How to clone tomatoes?

james-in-lapineAugust 25, 2008

Fall is here and I had my first good freeze. It was 25 at my place Thursday night. I lost some things but was able to save a lot. Most of my tomatoes and peppers made it as they were covered well or in unheated green houses.

I want to cut the terminal growth of some these tomato plants, may be even some of the secondaries (suckers) if they look better than the terminal end. From what I have read I then dip them into a rooting hormone and right into seedling pots.

Do any of you do this for growing tomatoes indoors through the winter? I'd sure love to have fresh tomatoes when there is 5 feet of snow on the ground. LOL, don't we all!

As far as the peppers go I will dig up one or two of the better ones and put them right into 5 gallon buckets. Both the tomatoes and peppers will go into the growing room under lights for the winter.

Please let me know how you would do something like this.

Thank you,


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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

You can do that or cut them and place them directly-qyuickly in water/very dilute fertilizer, like you would cut flowers, and wait for root buds to show before transfering to soil. That way they do not get as dehydrated before the new roots take over.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 7:07AM
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Weather man says 29 deg tonight. GRRR.
spiced_ham, have you grown tomatoes inside over the winter? I know it will be hard in my zone but I know it is do able.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 10:18AM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

James, getting the cuttings to form new plants and keeping them the plants over the winter is one thing but getting them to produce tomatoes is something quite different in my opinion.

Even if you used your heated greenhouse I don't think there's enough natural light in you r area to be successful and you'd need a substantial money investment to get a halide light set up or similar.

BTW I think it's best to take short lateral branches, aka sucker cuttings, and all you need to do is stick them directly in small pots with soilless artificial mix. No hormone is needed b'c tomatoes have the wonderful trait of forming roots off stems in solid matrix. if you stick them in water they just have to readjust when put in a solid matrix b'c adsorptive root features are different in water and solid matrix situations.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 10:34AM
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tomatogreenthumb(6 WV)

Let's say that I have a certain "perfect" tomato plant in my garden this fall............right size, gobs of nearly identical huge size tomatoes in abundance on it, disease tolerant...... and I would love to have several of that kind of tomato plants to raise next summer.
Can I take several small suckers from it and grow them under grow lights in my house, then when they get too tall, take suckers from those tall plants and do the same thing over and over again until garden planting time next spring in order to propagate several of that same plant??
Just a thought.
I have a Ultimate Giant plant and a Carbon plant that I would love to duplicate next summer:)

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 1:48PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

I have a Ultimate Giant plant and a Carbon plant that I would love to duplicate next summer:)


Carbon is OP so all you have to do is save seeds and sow them next Spring.

Same thing for Ultimate Giant which is also OP.

No need to take cuttings at all.

Ideally blossoms would have been bagged to help prevent X pollination but the majority of the time blossoms self pollenize so the odds are in your favor that you'll get true seeds.

In any case I think it's far more time and cost effective to buy those seeds, and presumably you have some seeds left over from this year, than to take cuttings and trying to keep them going over the winter which does mean making successive cuttings as the plants get too big.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 4:28PM
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tomatogreenthumb(6 WV)

Thanks for your input, Carolyn. I have great admiration of your wisdom.

What I really wanted to do was keep the same plants growing for next year (cloned, as it were), rather than just grow the same varieties from seed again.

I have found that the vines will be somewhat different in size and production of fruits, depending on each individual seed's total genetics.

Carbon has become one of my favorite varieties, with it's nice yields and fruit size and flavor. Ultimate Giant is much larger if pruned to 1 of 2 fruits per vine, and has a small core for such a large tomato, along with great flavor.

Am raising Biz Zac this year is a flavorful large tomato, but not great yielding for me. Planted 4 vines and ended up with red maters on three of them and pink maters on the fourth saved seeds from one of the huge pink maters. It was "ideal" in taste and size, along with decent production. Anxious to see what the seeds produce next summer. Want a few to try?


    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 9:02PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Want a few to try?


Thanks but no thanks Owen. ( smile)

There are many who have said that plants overwintered don't perform as well the next year. Since I haven't done it and don't intend to I can't speak from personal experience, so you'll just have to see for yourself.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 9:13PM
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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

As long as the seeds were not crossed there is no genetic difference between seeds from an OP. Environmental differences account for differences between plants, and even fruit sets at different times of the season will be different. That being said, there is the chance your plants are different from type because they came from accidentally crossed seeds so you would be trying to preserve F1 plants. I don't grow for fruit in the off season, but I have cloned special plants early in the season when the mother plant was hit with stem boring worms, disease, damage etc. Actually I have one sitting in a "vase" of nutrient water in the windowsill going on 2.5 mos now. Growth is dependent on light plus nutrients so with low light and low nutrients the otherwise healthy looking thing hasn't grown a lick in all that time, but the gatorade bottle is full of roots. You could try to windowsill-waterculture some cuttings and see if they make it over winter. I would pump up the nutrients in early spring to jump start new growth and then cut new growth off of them [stick cuttings in some pots of damp potting mix like Carolyn suggested] for the plants you want in the garden. I don't think watercultured roots will transfer over to soil very well.

The top cuttings I took were about a foot long so that I would have 5 inches of stem in the water. You'll probably have to cut off a leaf to get the stem length needed, but that is OK.

Good luck with it.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 7:37AM
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tomatogreenthumb(6 WV)

hi spicedbacon: sounds good to me. will give that a try with a few of my best plants.
but I still say that each individual seed has its own growing vigor built in. lol

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 6:05PM
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In the past I have had luck with pulling the plants right out of the ground before the first frost here in NY when the plants were loaded with green tomatoes.
I hung the plants upside down in my south facing garage windows from some planter hooks. I kept the roots kind of moist by spraying them every day or so & believe it or not the tomatoes continued to ripen on the vines. One year I stretched the little charade out untill thanksgiving!!!
A real trip haveing red tomatoes with your turkey!!!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 9:37PM
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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

"but I still say that each individual seed has its own growing vigor built in. lol"

Well, if everybody let scientific facts get in the way of faith society would probably crumble. ;-)

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 8:03AM
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spiced ham, I am inclined to agree with tomatogreenthumb about characteristics of individual plants.

carolyn137 I to have learned to trust the wisdom of several folks, yours included, here at the Garden Forums. I am going to have the plants in question in the house. I keep it 75-85 in the winter (to many years in Hawaii) and with a wood stove temps won't be a problem. I have a mirrored room with grow lights that I use to start my seedlings. I had 2 pepper plants producing fruit in it until the end of January. This should do me well if we don't have a long power outage like we did last year.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 1:13PM
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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

Sure, plants have individual characteristics, but the vast majority of those are environmentally induced when talking about true breeding genetically stable varieties. Which explains why overwintered plants do worse the second year, unless started fresh from cuttings (cell aging and senescence). The basis for our understanding of genetics was done on true breeding self pollinating varieties. Mendel could have done his work on tomatoes rather than peas and got the same results. The frequency of expressed point mutations is just too low to expect it to be a major player, and since point mutations (and things like transposon jumping genes) affects somatic plant cells as well as seed germ cells the whole plant or part of the plant could be affected at any time after germination(sport development).

Walk through the middle of a commercial field of tomatoes, corn etc and you will see less variation among plants than you will in a garden because the environmental conditions in a large field tend to be more even. In a small garden of mixed varieties you have to deal with uneven fertilizer application, uneven root competition, uneven light competition, uneven water availability and water loss, and uneven pest and pathogen attack. Other environmental causes of variability in supposedly genetically identical plants are mixed seed in commercial packs and crossed seed in unbagged blooms.

As it stands now with about 70 packs of commercial seeds, 3-4% of my packs put out off-type plants, it can be one seed, 25% of seed, or 100% of seeds in those packs, and who can tell how many of the RL pinks or reds are crossed or mixed seed. You won't find this variability in hybrids even though they contain a mix of alleles because they were hand pollinated.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 8:04AM
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One problem with the continued cutting is that you are always at risk of losing the plant. What if your grow light dies, or you skip watering over the holidays. Maybe a bug/disease issue will kill the plant. Seeds are more sturdy, and you typically have a lot of them. This is all in my opinion, of course.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 11:30AM
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hi Owen
I am very interested in your pink big zac seeds
how can I contact you?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 2:50PM
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tomatogreenthumb(6 WV)

you can contact me at

    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 9:46PM
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Cloned and overwintered plants are quite easy to do-provided you have a minimum heat of not less than 64 degrees F in which to grow them- either in a greenhouse or conservatory,and they will grow quite slowly until the spring,- the only problem with them is for some reason or the other they are the first plants to be attacked by emerging white flies in early spring-they will attack these in preference to any new seedlings or young plants that you have coming on in the same area,perhaps they just like more adult leaves to go on- but you have to keep a close watch on them during this time and give them a spray drench of suitable white fly killer two or three times during early spring- once the plants are into early summer they will produce tomatoes much earlier than any of the others and the white flies pack up bothering them once they are planted outside and more white fly material becomes available to them.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 12:45AM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)


Thanks for your information. It is my intention to 'bonsai' 2 of my favorite tomato plants from this year's garden. I plan to plant the 2 plants back outside in the spring. I will make a picture history of the attempt and post it here on GW in spring 2009.
I will watch for the white flies and treat accordingly.


    Bookmark   September 14, 2008 at 12:07AM
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Dancinglemons- I am glad you found this info usefull, the only addition I would like to add to that is that during the very cold months keep the plants only just moist-rather than damp wet compost-it sems to help the plant to survive a lot better, and do not give them any boosting fertilizer much-other than a bit of seaweed liquid, as there is usually not sufficient light for them to take advantage of any nitrogen boost and they would become tall and straggly.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2008 at 12:27AM
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Thank you all for your input. I will be taking cuttings from 1 Early girl (vine), 1 Yellow pear and a Lemon Boy. I can always hope to get a few tomatoes during the winter.
I do not remember who sent me the link to the thread started by 'gonefishin',
"Rooting cuttings ??s of those that know."
Thank you, I have book marked the thread to guide me during the rooting of the cuttings.
I'm off to dry more of the fruits of my vines!

    Bookmark   September 24, 2008 at 11:15AM
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