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How to make free self-watering containers for rooting tomato cuttings

Updated on July 7, 2012

Free tomato plants

I'm into freebies and recycling. I also like a good deal or neat idea that saves time, money or space and provides a decent return on my investment, whether it's labor or capital.

A cost-saving method of getting free tomato plants is to root the suckers that grow in the stem. I'm using the Sweet 100 cherry tomato variety but any variety including bush varieties will do. The Sweet 100 variety is open-pollinated so the seeds can be saved. Instead of starting new plants from seed, I take the cuttings from established plants and root each of them in a homemade self-watering container constructed from a yogurt cup and a larger cottage cheese or yogurt container. Roots can form anywhere along a tomato stem as long as it's in contact with moist soil and a new tomato plant will grow from the cutting. My method does that and does it for free.

From start to finish, this project takes about 10 minutes.

Potted sucker
Potted sucker

Obtain a sucker

No, not one of those that are born every minute...

The first thing I do is cut a decent sucker from the tomato plant with a pair of scissors and put it in a yogurt cup that contains a mix of compost, potting soil and seed starting mix.

Holes punched with small nail or awl
Holes punched with small nail or awl

Punching holes

Next, I use a medium size nail to punch small holes around the edge of the yogurt cup and gently water the cutting.

Cottage cheese container with water
Cottage cheese container with water

Add water

After adding holes and watering, I add some water to the larger container. This one happened to hold cottage cheese (my mom loves cottage cheese and saves the containers).


Finally, I put the yogurt cup inside the larger container and make sure the water level is lower than the yogurt cup so the soil mix doesn't wash out (like in the picture). The soil mix will wick water from the large container into the yogurt cup and keep the mix moist for several days. The large container also helps support the cutting and eliminates the need for frequent watering. Just keep the cutting in the shade and let the roots form, then harden off the new plant to prepare it for the garden.

A blossoming plant
A blossoming plant
Taking advantage of an overcast day to harden off the cutting
Taking advantage of an overcast day to harden off the cutting

Hardening off

Six days after being potted and resting in the shade on the porch, the cutting is now officially a tomato plant complete with a bloom. It's time to harden it off by placing it in direct sun for a few hours a day over the next several days. Expose the plant to three hours of direct sunlight at first and work up to eight hours. When the plant can tolerate a full eight hours in direct sun, it's time to transplant it into the garden.

If the cutting is blooming, pinch the blossom off. It may look pretty, but you want your plant producing a strong root system, not fruit. At this stage, the cutting isn't quite ready to produce fruit. You can let it flower once it's established in the garden.

Ready to transplant

After a full day in the sun yesterday with no wilting, my cherry tomato cutting is hardened off and ready for the garden. Notice the nice root system that has formed in the pictures below. I'll keep an eye on the transplant for signs of transplant shock and water it daily until it's established.

I'm ready to start another cutting!

Transplanted cutting

Sizing up the hole
Sizing up the hole | Source
Note the root system
Note the root system | Source
Planted! | Source

Learn more

The advantages to using this self-watering container method are three-fold. One, there's no need to start from seed and wait several weeks before getting a viable transplant. Two, the harvest is somewhat staggered since the mother plant produces a larger harvest before the offspring plant reaches its peak production. Three, you're recycling and reusing plastic containers and they're free!

Go get your hands dirty!


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    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      5 years ago from California

      Excellent hub, am linking it to one of mine on budget gardening. Your philosophy on recycling in the garden links well with mine.

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks for stopping by toomuchmint. It's much quicker to take a cutting than to start from seed. I have little tomatoes forming 3 weeks after I rooted and then planted the cutting. Best of luck to you!

    • toomuchmint profile image


      6 years ago

      This is a great way to grow tomato plants. I love the self-watering cups. I'm definitely going to give this a try. Without the weeks-long lead time, I might manage a few tomatoes this summer. Thanks!

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks suziecat7!

    • suziecat7 profile image


      6 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Great Hub - great advice. Voted up and I'm a fan!

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks ripplemaker ... I am honored by the nomination. I had no idea I was nominated. Gmail marks email from Hubpages as spam and I found my nomination there today!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Loved the recycling idea!!

      Congrats on your Hubnuggets nomination! This way to read the details Enjoy!

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      @RunAbstract - Thanks for stopping by and leaving kind words.

    • RunAbstract profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Great Hub!

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks for the comment. I hope it works for you!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hey - this is a great idea to get a second tomato harvest. I didn't know you could root tomato plants from cuttings! Will have to try this one!

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thank you for the kind words. I am enjoying hubbing! I plan to make a few more hubs by the end of the holiday weekend. I hope you're enjoying yours.

    • bac2basics profile image


      6 years ago from Spain

      Hi and welcome to hubbing. loved the tomato growing tip, it´s one I didn´t know. Like your profile too.

      Keep em coming, you are certainly on the right track.

      Voted you up and interesting. Going to follow you too.

    • Diana Mendes profile image

      Diana Mendes 

      6 years ago

      Great hub! very interesting useful & informative. I like the pictures too. Well done! Voted up & useful.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Excellent Hub. You explained the procedure very well, your photos were good, too. I have never done this with tomatoes so I learned somethng new. I just buy the plant, or grow from see. I voted this UP, etc.etc. Welcome to HubPages!

    • vespawoolf profile image


      6 years ago from Peru, South America

      Although I don't have a garden, I found this hub very interesting. Thank you for the great information.

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 

      6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      Good hub... I am not much of a gardenar so I fear this wouldn't survive in my hands, however I did find this very interesting. You will have to do another one about how to prepare it for the garden when it is ready. BTW welcome to Hubpages.. hope you enjoy it here!

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks Sheila!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 

      6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      You have done an excellent job for your first hub, it's great! I am definately giving this a try. Great information and pictures. Good job! Voted up and useful. Welcome to HubPages! Have a great day! :)

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      @Sid - I sure can. I have another tomato plant I want to take a cutting from. I'll have a hub up tomorrow showing how to get a cutting. Hardening off a cutting is done by simply exposing it to sunlight after the roots form along the stem and to decrease the watering. It's done to gradually acclimate the new plant to the conditions of it's future home in the garden.

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply and questions!

      @sadie - thanks! I was just responding to Sid when you posted.

    • sadie423 profile image


      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Good idea with the self waterer, better than pinching off the suckers and sticking them in an empty space in the garden and hope for the best!

      SidKemp, suckers form in the joints in the tomato stems. It's best to take them off to not take away from the main plant. Like the Hub say tomatoes can root anywhere on the stem, so if you have part of a plant break mid season, just stick that part in the ground and keep it moist and it should grow. To harden off is to keep it in sort of a protected setting to get used to the elements before sticking it out in the wind/rain where the stems might snap or in full sun where it might wilt.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 

      6 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks! Voted up and useful. This is an excellent hub - practical, useful, with well-written instructions and nicely illustrated. Here are a couple of questions from a complete gardening beginner:

      - Could you show us a picture of getting a cutting from a mature plant?

      - What does "harden off" mean?

    • Living Well Now profile imageAUTHOR

      Living Well Now 

      6 years ago from Near Indianapolis

      Thanks! This is my first hub so I'm new to this. I appreciate the feedback.

    • dialogue profile image


      6 years ago

      Nice hub with picture demonstrations. Useful and interesting.


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