As long as you’re dealing with an indeterminate variety, you’ve no reason to fret; that one, lone tomato plant can become dozens, in less than a month!
Does the phrase “free plants” have your attention yet?
How to Take a Cutting from a Tomato Plant
Before you can root a tomato plant branch, you’ll have to be able to distinguish between the main tomato vine, the branches, and the suckers. The main vine is very easy to identify, as all of the branches and suckers will grow from the main vine. Branches will grow at roughly a 90 degree angle; however, an emerging (and widening) sucker can cause the branch to angle downwards.
What Is a Tomato Sucker?
Suckers grow from the point at which a branch meets the main vine; this is an entirely new plant, and it will continue to grow, flower, and produce its very own suckers.
This is why suckers are traditionally pruned from tomato vines. The tomato vine, as a whole, will grow out of control, swallow its trellis (and every plant within a 10 ft radius), and it will lose production as the plant struggles to maintain itself.
Thus, if you’re going to prune the suckers anyways, you might as well root them and grow new plants… right?
Cutting the Sucker
Once your plant has started to grow suckers, carefully cut them from the joint (where the branch and main vine meet). Take a knife, and cut parallel to the branch; once you hit the main vine, remove the knife, and cut downwards parallel to the main vine. Do not cut through the main vine, or through the branch. By cutting in this way, you’re essentially cutting a wedge. The cut end of the sucker will look like a scion.
Remove any blossoms and immature fruit; you don’t want these to slow the sucker down while it roots, or while it establishes itself in the garden shortly after.
Rooting and Caring for the Sucker
Once you have the suckers cut from the main plant and all blossoms/fruit are removed, it’s time to root them.
Grab a glass of water, toss your cuttings in, and place them on your kitchen counter. That’s it! You’re done! All you have to do is dump the water and add fresh water every 24 to 48 hours. Easy peasy!
Within a few days, you’ll see roots emerging; within a week, your cuttings should be ready to transplant into soil. You’re looking for roots that are 2″ to 3″ long, with shorter roots being acceptable for smaller plants (under 12″). Since you’ll be burying 2/3 of the plant anyways, you can rest assured that these small roots will be able to care for the plants. Concern begins when the plants have too much foliage, which drastically increases their need for water.
Transplanting Your Brand New, Free Tomato Plants
Now that you’ve taken a couple of cuttings and they’ve rooted successfully, you’ll want to pot them up into small temporary pots; they will only be in these pots for 4 or 5 days, just long enough to introduce them to full sunlight. 3″ pots are sufficient, as are 16 oz drinking cups. Add rich compost, place your plants in the pots, and tuck them in well with additional compost.
Hardening Off Tender Young Cuttings in the Sunlight
Over the course of 4 or 5 days, harden them off in the sunlight. Start by placing them in the shade, where they can receive early morning or late afternoon light. The following day, move them further towards the edge of the shade, so they can get up to 3 hours of light. On day 3, allow them 6 hours of light. You could leave them here for the 4th day, for another 6 hours. By day 5, only shade them for worst three hours of the day. After this, they should be acclimated to the sun’s light. Hardening off is very important though, so please don’t skip this step! It’s vital to your plants’ health and survival.
Planting the Tomato Sucker Cuttings in Your Garden
Once they’re hardened off, plant them in your garden (sinking 2/3 of the plant into the dirt) with your chosen amendments. Water the plants in well very gently, and try to avoid watering them for 4 or 5 days if possible (for those of us with clay soils, that retain water easily). This will help to prevent possible fungal or bacterial infections as the plants adapt to their new space; they’re especially sensitive at this time, and they won’t be able to fight a potential infection off. Apply a pesticide at the time of planting if you have a horn worm infestation that might devastate the tender tiny plants (there are many organic options out there!)