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Growing Cherry Tomatoes: Essential Growing Tips

Growing cherry tomatoes is a great place to start growing all sorts of tomatoes. Most gardeners have tomatoes growing at some point. There’s much to choose from, with over 100 established varieties of cherry tomatoes. In the scheme of all tomato varieties cherries are easy to grow. 

Cherry tomatoes or Solanum lycopersicum were cultivated for centuries from wild tomato fruits grown in the Andes. Inca peoples selected them for their sweet taste and snacking ability. Anyone with the privilege of eating a ripe cherry tomato right off the plant knows why this happened. 

When you’re stocking up on tomato seeds for spring, consider growing cherry tomatoes. Whether you’re interested in heirloom seeds, black cherry tomatoes, determinate, or indeterminate seeds, cherry tomatoes make it easy to produce something worthwhile throughout the growing season. Grow them, eat them fresh, can them, and have sweet flavor infused with the sun year-round! Forget other tomatoes; let’s grow cherry tomatoes!

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Quick Care Guide

Growing cherry tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Source: photofarmer
Common Name(s)Cherry tomato, grape tomato, or varietal names like tomaccio or sungold
Scientific NameSolanum lycopersicum
Days to Harvest55 to 65 days or 7 to 9 weeks
LightFull sun to partial shade
Water1-2 inches per week
SoilWell-draining, fertile, loose soil
FertilizerHigh phosphorus slow release upon planting, high phosphorus slow release after fruiting
PestsTomato hornworms, aphids, leaf-footed bugs, whiteflies, spider mites
DiseasesBlights, bacterial speck, buckeye rot, grey spot

All About Cherry Tomatoes

Unripe cherry tomatoes
Unripe tomatoes should be left to ripen a bit more before picking. Source: Nohrmal

Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme is also known as cherry tomato, as well as a wide selection of varietal names ranging from tomaccio to Sungold to Dances With Smurfs. They originate from wild tomatoes cultivated in the Andes by Inca peoples about 80,000 years ago. Tomato plants have trichome-covered leaves and fruits that cluster. The difference between cherry tomato plants and other tomato plants is that cherry tomato fruits and seeds are smaller. 

These tomatoes grow from flowers blooming on branches covered with green serrated leaves which connect to a central stem. External pollination occurs on tomatoes, but they are self-pollinators. The yellow tomato plant flower has five petals. After flowers die, fruit forms. 

The edible part of a tomato plant is the fruit. Leaves can be eaten, but they are poisonous to humans in large quantities. Like other nightshade plants, tomato leaves contain alkaloids solanine and tomatine that are hard to digest. Still, there is a lot of debate as to whether tomato leaves can be cooked. 

There are tons of cherry tomato varieties to choose from. I’m currently growing Cherokee purple cherry tomatoes, an indeterminate variety that exploded since spring moved into summer. They have purple skin, a red interior, and great flavor. Traditional red varieties are a great way to start your tomato journey. If a red tomato bores you, there are many types of tomatoes to choose from, including yellow and orange varieties. 

Planting Cherry Tomatoes

Determinate varieties are easier to grow in containers or raised beds. Indeterminate varieties go wild in the garden and require a lot of space and care. Plant them in prepared ground. Leave at least four feet between each row of these plants. But choosing the right variety will have bearing on how to plant your tomatoes. 

Transplant summer varieties after the last frost. If you’re starting your tomatoes from seed, start those tomato seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Plant fall varieties a few months before the first frost. Tomato plants need deep holes, at least 10 inches down. Plant your tomatoes in deep holes to allow solid root growth and nutrient uptake. 

Add a tomato trellis early on instead of a tomato cage which cherry tomatoes quickly outgrow. The trellises or stakes (instead of cages) give you vertical room to work within your garden. This also prevents heirloom tomatoes from contracting diseases. Cages and stakes are great supports for your plants but due to clustering, consider a trellis for your tomatoes. Cages are a no-go here unless you have extremely tall cages that can handle indeterminate growth. 

Care

Top of tomato cluster
The fruit grows in tight clusters. Source: quinet

Caring for a cherry tomato plant is easy if the right conditions are met and maintained every day. Here are key aspects to pay attention to. 

Sun and Temperature

These plants prefer full sunlight to partial shade, with at least 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. They are hardy to zones 3 through 10 and enjoy temperatures of 70 to 85 degrees. Certain cultivars experience blossom drop at temperatures above 90 degrees. At 56 degrees or lower, fruit drops from the plant. There are cold-resistant varieties that fruit in spring, and heat tolerant varieties that produce throughout the summer, though. Some varieties require shade cloth in high heat, and some appreciate frost cloth in cool spring.  

Water and Humidity

Water in the morning daily in hotter areas. For those blessed with a summer that peaks around 90 degrees, water cherry tomatoes a few times a week. In fall, water once per week. Drip irrigation is best for cherry tomatoes. Set the line at the soil surface, and water until 6 to 8 inches of soil is soaked. If you don’t have a drip line, use a regular garden hose and allow it to slowly trickle into the garden. When raising your tomatoes in a pot, water more than you would for those in the ground. Water in pots flushes nutrients out but containers get hotter. Tomatoes deep in the ground hold water better.

In contrast, too much watering, especially during fruiting, causes problems like blossom end rot. Irregular watering causes split fruits. In a cool and rainy spring, it won’t be necessary to water as often. It’s better to move container cherry tomatoes inside if excessive rain is predicted. 

Soil

These prefer fertile, loose, well-drained soil. To grow them in the ground, prepare the soil before planting. Keep adequate space between each prepared area to avoid overcrowding as your plant grows. Provide plants with a mix of good topsoil, compost, and bone meal, which promotes flowering and fruit production. 

The soil pH for tomatoes should be slightly acidic, at about 6.2 to 6.8. Avoid soil mixes with high nitrogen content as they promote leaf growth but not flower and fruit. Container mixes should be the same, but they need to be fertilized more during growth. While it’s possible to produce delicious bite-sized fruits on your cherry tomato plant in clay garden soil, it’s more difficult to have a successful harvest with the right flavor. 

Fertilizing

Tomatoes need fertilizer upon planting, and throughout the fruiting cycle. Before you plant your cherry tomato plant, dress the container or hole in the ground with a slow-release organic type that’s high in phosphorus. Additional calcium helps in healthy fruit production too. Check the packaging for a mix of about 5-7-3 NPK, which is ideal, and read to see if it includes calcium. Ground eggshells may also be applied during planting.

As tomatoes (cherry tomatoes included) produce fruit, provide additional feedings via a homemade compost tea or regular applications of granular ferts. While a foliar feed is ok, tomato leaves are sensitive. If you’re unsure about the feed you’ve chosen, try soaking the soil around your tomato, or add additional fertilizers of the slow-release variety. Bone meal can help promote further flowering.

If you have your tomatoes in a pot in potting soil mixed with compost, add nutrients more often. Water moves nutrients through the container more quickly, and it’s necessary to water plants in a pot more often in the summer due to heat. 

Pruning

Determinate cherry tomatoes need less pruning than indeterminate plants. All tomato plants require maintenance and pruning throughout their season. Pinch off the first couple of blooms on your cherry tomato plant to promote more flowering. As your plant gets to about 12 inches tall, prune off the bottom leaves that lean toward the soil surface. This prevents moisture on them that can spread disease to the rest of your garden. 

Remove tomato suckers as they appear. Tomato suckers are small plants that sprout out of the node where a branch meets the stem. Use these to propagate more plants or compost them. You could leave them on plants if they are determinate. Indeterminates, however, get unwieldy with suckers on them. Prune these off to give your tomato a little relief. Prune off any yellow or diseased leaves, and leave enough green leaves behind to support your cherry tomato plants. 

Propagation

The best way to propagate tomatoes is by germinating tomato seeds in spring and transplanting the seedlings after the last frost has passed. You can collect cherry tomato seed and save it for next season. Honestly, I felt very proud when I managed to grow cherry tomato seedlings from seed saved the previous year. If you have an heirloom variety, saving tomato seed is essential to keeping that genetic line going. 

Tomato suckers are another way to get more mileage out of your cherry tomato plant or vine. Couple these with seeds and you may have enough seedlings to share with friends or a nearby plant stand. After you prune them, stick them in water and allow roots to grow. You’ll have a batch of seedlings quickly when you use tomato suckers to propagate your cherry tomato plant.

Harvesting and Storing

Harvested cherry tomatoes
Keep tomatoes at room temperature until just before use. Source: lynn.gardner

Harvesting cherry tomatoes is easier than harvesting larger varieties because you don’t need to ripen the fruit off the vine. Simply pull ripe cherry tomatoes directly. 

Harvesting

Determinate ripe cherry tomatoes set their fruit all at once, giving you large harvests. If you don’t have enough friends to support a determinate harvest, try canning them. Indeterminates produce fruit in succession, giving you that fresh ripe cherry tomato flavor throughout the season. If you’re interested in all the in’s and out’s of ripening off the vine, check out this article

Handpick red cherry fruit from the vine or plant when they’re almost ripe. Make sure you know the endpoint of the variety you’re growing. If you’re growing a yellow tomato, look for an almost golden color. If you’re looking for something orange, wait until the tomatoes are just orange enough. If you’re unsure whether or not the color is correct, it’s ok to pick one and taste it to see if the flavor is correct. Unless you want fried green tomatoes, wait until after they turn from green to their intended color to taste them. 

Storing

Cherry tomatoes aren’t the kind of tomato that is great for canning or pasting, though it’s possible to do both. It takes extra labor to peel tomatoes for canning. The best thing to do with cherry tomatoes is to harvest them from the stem and either eat them right away or store them at room temperature right until you eat them. Fresh cherry tomatoes in the early summer can’t be beaten. 

Long-term, cherry tomatoes can be halved and frozen to be made into sauce later. They can also be dehydrated and stored for at least six months at room temperature. One of the most delicious ways to store cherry tomatoes is to dry them in direct sunlight and can them with or without olive oil. Unopened sun-dried cherry tomatoes will keep for up to two years. 

Troubleshooting

First tomato ripe
Tomatoes may not all ripen at the same time, as this shows. Source: sameold2010

Although cherry tomatoes are prolific, they attract pests and diseases when you’re not looking. Some are more pest-resistant than others, but none are resistant to the elements. Keep a close eye on your cherry tomatoes (especially heirloom varieties) and you’ll have a great harvest. 

Growing Problems

Tomatoes that experience irregular watering can split on the vine. This often occurs when inconsistent watering couples with compacted soil. Blossom end rot arises when plants appear healthy but the ends of your cherry tomatoes are rotted and mushy. This is due to inadequate amounts of calcium in the soil. Both problems are remedied with proper garden soil preparation and fertilization. 

Blossom drop occurs when the weather is a bit too hot. Providing shade for your cherry tomatoes should drop the temperature slightly in scorching weather.

Sunscald arises when tomatoes are in direct, hot sunlight for too long. Give larger branches adequate support in trellises so they shade fruit and prevent sunscald. 

Leaf curl can be a symptom of multiple things from environmental stresses (too much heat, too little or not enough water, etcetera) to diseases. If your leaves are curling, note whether they’re curling upwards towards the top of the leaf or downwards towards the bottom, as that may provide insight on the problem you have.

Blossom end rot is common in all forms of tomatoes. This is typically caused by the plant being unable to absorb calcium from its soil, usually because it’s getting irregular watering. Application of calcium fertilizers should occur at planting, and if it’s small amounts of calcium in combination with your standard NPK fert you can apply it all season. Ensure the soil around tomatoes remains moist, not soggy or dry, so that your plants can absorb their calcium and other nutrients well.

Pests

Tomato hornworms are well-known tomato pests. They eat the leaves and fruits of your cherry tomato plant. Control them environmentally with lacewings, ladybugs, or Trichogramma wasps — their natural predators. If time is of the essence, spray Bt or dust it on plants. Pyrethrins also wipe out tomato hornworms. Row covers prevent the moths that produce tomato hornworms from making their way to your cherry tomato plants. 

Aphids, leaf-footed bugs, and whiteflies are sap-sucking insects that devastate plants if they aren’t handled quickly. Neem oil is an effective pesticide for controlling them, though do not spray neem on plants when they are flowering or within a couple of weeks of your harvest. Insecticidal soaps work in this case as well. Apply sprays at least seven days apart in the evening or early morning. 

Spider mites spin webs around your plants as they feast on leaves. Horticultural oil or neem oil works on spider mites. Remove the mites with a damp cloth first, then spray oil as needed to kill any stray eggs. This process also works for leaf-footed bugs. 

Diseases

Early blight affects tomato plants starting from the base up. Spots appear on leaves and then concentric rings form within making a target-like shape. This disease is caused by the fungus Alternaria solani, and the cause is often built up in the soil from planting nightshades in the same spot in succedent seasons. Either remove the affected plant, and throw it away, or treat it with a copper fungicide once every two weeks or so. 

Bacterial speck appears on tomato leaves as a small dark green spot surrounded by a yellow ring. This disease, caused by Pseudomonas syringae pv, won’t necessarily halt fruit production. It must be prevented culturally through proper crop rotation. 

Tomato buckeye rot is caused by three species of fungus: P. capsici, P. drechsleri, and P. nicotiana var. parasitica. It looks like blossom end rot, but instead, the rot is all around the fruit. Prevention is the only way to control buckeye rot.

In warm moist conditions, cherry tomatoes may contract a fungus called grey leaf spot, which starts on leaves and spreads to stems and fruit. Prevention is the best control. Spray fungicide, or rotate crops to prevent it altogether. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Cherry tomatoes ripening
As they ripen, tomatoes gradually take on their true color. Source: Shifted Librarian

Q: Do cherry tomatoes need a trellis?

A: Yes. Since cherry tomatoes grow in clusters, they’ll need adequate support from a trellis or other support. 

Q: How long does it take to grow cherry tomatoes?

A: Cherry tomatoes take about seven to nine weeks to grow from seed. 

Q: How many cherry tomatoes do you get from one plant?

A: Determinate plants produce anywhere from 20 to 90 cherry tomatoes. Indeterminates may produce more, although it depends on the size of the mature plant.


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