Compost Magazine

Composting tips, advice and science.

Overwintering Tomato Plants for Cuttings

Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t even realise you could grow tomato plants from cuttings 

Then, at the local gardening club, one experienced gardener told me that he would always take cuttings off his tomato plants. As the old ones started to become less productive, he would replace them with new plants from the cuttings he had taken. 

I tried it by sticking tomato cuttings in a maturing compost heap. They grew very well indeed.

I did have a lot more green tomatoes than red tomatoes (fortunately we have plenty of recipes for those). But that’s not unusual for tomatoes in my climate, especially when planted late. 

Last year I decided to try overwintering a plant for cuttings. There’s three reasons for trying this: 

  • Cuttings are less fiddly and more reliable than seeds. 
  • Cuttings establish a lot faster than seeds. 
  • It makes it easier to batch the tomatoes, so you get a steady harvest throughout the season. 

It also, of course, saves money on seeds. 

As any tomato grower will know, there are always suckers coming out of your tomato plant. This is typically located between a branch and a flower.

Tomato sucker.
A young tomato sucker. I usually wait until they are bigger before pinching out for a cutting.

I just pinched this off, and popped it into compost. The cutting does look sad for a few days, but then usually bounces back after a few days.

(This is not the only way to do it – some gardeners root their tomato plants in water first.)

I did notice that temperature is important. The cuttings did a lot better in the house than they did in the greenhouse in the autumn. 

I then grew it on in a glass porch. This gets plenty of light – it’s unheated, but as it is attached to the house is always above freezing. (In fact, despite some harsh periods this year, we were still getting chillis in March – but that’s another story.)

Even in cold periods the tomato plant grew, and in the early spring I had to trim the top several times. Eventually I moved it to the greenhouse, braving the risk of frost. 

While it has young tomatoes on it, some of the lower leaves did go brown and die. Still, while some people do overwinter plants for tomatoes, that wasn’t the point of this experiment. 

I’ve since taken several cuttings. Bar one, all have rooted well. As before, they are establishing much more quickly than from seeds. In fact, even though it is only March, some plants have flowers already. 

Young tomato plants grown from over-wintered cuttings.

I’m going to carry on taking cuttings throughout the season, and hopefully end up with a steady harvest of tomatoes rather than a glut in the middle of summer!