One of the moments I look forward to every summer is picking and eating the year’s first cherry tomato.
The sweet and tart flavor, the perfectly snackable size, the juicy texture that bursts in your mouth—what’s not to love about these little tomatoes?
I’ve found that I’m not the only one who finds these fruits irresistible. Pints of cherry tomatoes quickly sell out at the farmers’ market, and I see cherry tomato plants popping up in home gardens almost everywhere I go.
If you’re interested in joining the ranks of cherry tomato growers, stick with me as I explain how to grow these beloved summer treats.
Cherry tomato plants are classified by the size and shape of their fruit. As you may have guessed, their tomatoes resemble cherries!
That means the fruits are round in shape and about 3/4 inch to 1.5 inches in diameter.
Other types of tomatoes that are similar to but a bit different from cherry tomatoes are currant tomatoes and grape tomatoes.
Currant tomatoes are round like cherry tomatoes, but they are smaller in size. Grape tomatoes may be a similar size to cherry tomatoes, but they are oblong rather than round.
Cherry tomatoes can be either determinate or indeterminate. That means you can find cherry tomato plants that grow in a bush form as well as those that have a vining growth habit.
If you prefer to grow one type over the other, make sure to look at the growth habits of individual varieties and choose one that matches your preference.
Like all types of tomato plants, cherry tomatoes should be transplanted into the garden rather than direct seeded.
When it comes time to find cherry tomato seedlings, you have two options: you can grow transplants from seed at home or buy seedlings from a nursery or greenhouse.
Both options have their pros and cons, and one option isn’t necessarily better than the other. Read about both options below and then choose the option that’s best for you.
Starting your own tomato transplants can be a bit cheaper than buying plants, and it also gives you the satisfaction of seeing the plants all the way through their life cycle. This method also allows you to grow cherry tomato varieties that you may not be able to find in nurseries.
First, start with viable seeds. That means choosing seeds from reliable and trustworthy seed companies!
These companies have collected seeds from healthy plants and tested seeds to ensure good germination. You should be able to find the germination rate listed on the seed packet.
Some seed companies I like include Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Osborne Quality Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Adaptive Seeds, and Seed Savers Exchange. These are not the only reputable companies, but they can be a good place to start.
You should also look at the date on the seed packet. Newer seeds have more reliable germination than older seeds, but that doesn’t mean you need to buy new seeds each year.
As long as tomato seeds are stored properly (in a cool, dry area), they can remain viable for three to seven years.
Next it’s time to find a good seed-starting mix. This mix should offer great drainage and aeration but also be able to hold moisture.
It should also contain enough nutrients to support your tomato seedlings through their first few weeks of growth.
Some products I’ve used in the past with success include Vermont Compost Fort Vee Potting Soil and Dirtcraft Organics Levitation Seedling Mix. I’ve also heard great things about Purple Cow Organics Seed Starting Mix and Pro-Mix High Porosity Potting Soil.
In general, you’ll want to look for a mix that is based in peat moss or coco coir, has added nutrients, and is alive with beneficial microorganisms.
When it comes to selecting seedling containers, there are two main options.
- Plant your seeds into a container that is large enough to support your plant throughout its growth. This means you will not have to bump your plants up into a larger container, but it does mean the containers will take up more space for a longer period of time.
- Plant seeds into smaller containers and then pot them up into larger containers. This is a good option if you have limited space for seed starting.
If you are limited in space and want to start with small containers, I find 72-cell trays are a good option. Tomato plants can typically grow in these containers for three or four weeks before they need to be bumped up into larger containers.
When it’s time to pot up your plants into larger containers, six-inch pots work well. You can also plant your seeds directly into these larger pots if you’d like to skip potting up.
Start adding a bit of water to your potting soil and mixing well. The soil should feel moist, but it should not drip water when you squeeze a bit of it in your hand.
Next, fill the containers with the moistened potting soil. I like to pile the soil on top of the containers until it is overflowing and then brush the excess soil off the top.
Whatever you do, do not compact the potting soil! This can lead to issues with aeration and drainage, which may lead to an unhappy tomato plant.
Once the containers are filled with soil, it’s time to plant the seeds.
No matter what type of seedling container you select, you’ll want to plant your cherry tomato seeds 1/4 of an inch deep. When you’re finished, the seeds should be covered with just a bit of soil.
As long as the seeds have at least a 90% germination rate, you should plant only one seed per cell or container.
Now it’s time to provide the seeds with an environment that will encourage germination.
Cherry tomato seeds germinate best at temperatures between 80–90ºF. They will germinate at lower temperatures, but germination will take more time.
If you’d like to increase the soil temperature without cranking up the heat in your home, you can utilize a heated grow mat. I find that these are helpful for growing tomato and peppers since these seeds germinate much better at higher temperatures.
Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate. However, remember that the soil doesn’t need to be soaking wet!
Once the seedlings germinate, you need to provide access to bright light. If you do not provide enough light, you will likely find that your tomato seedlings become leggy.
A bright south-facing window may be sufficient, but I find that grow lights are often necessary.
I personally use LED T5 lights with 6500K (the equivalent to daylight). These are a relatively inexpensive option and work great.
No matter what type of grow light you use, you want to ensure it is only a few inches above the tops of your cherry tomato seedlings. This means you will need to raise the lights as your plants grow.
Keep the lights on for 12–14 hours per day. Putting the lights on a timer makes turning them on and off at the proper time a breeze.
Try to maintain an air temperature between 70-85⁰F. Keep a fan blowing on the plants to prevent the development of disease as well as strengthen the plants.
While some potting mixes contain enough nutrients to support cherry tomato seedlings until they are ready to be planted out in the garden, others do not.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to apply dilute fertilizers to your plants once they reach about four inches tall. A diluted blend of fish and seaweed fertilizer can help provide the nutrients plants need to continue growing.
You can mix up a dilute fertilizer solution and then let the seedling containers sit in the solution for an hour or so. The soil will dry up the fertilizer and make it available to plants.
If you prefer to skip growing your own seedlings, you can purchase transplants from a nursery or greenhouse.
I find that this is a great option if you want to forgo some of the extra work or if you get a late start on your garden. However, you should be aware that it may be difficult to find some varieties of cherry tomato seedlings for sale.
While I’ve seen sad-looking transplants back bounce once they’re in the ground, it’s best to start with the healthiest transplants possible.
Look for tomato plants that have thick stems and dark green foliage. While you may be tempted to choose a plant with flowers or even small tomatoes, it’s best to opt for a plant without any flowers or fruits.
Since tomato plants are not cold tolerant, you should wait until the danger of frost has passed before you move your plants outdoors. You can look at the historical last spring frost date in your area to approximate when you should plant.
Before you plant your seedlings outdoors, you’ll need to acclimate them to their new home. This process is known as ‘hardening off’.
To start, move your tomato plants outdoors for a few hours (provided that air temperatures are above 50ºF). Bring your plants back in at night.
Continue increasing the time your plants spend outdoors over the course of a week. By the end of the week, you can leave the plants outside the entire day and night.
Hardening off your plants can largely limit the stress plants experience during transplanting, so don’t skip this step!
So you’ve got your seedlings and you’ve hardened them off. Now you’re ready to plant!
Tomato plants require full sun, well-draining soil, and adequate space to grow.
Therefore, choose a location that receives at least eight hours of sun each day.
You’ll also want to check the soil by looking at texture and nutrients. If the soil seems compacted or poorly draining, you can loosen it with a digging fork and mix in some finished compost.
I recommend collecting a soil sample and submitting it to a soil testing lab to determine the nutrient composition and pH. There are many great soil testing labs, but asking your local agricultural extension office for help is a good place to start.
After you receive the soil test results, you can amend the soil as recommended. For the best results, aim to test and amend the soil in the fall prior to planting your tomatoes.
After you’ve selected a proper location and ensured the danger of frost has passed, it’s time to plant your cherry tomato seedlings!
Start by digging a hole that is a bit larger than the plant’s root ball. Remove the seedling from its container and place it in the hole.
It is okay if the soil covers some of the plant’s stem—this is actually recommended! Tomato plants will produce roots on any portion of the stem that is below the ground, which will increase the strength of the plant’s root system.
As far as plant spacing goes, leave 18–24 inches between tomato plants.
Tomato plants like consistently moist soil rather than soil that fluctuates between wet and dry. Therefore, it’s good practice to water your tomato plants on a regular basis.
The amount of water tomato plants need depends on the size of the plant, temperature, humidity, and wind. However, you can plan to provide your tomato plants with about two inches of water each week, spread over at least two waterings.
Even if you add fertilizer to the soil before you plant your cherry tomatoes, you will likely still need to fertilize the plants as they grow.
When tomato plants are growing new leaves and stems, they will benefit from a fertilizer that contains high amounts of nitrogen (N) and lower amounts of potassium (K) and phosphorus (P).
One good option is Fox Farm Grow Big Plant Food. Dilute the fertilizer following product instructions and apply once every two weeks.
Once determinate plants have reached their full size or indeterminate plants have grown four feet tall, you should switch over to a fertilizer that supports the production of flowers and fruit. This means choosing a fertilizer that contains more phosphorus and less nitrogen.
Some good options include Neptune’s Harvest Tomato & Veg Fertilizer and Jobe’s Organics Vegetable and Tomato Fertilizer. Follow product instructions to dilute as necessary and apply once every two weeks.
When and how to apply tomato fertilizer in detail? Read our article here.
Supporting your cherry tomato plants with a trellis can help prevent disease, keep the plants tidy, and make harvesting easier.
If you are growing a determinate cherry tomato plant, a plain old metal tomato cage will work just fine. Place the cage around your plant when it is still small.
Indeterminate cherry tomato plants can benefit from a bit more support. Remember that their vines can easily grow up to ten feet tall!
Metal tomato cages can work for indeterminate plants, but you should expect the vines to flow out of the top of the cage.
Another option is to use a stake and weave method.
This involves inserting two tall stakes on either side of the plant. Wrap a piece of tomato twine around the two stakes on either side of the plant so the plant is enclosed between two pieces of twine. Continue adding twine as the plant grows.
While pruning cherry tomato plants isn’t necessary, it can prove beneficial.
Pruning can help increase air flow, therefore preventing the development and spread of disease. It can also make harvesting the tomatoes easier.
If you choose to prune your plants, ensure that you use a sharp and sanitized pair of pruning shears. Clean cuts are crucial to limiting the amount of stress the plant experiences.
Start pruning by removing any lower leaves that are touching the ground. You can also remove excess leaves to increase airflow.
While it’s not necessary, you also also remove suckers from the plants. These are the shoots that emerge from between the plant’s main stem and the leaves.
After months spent caring for your tomato plants, you’ll be rewarded with the prize you’ve been waiting for—cherry tomatoes! Here’s when and how to harvest cherry tomatoes so you can enjoy the rewards of your work.
Cherry tomatoes will begin to ripen on the bottom of the plant, where the first flower clusters have formed. The tomatoes at the top of each cluster will ripen before those at the tips of the cluster.
You can harvest cherry tomatoes when they are fully ripe or when they are almost ripe. If you harvest fruit that is a bit underripe, you can allow it to continue to ripen off the vine.
Cherry tomato plants will begin producing ripe fruits about 60–80 days after the seedlings are planted in the garden. The exact time will depend on the variety as well as the weather.
Harvesting cherry tomatoes in the afternoon—when the plants are dry—is best. Handling dry plants means you are less likely to spread disease, and dry tomatoes will store better than wet tomatoes.
If you need to harvest in the morning or afternoon, don’t fret. However, be aware that handling wet plants and fruits isn’t ideal.
I find that it’s best to harvest cherry tomatoes twice a week. This frequency allows you to harvest tomatoes before they become overripe while also providing time for the fruits to ripen between harvests.
However, this timeline is a recommendation rather than a set rule! The weather can, and should, alter your harvest schedule.
Sudden changes in soil moisture can cause cherry tomatoes to crack, which makes picking them a real pain. Therefore, if I know a stormy day is coming up, I try to harvest the tomatoes before the rains arrive.
Tomatoes will also ripen more slowly in cooler weather, so you may not need to harvest as often in the fall. Pay attention to how many cherry tomatoes you’re picking each harvest day, and alter your harvest schedule as needed.
After you pick your cherry tomatoes, you should store them in a cool (but not cold) area. Generally, an area that is between 55–75ºF is best.
Avoid storing cherry tomatoes in the refrigerator. Tomatoes are sensitive to chilling injuries and cold storage can cause the loss of taste and texture.
Just as with slicing tomatoes and roma tomatoes, you can find a wide variety of cherry tomatoes! These little fruits come in all sorts of colors as well as a few fun patterns.
When you’re choosing a cherry tomato variety to grow, remember to look at more than just the final fruit! You should also take note of the plant’s growth habit, days to maturity, and disease resistance.
Cherry tomatoes are susceptible to a variety of diseases, physical problems, and insect problems.
The issues you may experience depend on your location as well as the cherry tomato varieties you grow. If you find you are experiencing the same tomato diseases year after year, look for varieties that have resistance to these particular diseases.
If you are experiencing trouble determining what is wrong with your cherry tomato plant, you can contact your local agricultural extension office. They will be able to offer individualized diagnostic help as well as offer potential solutions.
Learn everything you need to know for growing success tomato plants.