Not only do cherry tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme) reward you with bright, tasty, bite-sized, almost irresistible fruits, but they're easy to grow. Best suited for container growing are small, determinate varieties that are short and bushy. Larger, indeterminate varieties can reach 10 feet tall and are best grown in the ground. Indeterminate tomatoes never stop growing, and determinate plants stop growing after fruit set. Grown as annuals, cherry tomatoes are frost-sensitive and hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11.
Very Small Varieties
When space is scarce, consider very dwarf, determinate cherry tomato varieties such as "Micro Tom," which is only 5 to 8 inches tall, small enough for 4- to 6-inch pots. It bears small, red fruits in midseason. A little larger miniature variety, "Red Robin" is 8 to 12 inches tall with 1 1/4-inch-wide, sweet, red fruits that have a robust tomato taste. It bears tomatoes in 55 days and does well in an 8-inch-diameter pot.
Dwarf cherry tomatoes usually reach around 18 inches tall, needing an 8-inch-wide pot or larger. "Tiny Tim" bears bright red tomatoes about 3/4 inch wide that ripen in 60 days. Another example is "Totem," which has very sweet, abundant tomatoes produced in 70 days. Early-bearing "Tumbler" bears up to 6 pounds of cherry tomatoes in 50 days on an 16-inch-tall plant and does well in hanging baskets. These are all determinate tomatoes.
Usually achieving a height around 2 or 3 feet, medium-sized cherry tomatoes need larger containers such as a 5-gallon pot size. "Baxter's Bush Cherry" matures in 72 days, bearing firm, split-resistant, tasty red tomatoes on plants that don't need caging or support. For a yellow cherry tomato with a sweet taste, try "Tumbling Tom Yellow," with a cascading growth habit ideal for hanging baskets or window boxes. Plants are about 2 feet tall with a spread of 6 to 8 inches. Fruit ripens in 70 to 80 days. Both these varieties are determinate.
Although they do best with unrestricted root room where the soil doesn't dry out quickly, you can try container-growing large-sized indeterminate cherry tomatoes if you use a big container, such as a 15-gallon size or a half-barrel. You'll need to outfit the container with a sturdy, large tomato cage or stake to support the vining growth. Indeterminate cherry tomatoes include varieties with unusual colors and excellent taste. Examples are "Black Cherry" with reddish brown fruits that mature in 65 days; orange, very sweet "SunSugar," with ripe fruit in 62 days and "Green Zebra Cherry," with striped greenish-yellow fruits that mature in 75 days.
You can grow cherry tomatoes in a wide variety of containers as long as the container has multiple drainage holes and it's an appropriate size for the variety you're growing. You can use plastic pots, plastic bags, tubs, buckets and window boxes. If you live in a warm summer climate, don't choose a clay pot, since water escapes through the porous surface.
Soil and Water
Rather than growing cherry tomatoes in garden soil, provide them with a quality potting mix that contains perlite. Garden soil can introduce pathogens and pests. Container tomatoes need more water than in-ground tomatoes. Check frequently so soil doesn't dry out. Fast-growing plants may need watering once a day in hot summer climates. Water until the water comes through the drainage holes.
Cherry tomatoes need at least eight hours of sunlight a day, so on a patio or porch choose a spot in full sun. Indoors, position container tomatoes in a sunny window, or use a combination of natural sunlight with artificial lighting. In hot summer climates, tomatoes benefit from partial shade in the afternoon.
Tomato Planting and Spacing
Put just one tomato plant in each container. Fill the container with potting mix to within 2 inches of the top edge. Center the seedling in the container. For small varieties, dig a hole sufficient to bury the entire root ball. For larger varieties, dig a hole in the potting mix deep enough to bury part of the stem as well as the roots. Remove leaves that will be under the soil and leave just the top four to six leaves are above the mix. The stem forms additional roots. Firm the soil around the tomato and water it until water comes out the drainage holes.
As with other tomato varieties, cherry tomatoes need regular fertilizing during the growing season, but too much nitrogen discourages fruit formation. Use a low-nitrogen product such as fish emulsion, applied every four weeks at the rate of 6 tablespoons per 1 gallon of water used.
Be aware that in determinate cherry tomatoes, all the fruit ripens at once. You may wish to have several varieties with different maturation dates to extend the harvest of fruit. For indeterminate cherry tomatoes, keep the ripe cherries picked as they form to encourage continued fruit set.
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