Tomato Takes Root in Fall

Here’s something cool. One of my tomato plants sprouted roots all along its stem. I discovered this Saturday while pulling the tomato up. It was a Beam’s yellow pear tomato plant I bought at the Farmers’ Market and planted late in the season. In July, we had a hail storm. The hail split the plant right down the middle at a point where the two main stems intersected. The stems were barely connected and I thought the tomato was a goner. I didn’t even bother to stake it. I just left it alone in hopes that one side would recover. Both sides continued to grow and produce fruit, and now I know why.

While surprising to uncover the mass of roots under the stems that rested on the ground, it does make sense. Many times people who have leggy tomato plants will plant them very deeply or even lay the leggy stem underground to encourage root growth. You can do this with other plants as well, although tomatoes are especially good at laying down roots. St. Paul gardener Philippe Galandat, who was featured in the November/December 2007 Northern Gardener, uses a method called layering to propagate shrubs. He pulls a branch down, nicks it slightly, then pins it under dirt with a clip. When the new plant roots, it can be separated from the parent plant. Galandat, a frequent garden lecturer and owner of Swiss Gardens, has propagated a hedge of black currant bushes using this method.

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