You’ve probably seen red and orange cherry tomatoes, and maybe even pink and yellow varieties. But have you heard of Black Cherry tomatoes?
Black Cherry refers to the dark color of the fruits, but it is also a unique cherry tomato variety. These tomatoes are not truly black, but rather dark and dusky purplish-red.
I find the flavor of the Black Cherry reminiscent of similar-looking heirlooms like Cherokee Purple and Black Prince. Bite into one of the fruits and you’re hit with an excellent balance of sweetness and acidity as well as a hint of smokiness.
Plus, the plants are prolific producers that put some hybrid varieties to the test. So if you’re looking for a new cherry tomato to try, the Black Cherry may be just what you’re looking for!
Join me as I describe more about these plants and explain how to properly care for them.
Black Cherry Tomato – Quick Growing Guide
|Plant Type:||Annual vegetable||Tolerance:||Cracking fruit|
|USDA Hardiness Zone:||4–9||Maintenance:||Moderate to high|
|Season:||Summer and early fall||Soil Type:||Rich and well-aerated|
|Exposure:||Full sun||Soil pH:||6.2 to 6.8|
|Time to Maturity:||64 days from transplant||Soil Drainage:||Well-draining|
|Spacing:||24-48 inches||Companion Planting:||Basil, beets, carrots, lettuce, sweet alyssum|
|Planting Depth:||1/4 inch||Avoid Planting With:||Broccoli, corn, potatoes|
|Common Pests and Diseases:||Aphids, early blight, late blight, septoria leaf spot, thrips||Cultivar:||Black Cherry|
What Are Black Cherry Tomatoes?
Black Cherry tomatoes are an heirloom variety of cherry tomatoes known for their dark fruits. They are popular among backyard gardeners and market farmers alike.
Black Cherry Tomato Characteristics
Here’s some basic information about Black Cherry tomatoes.
Black Cherry tomatoes are cold-sensitive plants that will not survive a frost without protection. In most areas of the United States, they should be planted outdoors in the spring and expected to die in the fall.
Black Cherry tomatoes can be grown in USDA Hardiness zones 4-10. However, if you live in zone 4 or 5 and want to harvest more than a handful of tomatoes, you may need to grow these plants in a high tunnel.
Black Cherry tomato plants have an indeterminate growth habit. That means their vines continue to grow until the plants become diseased or die.
For the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties, read my article.
As the plants continue to grow, they continue to produce new flowers. If the plants are grown in the proper environment, these flowers will ripen into fruits.
If your Black Cherry plants are healthy, you can expect to harvest cherry tomatoes over the course of two to four months.
Days to Maturity
Black Cherry tomato plants have a ‘days to maturity’ between 64–75 days. This means you can expect to harvest your first ripe tomato about two to two and half months after transplanting seedlings in the ground.
It’s important to note this range does not refer to the time between planting a seed and harvesting the first fruity.
If you are growing your tomatoes from seed, you can expect it to take about 40–60 days from when you plant the seeds until the seedlings are ready to transplant.
Fruit Size, Color, and Flavor
Black Cherry tomato plants produce clusters of large cherry tomatoes. These tomatoes are about 1–1¼ inches in diameter.
The fruits start light green and gradually develop a reddish tint over the green base. As the tomatoes continue to ripen, they will lose the green color everywhere except for their area near the stem.
Fully ripe Black Cherry tomatoes will be deep dark red with a purple or brown tint. When you slice or bite into ripe fruits, you’ll see deep red flesh spotted with green seeds.
If you talk to many individuals (myself included) who have tasted these tomatoes, you’ll likely hear they have a delightful and robust flavor. I love that Black Cherries are sweet but also singing with a nice amount of acidity.
Black Cherry Tomato History
This variety was developed in Florida by Vince Sap of the company Tomato Growers. Vince has since passed, but this variety continues to be sold by Tomato Growers and many other seed companies.
How to Grow Black Cherry Tomatoes
If you want to grow Black Cherry tomatoes, you’re in luck! We’ll cover all you need to know about growing and caring for these plants.
Growing Black Cherry Tomatoes From Seed
If you’d like to grow your Black Cherry seedlings from seed, you should start the seeds about 40–60 days before you wish to transplant.
A good rule of thumb is to start your tomato seeds about one month before the predicted last frost date. So if the last predicted frost is April 15, you can start seeds indoors on March 15.
When it comes to germinating tomato seeds, you have a few options. You can use open flats, old yogurt containers, or trays designed specifically for seed starting.
I often start my tomato seedlings in 72-cell trays. This tray allows you to start a large number of plants in a small space, but it also provides enough space for the plants to grow for a few weeks.
No matter what type of container you select, you need to start with a well-draining potting mix that’s loaded with nutrients. I’ve successfully used Vermont Compost Fort Vee Potting Mix and Coast of Maine Sprout Island Blend in the past.
Moisten the potting mix until it is moist but not dripping wet. Fill the containers with potting mix until the mixture is slightly firm but not too densely packed—it should be easy to poke your finger in the soil.
Make an indentation that is ¼ inch deep in each container. Place one seed in each hole, cover it with soil, and water it well.
Tomato seeds germinate best between 65-85ºF, so aim to keep the air warm. I like to use a heated grow mat to heat the soil and encourage germination. You can expect the seeds to germinate in about a week.
Once the seedlings are up, place them in an area with at least eight hours of bright, direct light. If you don’t have a greenhouse, I find that grow lights are the next best option.
Select a grow light (this and this are two good options), and set the light 2–4 inches above the seedlings.
If you originally planted your seeds in small containers or cells, you may need to bump them up into a larger container like this. Allow the seedlings to continue growing until they are about 8–12 inches tall.
Buying Black Cherry Seedlings
If you’d like to skip the step of starting seeds, you can purchase Black Cherry seedlings. Since this is a relatively popular cherry tomato variety, you may be able to find plants in small nurseries as well as big box stores.
Choose seedlings that have a stem that is thick for the size of the plant as well as dark green foliage. You’ll want to avoid plants with pests such as aphids and spider mites as well as plants that have fruits.
Aim to buy your tomato seedlings about a week before you plant them to give you time to properly harden them off.
Hardening Off Black Cherry Seedlings
Hardening off refers to slowly acclimating plants to a new environment. In the case of Black Cherry tomatoes, it allows the seedlings to get used to colder temperatures, direct sunlight, and wind that occur outdoors.
You should harden off all Black Cherry seedlings regardless of if you grew them yourself or bought them from a store. Follow this process.
Place the potted seedlings outdoors for a few hours in the afternoon, and make sure to bring the plants back inside at night. Gradually increase the number of hours the plants spend outdoors.
Within 4–7 days, the plants should be spending the whole day and night outdoors (assuming that the temperatures remain above 50ºF during this time). At this point, the plants are hardened off and ready to plant.
Planting Black Cherry Seedlings
Wait until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50ºF before transplanting outdoors.
First, lay out where you would like to plant the seedlings. Remember that Black Cherry tomatoes are indeterminate and can grow quite big!
I like to provide at least two feet of space between tomato plants.
Once you’ve set up a good layout, dig holes that are a few inches deeper and wider than the seedlings’ root balls. Place one plant in each hole.
The top few inches of the plant should be above the soil line, but it’s okay if the soil is covering some of the plant’s exposed stem. Tomato plants will develop roots on portions of the stem that are covered with soil.
Caring for Black Cherry Tomato Plants
Black cherry tomatoes require similar care to other types of cherry tomatoes. You can read my article here – growing and caring for cherry tomatoes. Below I will discuss caring for this specific tomato plant.
Black Cherry tomato plants require about two inches of water a week. However, the exact amount you should water will depend on the temperature, humidity, wind, and soil type.
I find that watering Black Cherry tomatoes two to three times a week during dry summer weather is generally sufficient. Spreading water out over multiple days helps keep the soil moisture consistent, which helps prevent the tomatoes from cracking.
I water my plants with drip tape that runs under the mulch that surrounds the plants. However, you can also use a watering can or hose.
No matter which watering method you choose, you should avoid overwatered or getting the leaves wet to prevent the development of disease.
Black Cherry plants are heavy feeders that require fertilizer to thrive.
While plants will require additions of fertilizer as they grow, it’s best to start with well-balanced and nutrient-rich soil. I collect soil samples each fall and submit them to a soil testing lab.
Following the recommendations from the test results, I correct the soil pH and add any nutrients that are lacking. However, I wait until the spring to add nitrogen since it can easily leach out of the soil.
After tomato plants are in the ground, apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer once every two to three weeks until the plant reaches about two feet tall. At this point, you should switch to a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertilizer to encourage the production of flowers and fruits.
Since Black Cherry tomatoes are indeterminate, they can typically grow over six feet tall. Therefore, they will benefit from some type of support.
Trellising the plants can help with airflow which in turn prevents disease. It can also free up garden space and make harvesting easier.
My favorite method of trellising field-grown tomatoes is the Florida stake and weave.
Begin by inserting two 6–8 foot tall stakes on either side of your Black Cherry plant. If you are growing more than one Black Cherry plant, you can insert a stake every 3–4 plants.
You can begin adding tomato twine to your plants when they are about a foot tall. Tie a piece of twine to one of the stakes, run it along one side of the tomato plant(s), pull tight, and then tie it to the other stake. Repeat this process on the other side of the plant(s).
The tomato plant(s) should be supported between the two lines of twine. As the plants grow, you should add sets of twine every 6–10 inches to support the plant(s).
You can also support the plants with metal tomato cages or by tying the main stem of each plant to a single stake.
I find that a few simple pruning steps can help limit the development and spread of disease. When you prune, make sure to use a sharp and sanitized pair of pruning shears or knife.
Start by removing any leaves that are touching the ground. Next, you can remove excess leaves to increase airflow.
You can also choose to prune off ‘suckers’ that emerge from between the main stem and the leaves. This can step isn’t necessary, but it can make the plant more manageable.
Harvesting Black Cherry Tomatoes
You can expect to harvest your first ripe Black Cherry tomato about two months after you transplant the seedlings.
Black cherry fruits start light green before turning light red and eventually a deep purplish-red. Wait until the tomatoes are dark red to harvest.
Tomatoes near the bottom of the plants will be the first to ripen, so keep an eye on the lower fruits.
You can harvest as often as you like, but I like to harvest twice a week. This schedule allows you to pick the fruits before they become overripe or cracked and also provides time for more tomatoes to ripen.
Storing Black Cherry Tomatoes
If you pick Black Cherry tomatoes when they are fully ripe, you can expect them to keep for about 2–5 days. However, if you pick them when they are 80% ripe, they can keep for about a week.
Aim to store your tomatoes somewhere cool and dry but avoid placing them in the refrigerator.
How to Eat Black Cherry Tomatoes
The robust and balanced flavor of Black Cherry tomatoes makes them great additions to salads, pasta, bruschetta, and more. You can also put the tomatoes on kebabs or slow-roast them in the oven before turning them into sauce.
Since these plants are vigorous producers, you may find you’re left with excess tomatoes. In that case, simply place the tomatoes on a baking sheet and pop them in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, place them in freezer bags to enjoy during cooler weather.
Where to Buy Black Cherry Tomatoes
Many seed companies sell Black Cherry Tomato seeds. You can find seeds at Seed Savers Exchange, Tomato Fest, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
Check local nurseries as well as big box hardware stores for Black Cherry seedlings.