Vine-ripened tomatoes are one of the best signs of summer in the vegetable garden. They are filled with so much more flavor than store-bought options and are many gardeners favorite crop to grow.
Tomatoes are easy to grow overall, but it can be difficult to get the perfect crop. In colder areas, they may not ripen in time, the fruits are prone to splitting, and there’s a good number of pests that go after tomato plants.
Cherry tomatoes solve some of these problems, taste amazing, and are small enough to be a snack.
Here’s a complete guide to growing a fruitful cherry tomato plant (or several) in your backyard and how to troubleshoot problems that may arise.
- Tomatoes: Fruit or Vegetable?
- Top Cherry Tomato Varieties
- Starting Your Cherry Tomato Plant from Seed
- Planting Cherry Tomato Seedlings
- Cherry Tomato Plant Care
- Pests and Problems
- Harvesting Cherry Tomatoes
- The Joy of a Cherry Tomato Plant
Tomatoes: Fruit or Vegetable?
There always seems to be a debate going on about whether tomatoes should be considered fruits or vegetables.
Regardless of where you stand on that particular issue, there’s no doubt that the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a favorite with home gardeners. Many people devote large sections of their garden just to this juicy fruit (or vegetable).
Not only do they taste great, especially when homegrown, tomatoes are full of healthy nutrients like lycopene, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium.
Whether you call them a fruit or a vegetable, there’s no doubt that tomatoes are one of the most popular crops with home gardeners. They taste amazing fresh from the garden and are easy to grow.
There are two main types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate varieties grow to a specific height, then, stop growing and produce flowers and fruit. Indeterminate varieties continue to grow until the end of the season and produce as they grow.
Either type of tomato can be grown as an annual vegetable in most regions. Gardeners who have cold, wet summers will struggle the most, since tomatoes love heat.
Some people look down on cherry tomatoes as being too small to be worth the effort of growing and harvesting them. However, there are actually several reasons why they may be a better choice than larger varieties and why they become a favorite to grow for many.
Reasons to Grow Cherry Tomatoes
Larger varieties of tomatoes can take around 100 days to reach maturity and be ready to harvest. Many cherry tomato varieties are ready to harvest in 60 days or less, making them more than a month earlier!
Tomato plants are also susceptible to several pests and diseases. A bonus to growing the cherry type is that they typically have much better disease-resistance than larger varieties.
Cherry tomato plants are often strong, quick to grow, and very prolific. You may be harvesting tiny fruits, but you’ll end up with so many of them that you won’t miss out on anything.
A snack-sized treat, you can enjoy cherry tomatoes straight from the vine, but they can also be used in almost any recipe in which you would use larger ones. They even come in the same variety as larger ones: red, orange, yellow, and some novelty colors.
There are so many reasons to give cherry tomatoes a try. They are even easier to grow than some of the larger varieties and very versatile in the kitchen.
Another benefit is that you can easily fit a cherry tomato plant into a small growing space. There are even specific varieties that grow well in containers.
Most cherry tomato plants are indeterminate, which means you can keep harvesting them practically all season.
As you can see, there are lots of reasons cherry tomatoes become a favorite in the garden. You can grow them on their own or alongside their larger cousins.
Top Cherry Tomato Varieties
The cherry tomato category includes the small, rounded varieties that are true cherries as well as oval-shaped ones (technically known as grape tomatoes) and pear-shaped ones.
Here’s a look at some of the best and most tastiest varieties to try:
- ‘Black Cherry’– This is an heirloom variety with a deep purple-brown color and very rich flavor. The fruits are some of the best for fresh eating.
- ‘Sungold’ or ‘Sun Sugar’– ‘Sungold’ is one of the most popular cherry tomato varieties ever. Fruits are bright orange, abundant, and delicious fresh. ‘Sun Sugar’ is a similar cultivar, but has less of a tendency to crack than ‘Sungold.’
- ‘Isis Candy’– This variety has tasty red fruits that are marbled with gold. Rich flavor and extremely fruitful plants.
- ‘Amish Salad’– The fruits of this cultivar are a beautiful pink color and tend to be oval-shaped. Great sweet flavor.
The classic red cherry tomato is still a favorite, but there are many other varieties to try. Orange varieties like ‘Sungold’ are especially sweet, while others like ‘Hawaiian’ are a novelty.
- ‘Snow White’ or ‘Italian Ice’– Both of these varieties are considered white cherry tomatoes, although they usually have a soft cream to yellow hue. Very sweet, unique, and abundant.
- ‘Yellow Pear’– This is one of the best pear-shaped heirloom varieties. Plants are very productive and flavor is excellent.
- ‘Peacevine’– Classic tomato color and flavor in a small package. Bright red fruits are resistant to cracking and have incredible flavor.
- ‘Honeydrop’– If you like sweet tomatoes, this variety is for you. Fruits are orange and early to mature.
- ‘Hawaiian’– This is something of a novelty variety, since the fruits are pea-sized. If you can get over the miniature size, many gardeners agree that there is no beating the flavor.
- ‘Tumbling Tom’, ‘Rambling Rose’, ‘Lizzano’, ‘Terenzo’– All of these are compact varieties bred specifically for container growing.
Starting Your Cherry Tomato Plant from Seed
It won’t be hard to find tomato plants for sale at a local nursery or garden center, but growing them from seed gives you a lot more choice for variety, and it’s easy to do.
Here’s a quick list of what you’ll need to get started:
- Cherry tomato seeds
- Seed starting trays
- Seed starting mix
- Heat mat (optional but useful if your house is cold)
- Plastic domes (optional)
- Grow lights (optional but strongly recommended)
- Store-bought or homemade liquid fertilizer
- 3-4 inch plastic pots (for transplanting later)
Cherry tomatoes usually have good germination, but plan to plant more seeds than you’ll need to make up for any that don’t sprout.
Tomatoes are easy to start from seed, but you’ll need to have the right supplies for keeping your seedlings healthy. Give them warmth, water, good airflow, and lots of light for the best results.
How to Start Seeds
Start your tomato seeds indoors about 4-6 weeks before your last average frost date. Get prepared by mixing your seed starting medium with water until it’s damp and filling up your trays with this mix.
Once your trays are filled, sow one seed per cell about ¼ inch deep. You can make indents with your finger, drop the seed in, and fill the indent back in with soil mix. Or you can sow seeds on top of the soil and cover them all with ¼ inch of soil mix when you’re done.
After you’ve planted all your seeds, water them thoroughly and plastic the plastic covers on the trays if you have them.
Tomatoes will germinate best at temperatures around 70°F. If you can put your seeded trays in a warm spot, there’s no need for extra equipment. However, if you have them somewhere cool, like a basement, a heat mat will help the seeds germinate better.
Germination should happen in 5-10 days. Once your seeds sprout, remove the plastic covers if you have them on and give your new seedlings plenty of light.
Tomato seedlings do best with 12-15 hours of bright light everyday. This means grow lights are the best choice because it’s hard to get this much sunlight from a window. If you don’t have grow lights, get them as much sun as possible each day by rotating between windows.
Seedling Care & Repotting
Keep your seedlings watered but avoid getting the leaves wet or allowing the soil to stay soggy. Running a fan each day is very helpful for promoting good air circulation and cutting down on the chance of your plants getting a fungal disease.
Tomato seedlings should really be fertilized once they get a few inches tall. They are hungry plants, and many seed starting mixes don’t contain any fertilizer.
The best way to do this is to use a water soluble fertilizer or a homemade liquid plant feed. Fertilize them at about half the strength you would for full-grown plants. Once a week is good enough.
As your plants continue to grow, you have the option of transplanting them to larger pots or leaving them grow in the trays. Putting them in larger pots allows them to develop a better root system, but not all gardeners make time for this step.
To repot your seedlings, fill 3-4 inch plastic pots with a dampened potting mix. Gently lift each seedling out of the tray and plant it so the top of its root ball is just underneath the soil.
The good news is that most potting mixes contain fertilizer, so you won’t have to fertilize your seedlings anymore. Just keep them watered and provide lots of light as they continue to grow.
There’s one last step you need to take before planting your seedlings outside and it’s an important one. You need to gradually harden them off so they don’t suffer from transplant shock when you put them in your garden.
To make sure your seedlings are ready to go in the garden, make sure you go through the process of hardening them off. This simply means you gradually accustom them to outdoor conditions.
To do this, take your seedlings outside on a nice day and leave them in a sheltered spot. You don’t want them getting too much direct sunlight, high winds, etc.
Bring them back in before evening, and don’t let them sit outside in temperatures much below 50°F. Repeat this every day for at least a week, and gradually leave them outside for longer and move them into more sunlight.
At the end of a week, you can leave them out overnight as long as temperatures aren’t going to drop below 40°F. After a few days of this, they’ll be ready to go in the ground!
Planting Cherry Tomato Seedlings
Whether you bought your cherry tomato plant or started it from seed, they all get planted the same way.
When to Plant
Tomatoes can go in the ground after the danger of frost has passed in the spring and the soil has warmed up.
Many gardeners are eager to get their tomato plants planted, but there’s no reason to rush it. If you plant them too early, your whole crop could be wiped out by an unexpected frost. Plants won’t take off until temperatures heat up, so ones planted later often catch up to those put out too early.
Wait at least two weeks after your last frost date has passed to plant.
You may be in a rush to eat fresh cherry tomatoes, but wait until temperatures have warmed to put your plants in. You don’t want to go to the hard work of planting only to lose your crop!
Where to Plant + Preparing Your Soil
Cherry tomatoes love heat and sun. It’s essential that you plant them in a location that gets full sun. Otherwise, you’ll end up with leggy plants and sparse fruiting.
Even cherry tomato plants need a good amount of space to grow, so plant them somewhere where they won’t get crowded. Spacing depends on the specific variety you’re growing, but plan for at least 2 feet between each plant.
Before planting, mix a good amount of compost or well-rotted manure into your soil. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and will benefit from the added nutrients.
Some gardeners prefer to put down black plastic where they will be planting tomatoes. It warms the soil (which tomatoes love) and keeps weeds mostly at bay. Unfortunately, it’s not a very eco-friendly option, but the choice to use it or not is up to you.
Tips for Planting
Tomatoes are a somewhat unique vegetable because they like to be planted deep. Before planting, pinch off the bottom few sets of leaves and branches so that you can bury the stems a few inches deep.
With this in mind, dig holes for your seedlings that are several inches deeper than the root ball of your plants. If you have soil that doesn’t drain well, dig shallow holes and plan to mound your plants.
Set your plants in their holes about 2-3 feet apart. Fill in with soil around your plants and create a small mound up against the stems. Firm everything in well.
Don’t be afraid to plant your tomatoes deep. This helps ensure that they put down good roots that will anchor and feed your plants in the coming months.
If you had to plant your tomatoes shallowly, create larger mounds that go up right below the last set of leaves you left on the stems.
Don’t be worried about planting your seedlings too deep. Tomatoes develop roots out of stems that are buried, which will only strengthen your plants and make them more productive.
Water your newly planted cherry tomatoes in well. If any soil washes away, be sure to mound it up again so that the stems have support.
If you want to put a cherry tomato plant in a container, use a 5-gallon bucket or an equal size pot for each plant. Some of the varieties bred for container gardens can go in slightly smaller pots.
Make sure your containers have drainage holes in the bottom. If they don’t, drill some yourself before planting.
Fill up your containers with a good quality potting mix. Most potting mixes will have fertilizer in them, but you can add some compost for extra nutrients.
Plant your cherry tomatoes deep, just like the planting method for putting them in the ground. You shouldn’t need to mound them in containers, since you can easily dig holes that are deep enough.
Any type of cherry tomato can be grown in a pot, but some are especially suited for container growing.
Place a trellis or small tomato cage in each container to support your plants as they grow. Water your seedlings well, and you’re all set!
Cherry Tomato Plant Care
Make sure you keep your plants well-watered as they get established. Container-grown tomatoes will need watered more often because the soil will dry out more quickly. It’s best to water deeply and infrequently, allowing the water to get all the way down to the roots.
If you didn’t use black plastic before planting, it’s a good idea to mulch around your plants with straw, pine needles, etc. once the weather turns drier and hotter. Mulching too early actually keeps the soil colder and encourages pesky slugs.
Besides weeding and watering, tomato plants are pretty self-sufficient.
You can fertilize with a balanced fertilizer or a tomato fertilizer after plants flower, but if you applied compost to start with, this may not be necessary.
Your biggest task is to put cages, trellises, stakes, or some other kind of support around your cherry tomatoes. This will keep them upright as they grow and allow for an easier harvest later.
There are lots of options for supporting your tomato plants. Tomato cages are simple to put in, though some gardeners prefer to tie or clip their plants to a different kind of support like a stake or fence.
To Prune or Not to Prune
To get the biggest possible harvest, experienced growers usually recommend tomato pruning. Pruning encourages plants to focus energy on producing fruit rather than growing more leaves.
The biggest pruning task is to simply pinch or snip off suckers, which are side shoots that grow out of the “V” between the main stalk and a branch. This concentrates the energy of the plant on the main branches and raises the sugar content of the fruit.
However, the jury is still out as to whether this is necessary for cherry tomatoes or not. Some gardeners think it is, while others think it’s a waste of time.
You can try pruning suckers off some of your plants to compare the results with unpruned ones.
Whether you prune or not, the one step you should take is to cut off bottom leaves that are yellow or touching the ground. This helps to prevent diseases as your plant grows.
Any time you prune, use sanitized garden clippers or hand pruners. Make clean cuts as close to the main stem or branch as possible. Clean wounds will heal quickly and scab over before any pathogens can make their entrance.
Pests and Problems
The downside to growing any type of tomato is that they do attract several pests and pathogens.
Tomato hornworms are one of the biggest tomato pests. They can do some severe damage to your plants, so you’ll need to pick them off your plants (or have somebody else do it).
Tomato hornworms are probably the biggest insect pest of tomato plants. They are large, green worms that appear in late spring and during the summer. Despite their large size, they often blend in, since their green color perfectly matches the shade of the leaves.
You can look (and listen) for signs of tomato hornworms even if you can’t see them: chewed leaves, small black droppings, and the clicking sound of them eating your plants.
Handpicking these worms is unfortunately the best method for controlling them. Squish them if you don’t mind the guts or drown them in soapy water. Chickens enjoy eating them if you have any.
If you ever see a hornworm with little white sacs sticking out of it, leave it be. These are the egg sacs of a beneficial parasitic wasp. Let the eggs hatch (which will kill the hornworm) to grow the population of these wasps in your garden.
Fortunately, cherry tomatoes usually have better disease resistance than larger varieties. However, they can still be prone to fungal diseases like blight, especially if conditions are cool and damp.
The best preventative measures are to space plants properly and prune off any foliage that is touching the ground. Be sure to practice crop rotation as well.
To get a good crop year after year, make sure you practice crop rotation. This means not planting tomatoes where you did last year or where other nightshade crops like peppers, eggplants, or potatoes were.
If your plants do get any type of disease, destroy all plant material at the end of the season rather than composting.
Cracking– Cracking or splitting usually happens when moisture levels are inconsistent. Some varieties are resistant to cracking, but you can also prevent this by watering during dry spells to keep the moisture level as even as possible.
Cracked fruits are perfectly safe and delicious to eat, however, they won’t last as long off the vine.
Blossom end rot– Blossom end rot is common in several vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and squash. You’ll know your tomatoes have it if you see dark spots appear and spread on the bottom of the fruit.
This problem is caused by a calcium deficiency. Your soil may be deficient in calcium, or your plants could be under- or over-watered, which prevents them from taking up enough calcium.
Many times, the first few fruits of the season will get rotten bottoms, and the problem often corrects itself naturally. (The fruits are still edible- just cut off the black section.). However, if it continues on into the season, add a source of calcium like lime, eggshells, or bonemeal.
Harvesting Cherry Tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes are extremely easy to harvest. They may be ready as quickly as 8 weeks after planting, although some varieties will take longer.
Harvesting and eating your cherry tomatoes is the fun part! Let them ripen on the vine as long as possible, but make sure you harvest before the first frost in the fall.
You can start harvesting as soon as the tomatoes have fully colored. Make sure you leave them to ripen fully on the vine for the best flavor, but don’t let them start to get soft and overripe.
You can snap or clip individual tomatoes off with a bit of stem attached. They have a natural breaking point that makes it easy to pick them off with your thumb and forefinger.
Some gardeners don’t have enough patience to pick cherry tomatoes one at a time. If you fall into this category, you can clip off whole clusters rather than individual fruits. The downside is that the tomatoes in the cluster probably won’t all be ripe at the same time, but you can let under ripe ones sit in the sun on your counter to finish coloring.
Tomatoes should always be stored at room temperature and only refrigerated after they’ve been cut.
Use them quickly to avoid spoilage. If you want to store them long term, you can freeze or can them.
The Joy of a Cherry Tomato Plant
There are so many ways to use your freshly harvested cherry tomatoes. You can add them to tons of recipes, or simply eat them as is.
Once you discover how easy it is to grow this garden favorite, you might find yourself trying more and more varieties every year. Soon, you’ll even be able to share your harvest with family, friends, and neighbors.
Be sure to check out other easy to grow vegetables in case your tomatoes need some companions!