If you’ve ever popped a cherry tomato in your mouth right off the vine while it’s still warm from the sun, you know why these flavorful, bitesize delights are one of the most popular garden crops. Cherry tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme) are fairly quick and easy to grow even if you are new to gardening. They need fewer days to mature than regular tomatoes. This is a big advantage if you live in a cold climate where the growing season is short or if the temperatures in your zone heat up too fast for the fruit to set during the summer.
They should be planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Note that tomato plant foliage is toxic to people and pets. But the ripe fruit is nontoxic.
|Common Name||Cherry tomato|
|Botanical Name||Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme|
|Plant Type||Annual, fruit|
|Size||4–8 ft. tall, 1–3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic (6.0 to 6.8)|
|Hardiness Zones||2–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||South America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people, Toxic to pets|
How to Plant Cherry Tomatoes
When to Plant
Plant cherry tomatoes in the spring after all threat of frost has passed. Seeds also can be started indoors about four weeks before your area's projected frost date and then planted outside when seedlings are at least 6 inches tall.
Selecting a Planting Site
Choose a sunny spot with good soil drainage for your tomatoes. Make sure no nearby plants will shade the tomatoes too much once the plants grow and leaf out in the spring. Container growth is also an option. Moreover, practice crop rotation, which prevents diseases from spreading and avoids excessive nutrient depletion of the soil. Do not plant tomatoes in the same location where other members of the nightshade family (e.g., potatoes, eggplants, and peppers) were grown the year before.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Space cherry tomatoes at least a few feet apart to allow for their spreading habit and to ensure good air circulation. Cover seeds with about 1/4 inch of soil, and situate nursery plants at the same depth they were growing in their previous container. Most cherry tomato varieties are indeterminate, meaning they continue to grow their vines and produce fruit throughout the season. To control them, you need to provide a support structure for the vines, such as a tomato cage.
Cherry Tomato Plant Care
Plenty of sunlight is crucial to successfully grow cherry tomatoes. They need full, direct sun for at least six to eight hours per day.
The soil for tomatoes needs to be slightly acidic, well-drained, rich, and loamy. Do a soil test to determine the nutrient level in your soil and its pH. If your garden soil is heavy and has poor drainage, you are better off growing tomatoes in raised beds or containers.
Tomatoes must be watered deeply and regularly. At no time should you let the soil dry out. During the time of fruit development, keeping the soil evenly moist helps to prevent blossom end rot. On the other hand, overwatering can cause the tomatoes to split. Drip irrigation is best, as overhead watering can lead to the spread of tomato diseases, such as blight.
Temperature and Humidity
Tomatoes are highly cold-sensitive. Wait until the soil temperature has reached at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit before planting. And make sure to harden off seedlings started indoors by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions before planting them in the garden.
Humidity generally isn't an issue for tomatoes. But one factor to keep in mind is humid weather can cause the foliage to stay wetter longer. This can create a prime climate for fungal issues and other diseases, especially if there isn't good air flow around the plants.
Use a fertilizer labeled for tomatoes at the time of planting. Adding compost into the planting hole also can help to give the tomatoes a boost. Then, continue to fertilize throughout the season, following label instructions.
Tomato plants will self-pollinate, and they are good at attracting bees and other pollinators to the garden.
Types of Cherry Tomatoes
There are numerous cherry tomato cultivars. They come in different shapes and colors, including shades of red, yellow, orange, and blackish-purple. Here are a few popular ones:
- 'Black Cherry' is a purple-black heirloom variety.
- 'Fantastico' is crack-resistant and tolerant to late blight.
- 'Golden Sweet' is a yellow variety that's resistant to fusarium wilt and leaf mold.
- 'Isis Candy' is an heirloom variety that's bicolored pale red with golden streaks.
- 'Sun Gold' is an orange cherry tomato that's resistant to fusarium wilt and tobacco mosaic virus.
Cherry Tomatoes vs. Grape Tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes are both small tomato varieties. They look similar at first glance, but there are a few key differences. Cherry tomatoes are generally round and juicy with thin skin. Grape tomatoes are more oblong, and they have less juice and a thicker skin.
Harvesting Cherry Tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes are typically ready to harvest within around 50 to 65 days after planting. You'll know they're ready when their color changes from green to red, orange, purple, or yellow (depending on the variety) and they easily detach from their stem. Once some start to ripen, continue to check your plant at least every other day for harvestable tomatoes. If left on the plant for too long, they will crack or drop off the stem.
Heavy rain can promote cracking in cherry tomatoes on the vine, so pick any ripe tomatoes before rainfall. Or, if that’s not possible, pick them right after rain because cracked tomatoes will rot quickly.
The tomatoes can be eaten fresh or cooked. They are best stored at room temperature and consumed within a few days. They also can be canned, oven-dried, or frozen in various forms, such as tomato paste or sauce.
How to Grow Cherry Tomatoes in Pots
Growing tomatoes in pots is helpful to limit pests and diseases from getting to your plants, and you can keep your plants in a convenient spot for harvesting. There are some small cherry tomato varieties specifically bred for container growth, so select one of those if possible. For container-grown tomatoes, a large pot is essential. Choose one that's at least a foot in height and width. A 5-gallon plastic bucket will work well as long as you drill several drainage holes in the bottom. Place the container near a trellis or other support structure for the vines. And pay close attention to your watering schedule because containers can dry out more quickly than garden soil.
Not all gardeners prune their tomatoes, and it’s certainly not essential. But it might help the plants produce more fruit rather than foliage. Pruning simply involves taking off the suckers, or small stems, growing from the main stem. These suckers tend to produce foliage but not a lot of fruit, so without them the plant will be able to focus its growing energy on the fruit-bearing stems. Moreover, prune off any stems that drag on the ground, as they are susceptible to diseases and pests.
Propagating Cherry Tomatoes
Most people grow tomatoes from seed or nursery plants, but it’s also possible to propagate them from cuttings. This is a great way to essentially clone a tomato plant you like—maybe for its vigorous production or taste. The best time to do this is in the late spring when the parent plant is actively growing. Here’s how:
- Find a sucker coming off the main stem with no buds or flowers on it, and cut off a 6- to 8-inch portion.
- Remove the leaves on the lower half of the cutting.
- Plant your cutting in small container with moistened soilless potting mix. Put the container in bright, indirect sunlight.
- Keep the growing medium moist but not soggy. Roots should develop in a week or two. If you feel resistance when you gently tug on the cutting, you’ll know it has roots. Then, it can be transplanted into the garden.
Growing Cherry Tomatoes From Seed
It’s fairly easy to grow cherry tomatoes from seed. But unless you want to grow a lot of cherry tomatoes of the same variety, or if you want to grow more unusual varieties that are only available from seed companies, buying healthy tomato seedlings from your local garden center might be the more convenient way to go.
Plant seeds 1/4 deep in a container filled with seed-starting mix. Place the container in a warm spot with bright, indirect light. And keep the growing medium consistently moist but not wet. Germination usually takes around five to 10 days. The seedlings can be hardened off and transplanted outside when nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Potting and Repotting Cherry Tomatoes
Use a quality well-draining potting mix for potted cherry tomatoes. Some mixes are specifically labeled for tomato growth. It's best to start with a large enough container that can hold your tomato plant once it matures. That way, you won't have to repot, as tomatoes don't like their roots disturbed.
Cherry tomatoes are annuals that complete their life cycle in one growing season, so no overwintering is necessary. Be sure to finish harvesting prior to frost in the fall, or the end of your crop might be ruined.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Like larger tomato types, the cherry tomato is susceptible to several diseases and pests. These include blight, leaf spot, mosaic viruses, verticillium wilt, and tomato hornworms. Most of these issues can be prevented or managed by good garden practices. Make sure the tomatoes have ample growing space, use a support structure to keep them off the ground, and don't water overhead. It is also possible to buy cultivars that are resistant to disease.
Are cherry tomatoes easy to grow?
Cherry tomatoes are fairly easy to grow, as long as you can provide them with sufficient sun and water.
How long does it take to grow cherry tomatoes?
Cherry tomatoes are typically ready to harvest between 50 and 65 days after planting.
Do cherry tomatoes come back every year?
Cherry tomatoes are annuals, meaning they complete their life cycle in one growing season.