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Cloning Without Suckers

In an earlier post, I talked about cloning my tomatoes by propagating the suckers. But I’ve since learned that using suckers is totally unnecessary. Let me tell you how to do it.

Do you drink bottled water? Do you buy your water in those little plastic bottles? If so, save a few of the empties to help you clone your tomatoes. Simply cut off the top of the bottle just below the part where the cap screws on; then cut off the bottom of the bottle. Using sturdy scissors or tin snips, (since the top of the bottle is thicker and harder than the body of the bottle), split the bottle up the side, top to bottom.

Pick the tomato that you want to clone and locate a healthy branch. The branch can be a sucker or not. Frankly, a sturdy branch located midway up the plant with a stem about the same thickness as your pinkie is ideal. On this branch, remove the leaves near the main stalk for a distance equal to the height of the bottle you will use. Opening the split of the bottle with your thumbs, carefully wrap the plastic bottle–neck down–around the branch. Push two or three cotton balls into the neck of the bottle being careful not to break the branch. (These will hold the potting soil that you will shortly add to the bottle.) Now close the split and secure temporarily with a clothespin, bulldog clip or stapler. Place a length of duct tape along the split to hold the bottle together.

Use a couple of lengths of string tied around the bottle and secured to the tomato cage or tomato stake to hold the bottle upright. Now fill the bottle with potting soil and gently tamp the soil around the branch using a pencil, pipe tamp, dowel or something similar. Add about a half teaspoon of soluble fertilizer, water the soil until it drips out the bottom through the cotton balls. Keep the soil moist by watering every evening. Within a week or two you will see LOTS of roots through the clear plastic bottle.

During this period (while the branch is putting out roots), it is being nourished by the primary plant. This means that the process of putting out roots does not take energy away from the branch…it keeps growing. After two weeks or so, cut the branch from the main stalk (below the bottle with the rooted branch), carefully remove the plastic bottle and plant the rooted branch in the ground as you would plant any other young tomato.

You now have the second generation of your favorite tomato, genetically identical to the parent, whether heirloom or hybrid. Check out my YouTube channel (nov51947) to watch a video of this procedure.

Can You Immortalize a Tomato Plant by Cloning?

At my You Tube channel, nov51947, I did a video called “Save The Suckers!”

It was kind of an afterthought after my earlier video about whether tomato suckers were good or bad and whether you should remove them. Since then I’ve learned some new techniques for saving and propagating tomato suckers besides the “stick ’em a glass of water and hope they don’t rot!” technique.

But it got me to thinking…

If I propagate a sucker from a parent plant that I really like, then a few weeks later propagate a sucker from that child plant, then later progagate a sucker from the grandchild, etc., etc. (obviously keeping them inside or in a greenhouse over winter), can I theoretically make that plant immortal?

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, that IS the plot of many a Sci-Fi story! But my interest is purely scientific. (Isn’t that always the case?) Would the plant really be the same after several generations of cloning? Would it still bear fruit? Would the fruit be as prolific…or as tasty? Would it be more susceptible to disease or to physiological problems?

Being a scientist by training, I am going to begin a two year experiment. I will try to stick closely to the scientific method, keep a lab notebook (logbook), take photos and record observations. I’m going to spend some time designing the experiment and I’ll try to begin later this summer.

If I can propagate a new clone every eight weeks, then in two years I will have gone through twelve generations. I’d like to hear your ideas. Let me know how you would like me to conduct the experiment…what to look at, what variables to change, indoors or greenhouse (I might be limited there!), how to do a ‘control’, hybrid or heirloom, how to record my observations: in this blog or in a series of short videos on my YT channel?

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