Oh snap! Did you just accidentally break off the main growing stem of your tomato plant?
It happens! While tomato plants are pretty resilient, sometimes accidents happen… when the dog whizzes through the garden… or you snap the main stem while pinching off a leaf stem (done this more than once!) Yep…stuff happens.
The good news is that all is not lost. In the very least, a new central leader will emerge and become the new main stem. Tomatoes are notorious for producing lots of “sucker” stems throughout the season, so you can count on something taking over for the lost main stem.
You just need to be patient while the new stem develops. It will take a little time and there can be a bit of a growing setback — but it’s usually not too bad. Depending on the time of year this happens and your growing season — especially if you are in a short-growing season — you may need to evaluate if waiting for new growth is better than replacing the entire plant.
If the stem is not completely severed and it’s still hanging on, you can do a little first aid. This is what’s happened to me and I was able to make a split and saved the plant.
In my case, the stem snapped before planting it in the ground, so I was able to place the tomato back in its growing container and keep it protected during the healing process. However, this first aid method works on damaged plants already in the ground too — you just might need to protect them from wind while they heal.
I carefully inserted a thin bamboo skewer in the soil next to the stem. This plant was small, but for a larger plant you can use a bamboo cane or any relatively straight stick/branch. This gives the broken stem support.
Next, I gently reattached the stem. In this case, I just stood the stem back up in place since it was still attached on one side.
Then, using blue painter’s tape, I carefully taped the stem to the skewer – just above and below the break. The tape also gives support, but is not binding the stem to the skewer – there is a little air space between the two. Be careful not to make the attachment too tight. This process stabilizes the stem and creates a splint, which allows the break to heal.
If you break the stem off completely, you can attempt this same process by aligning the broken stem top to the stem bottom. This is a bit trickier to do, but it is possible.
In fact, this process is similar to how grafted tomatoes are created. When tomatoes are grafted, the top, or scion, of one variety is “grafted” on to the root stock of another type. The two pieces are cut from the original plants and held together with grafting clips. For emergency Rx, blue painter’s tape works fine!
Align the two pieces and place a piece of tape around the break. Then cut a shorter split and tape it to the stem, above and below the break. In this case, you do want to tape to be snug around the break and you will leave it on for about 10 days. If the process fails, you’ll know by the wilted top — otherwise, after 10 days, carefully remove the split and the tape from the stem.
For my partially attached broken stem, I was able to remove the tape and skewer after a week. And while there was a scar, the stem healed completely and the tomato was finally planted in the ground!
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