 give-aways left in the greenhouse so we planted them for her. We left the frozen plants in the garden just to see what would happen. Low and behold about a week or so later those frozen plants started perking up and then took off. Every plant lived. My plants were a little further along than her's, about 20" high at the time. Her plants not only took off but caught up to mine and actually had a few ripe tomatoes before my plants, on the early girls. Those frozen plants produced like nothing had happened. I told her at the time her first tomatoes ripened that we should allow the plants to freeze next year on

    Bookmark   April 2, 2010 at 12:10AM
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there is no "too far back" for tomatoes...I've had them cut down to nothing by a cutworm or broken by a dog running (just a stump sticking out of the ground) and come back a week later to find a new branch sprouting (another reason to plant deep, you have leaf joints low!).

And, to chime in with the people who have suggested rooting cuttings, once I accidentally snapped off a sucker (a sweet 100 loaded with blossoms) and in frustration, I took a stick, popped a hole in the ground next to the plant, stuck the sucker in the ground, and popped the sucker in the hole. "take that!" Well, the next day it was wilted...but the next day it rained...and perked back up, and it became its own plant, didn't even drop its blossoms!

I would take the top of the plant, put it in some moist seed starting mix, (like bets suggested. If your plants are VERY leggy, you only want the very crown of the plant).

Likewise, you can take any of the crowns of any suckers (if the plants are indeterminate). Then trim the potted plant down to a bonsai :) let it heal a day or so, and then introduce it to the sun if weather temps permit.

4' ;) You'll have to tell us how you did that!

As an aside, you do have the option of trenching or letting the plants sprawl and send roots out into the ground, but I think 4' trenches would get old real fast, and disease for sprawling would be very difficult to maintain, as well as picking fruit and weeding. Ick!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 8:38AM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

moms_helper_2008, you are most welcome.

scslim, I suppose you could plant the leggy plants as deep as you wish to dig the hole, put a sturdy stake in it (a 2"x2" with the bottom 18" or so painted with linseed or tung oil or even mineral oil to slow the penetration of moisture so that the stakes will last longer) set the tomato plant in next to the stake and tie it up fairly securely so that it would not get damaged by wind, then back fill the hole and water well.

Quite frankly, I would be very concerned about the damage the plant might get while being hardened off. Personally, I'd take the cuttings which may set you back about a week, but in your zone does not amount to much in the grand scheme of things.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 2:31PM
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dickiefickle(5B Dousman,Wi.)

agree trenches .and them suckers will grow quick

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 4:42AM
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I also have skinny tomato's and will try try the trenching method.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 7:11PM
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I went to the Home Depo today and their tomato plants were about as tall as mine but were thick, as in big as my thumb thick when mine are thinner than a #2 pencil.

What gives with the thickness disparity?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 7:15PM
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I also wondered how they get those tomatoes so thick and stocky!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 9:10PM
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anney(Georgia 8)

They are grown cool.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 9:37PM
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