Strange Growths on Tomato Stems

Aerial roots on a tomato stem. Photo:

Question: Some of my tomato stems have strange bumps on them. I’m afraid they might be some sort of insect eggs or maybe mushrooms. Should I pull these plants? 

An Anxious Reader

Answer: No, just leave them alone.

What I see in your photo are just the beginnings of aerial roots, also called adventitious roots. They’re perfectly normal. Some tomato plants produce them readily, others not at all. Growing conditions seem to be a factor as well: they can actually grow considerably, to an inch or so (2–4 cm) long under high humidity.

Aerial roots are absolutely not harmful and you need do nothing about them. If they’re near the ground, you could even layer them, that is, cover them with soil, encouraging them to develop into full roots, thus giving your plants access to extra moisture and minerals. Also, you could take cuttings of stems with aerial roots and grow the new plants, although in all but the most tropical climates, that’s rather pointless, as the new plants won’t have time to produce fruit. 

Essentially, they’re a relic from the time tomatoes were wild lianas growing in tropical South America, a sort of back up strategy allowing them to reroot if they were damaged or knocked to the ground.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

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