Rooting tomato plants for a late crop

As heat, humidity, rains, diseases and insects increase during summer months, tomato production naturally declines. Entire plants may begin to die — but it is possible to start new tomato plants from cuttings/suckers to produce a fall crop.

On tomatoes, suckers are found in the axil of the stems. Any cuttings (suckers) should be disease- and insect-free. Choose the healthiest suckers to root. Avoid selecting suckers that are off color or that have any evidence of fungal or bacterial leaf spot or insects such as aphids, whiteflies or small caterpillars. Inspect the upper and under sides of the leaves. Whitefly nymphs (immature stage) look more like a scale insect and are usually found on the undersides of the leaves. They are tiny, flat, off white to pale yellow in color and are somewhat translucent. Nymphs are the stage that feeds on the leaves. Also look for insect eggs. Basically, try to pick clean, healthy suckers to root.

Tomato suckers should be 4 to 8 inches long and have a growing point with several leaves. Cut the suckers from the plant, remove the lower leaves and place these cuttings directly in a jar of water for an hour or two. This will start the rooting process and reduce plant shock. It is best to cut the suckers in early morning during the coolest part of the day and get them to a shady location so that they are not allowed to wilt or be damaged from direct exposure to the sun. Plant them in pots for rooting. Firm the soil around the suckers and water to make sure the potting mix is thoroughly moist. The potting mix needs to be relatively lightweight and allow excess water to freely drain. It is important to not allow extremes in moisture during rooting. If the potting mix stays too wet, the stem may rot before roots form. If it gets too dry, the stem may dry out, never forming roots. I usually use a 4-inch pot with adequate drainage holes.

I either root the cuttings indoors under good light or outdoors in a shady area that is protected from heavy winds and rain. Tomato cuttings usually root quickly — in about 10 to 14 days. I may leave the cuttings in the 4-inch pot for a little longer to ensure a strong root system before planting in the garden, raised bed or larger pot (at least a 5-gallon sized container). Make sure to pick a tomato variety that has performed well for you.

Tomato plants rooted and planted by mid-August should have a chance of producing fall tomatoes before cold weather arrives.

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Rooting tomato plants for a late crop | Gardening