Mad About Berries

Cherokee Purple Tomato: How To Grow and Take Care Of

The Cherokee Purple Tomato is a unique cultivar of tomato that is adored by many gardening enthusiasts for its deep, dusky color and robust, sweet flavor.

This heritage variety is said to have originated with the Cherokee people more than 100 years ago. Its history is rich and layered, much like the complex flavors this fruit delivers.

Published: August 2, 2023.

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Intro To Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

This tomato variety has been passed down through generations, preserving the distinctive attributes that set it apart. Its name, 'Cherokee Purple,' is a nod to the Native American tribe who originally cultivated it and the deep purple hue that tinges the fruit.

This particular breed was unknown to the wider world until 1990 when a North Carolina man named Craig LeHoullier received seeds from a man in Tennessee.

He named and introduced this breed, and since then, the Cherokee Purple has become a favorite amongst heirloom tomato cultivators and connoisseurs.

The Cherokee Purple Tomato's storied past lends an element of intrigue and importance to its cultivation. This narrative threads through time, tying contemporary growers to a history rich in culture and tradition.

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Cherokee Purple Tomato Growing Conditions

Soil

To ensure successful growth, the Cherokee Purple Tomato requires well-drained soil, enriched with organic matter. This helps to promote a nutrient-dense environment for the tomato plants.

The ideal pH level for these tomatoes is slightly acidic, between 6.0 and 6.8. Adding compost or well-rotted manure can increase the soil's fertility, thereby providing the best conditions for the plant's growth.

Watering

Adequate watering is crucial to the proper growth and development of Cherokee Purple Tomatoes. These plants require a consistent watering routine to avoid fluctuations in soil moisture, which can lead to problems such as blossom end rot.

As a general rule, tomato plants require about 1-1.5 inches of water per week, but this can vary depending on weather conditions. Deep watering techniques, where water is applied slowly to the root zone, can be particularly beneficial in promoting deep root growth.

Sun

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes thrive in full sun exposure. They require at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

The sunlight helps to ensure that the tomatoes ripen evenly and acquire their characteristic deep, purple color. Planting in a location that receives ample sun also helps to keep the plants warm, promoting growth and reducing susceptibility to diseases.

Fertilization

Proper fertilization is another essential aspect of growing Cherokee Purple Tomatoes. An organic tomato fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium, but lower in nitrogen, is ideal.

Too much nitrogen can lead to lush foliage at the expense of fruit production. To enhance growth, it's recommended to apply fertilizer at planting time and again when the fruits are about the size of a golf ball.

Since Cherokee Purple Tomatoes may have a long growing and harvest season, especially in warmer climates, it is recommended to add a balanced NPK fertilizer or one with a lower amount of nitrogen even during the harvest season.

Harvest

The right time to harvest Cherokee Purple Tomatoes is typically between 75 to 90 days after transplanting, when the fruits are firm and fully colored.

These tomatoes tend to have green shoulders even when they're ripe, so don't wait for the entire fruit to darken. Harvesting in the morning, when the fruit is cool, is the best time as it helps to preserve the quality of the tomatoes.

Storage

After harvesting, the tomatoes can be stored at room temperature until they're fully ripe.

It's best not to refrigerate the tomatoes as this can affect their texture and taste. Instead, store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. If you have a large harvest, you can preserve the tomatoes by canning, drying, or freezing them for later use.

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Cherokee Purple Tomato: Plant Spacing

Proper plant spacing is crucial for the healthy growth and development of Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, as it ensures adequate sunlight and air circulation, which are essential in preventing diseases and promoting vigorous growth.

For these indeterminate tomatoes, which can grow quite large, a general rule of thumb is to space the plants about 24 to 36 inches apart within a row, with rows spaced about 36 to 48 inches apart. This gives the plants ample room to grow and spread out, and it allows for easier access to the plants for care and harvest.

If you're growing Cherokee Purple Tomatoes in a pot or container, ensure the container is large enough to accommodate the mature size of the plant. A container that's at least 18 to 24 inches in diameter is typically recommended.

When you first plant your tomato seedlings, the spacing might seem excessive. However, as the plants grow and spread out, they will quickly fill in the space.

Overcrowding can lead to poor air circulation and increase the likelihood of disease, so it's best to give them the room they need from the start.

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes: Plant Size and Support

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes are indeterminate tomato plants, meaning they continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the growing season until killed by frost. As such, they can become quite large, often reaching heights of 6 to 8 feet or more.

Due to their considerable size and the weight of their fruit, these plants require sturdy support. Traditional tomato cages often aren't strong enough for the vigorous growth of Cherokee Purple Tomato plants. Instead, consider using a strong trellis, heavy-duty tomato cages, or a stake-and-weave system.

tomato cage

When using the stake method, drive a strong stake into the ground about 4-6 inches away from the plant. As the plant grows, tie the main stem to the stake at intervals of 8-10 inches. Use soft materials like cloth or tomato ties to prevent damage to the stems. This will provide a robust structure for the plant and help support the weight of the fruit.

If you prefer a cage or trellis system, ensure it is sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the mature plant laden with fruit. Place the support system over the plant while it's young and guide the plant's growth within the support as it matures.

Regardless of the method, providing proper support for your Cherokee Purple Tomato plants will not only keep the plants upright and the fruit off the ground but also allow better air circulation, which can help prevent diseases.

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes: Mulching, Yes Or No?

Mulching is a highly recommended practice for Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, and indeed for most other varieties as well. The process involves covering the soil around the base of the plant with a protective layer of organic or inorganic material.

straw mulch

Mulch provides several key benefits:

  • Moisture Retention: Mulch helps the soil retain moisture by reducing the rate of evaporation. This is particularly beneficial for tomatoes, which require consistently moist soil for optimal growth.
  • Weed Suppression: By blocking sunlight, mulch prevents weed seeds from germinating, thus reducing competition for nutrients and water.
  • Temperature Control: Mulch helps regulate soil temperature by insulating it from extremes of heat and cold.
  • Disease Prevention: Mulch can reduce the risk of soil-borne diseases splashing onto the plant during watering or rain.
  • Nutrient Addition: Organic mulches break down over time, enriching the soil with additional nutrients.

When it comes to mulching Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, you can use organic mulches such as straw, grass clippings, compost, or shredded bark. Organic mulches add nutrients to the soil as they decompose and improve soil structure over time.

Inorganic mulches such as plastic or landscape fabric can be used as well, especially black or red plastic, which can help to warm the soil early in the season.

To apply mulch, spread a 2-3 inch layer around the base of your tomato plants, taking care not to mound it up against the stems. Refresh the mulch as needed throughout the growing season to maintain a consistent depth. Mulching is a simple and effective way to improve the health and yield of your Cherokee Purple Tomatoes.

How To Prune Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Pruning Cherokee Purple Tomatoes involves the removal of certain parts of the plant to promote its health and increase fruit yield.

This practice is especially important for indeterminate varieties like the Cherokee Purple, which continue to grow and produce fruit until the first frost.

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Here is a step-by-step guide on how to prune your Cherokee Purple Tomatoes:

  • Identify the Main Stem and Suckers: The main stem of the plant is the central, tallest part of the plant. Suckers are the small shoots that grow out from the joints where the leaves meet the main stem.
  • Determine Which Suckers to Remove: When the plant is young, allow it to develop a few suckers to create a strong base. As it grows taller, you'll want to remove most new suckers, especially those at the bottom of the plant. The suckers at the top can be allowed to grow and produce fruit.
  • Removing the Suckers: To remove a sucker, grasp it firmly at its base and bend it to the side until it snaps off. If a sucker has grown too large to snap off with your fingers, use a clean, sharp pair of garden shears to cut it off.
  • Prune Lower Leaves: As the plant grows taller, prune off the bottom leaves, especially those that touch the ground or are yellowing. This can help prevent disease by improving airflow and reducing contact with the soil.
  • Monitor and Maintain: Continue to monitor your plant throughout the growing season, removing any new suckers and lower leaves as necessary.

The goal of pruning is to concentrate the plant's energy on producing a more bountiful and higher-quality fruit crop.

However, be cautious not to over-prune, as this can stress the plant. As a rule of thumb, never remove more than 20% of the plant at a time, and always make sure your pruning tools are clean to avoid introducing disease to the plant.

Personally, tomato pruning, regardless of the variety, is a continuous, ongoing process; it causes minimal stress to plants and keeps them in (almost) perfect shape all growing season.

Cherokee Purple Tomato: Common Pests And Diseases

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, like many other varieties, can be susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases. These include:

Pests

  • Tomato Hornworms: These large green caterpillars feed on the leaves and fruit of the tomato plant. They can be picked off by hand or controlled with natural predators like wasps and birds. Using Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a natural bacterium, can also be effective.
  • Aphids: These small insects can cause damage by sucking the sap from the plant. They can be washed off with a strong stream of water or controlled using natural predators like ladybugs. Insecticidal soaps or neem oil can also be used.

aphids

  • Flea Beetles: These tiny beetles chew small holes in the leaves of young plants. They can be controlled by using row covers on young plants, attracting natural predators, or using insecticides if the infestation is severe.

Diseases:

  • Early Blight: This fungal disease causes dark spots with concentric rings on leaves, stem, and fruit. It can be managed by removing affected leaves, maintaining good air circulation, and applying a copper-based fungicide.
  • Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt: These soil-borne fungi cause wilting and yellowing of leaves, often leading to the death of the plant. They can be managed by crop rotation, planting resistant varieties, and maintaining good soil health.
  • Blossom End Rot: This is caused by a calcium deficiency and irregular watering. It leads to dark, sunken spots on the blossom end of the fruit. Keeping the soil evenly moist and adding lime to the soil can help prevent this issue.

Managing pests and diseases involves a combination of good cultural practices, like proper watering, adequate spacing for air circulation, and crop rotation, as well as monitoring for early signs of problems.

With careful attention, you can protect your Cherokee Purple Tomatoes and ensure a healthy, productive harvest.


Few Final Words

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The Cherokee Purple Tomato, with its rich history and unique characteristics, offers a distinct and satisfying experience for both the novice and expert gardener.

With careful attention to soil conditions, proper watering, sunlight, and appropriate fertilization, these tomatoes will yield a bountiful harvest.

While the growing conditions may require some effort, the reward is well worth it - a harvest of delicious, dusky tomatoes with a flavor as rich as their heritage. Whether eaten fresh, canned for winter, or shared with neighbors and friends, the cultivation of Cherokee Purple Tomatoes is an endeavor steeped in history and culinary delight.



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