How to Grow Cherry Tomatoes in Pots
Cherry tomatoes are flavorful and nutritious, and they look so attractive that even children are tempted to eat them.
Therefore, it’s a rewarding experience to grow cherry tomatoes of one’s own, and growing them in pots is one of the best and easiest ways. One just needs to take good care of their plants.
Published: November 2, 2020.
Choosing the Best Variety
One can grow almost all varieties of cherry tomatoes in containers. However, if one chooses the best ones, they grow well in pots. The grower should preferably choose determinate (that stays short) or dwarf varieties.
Another factor to consider is the climate of the area where the grower lives. If the grower’s area receives early frosts, they should choose a variety that matures in 65 days or even less.
Another thing to remember is that determinate plants typically give an early crop and then decline. Indeterminate plants, on the other hand, are larger and need support. They keep bearing fruits until pinched by a heavy frost. If the grower wants cherry tomatoes all through the season, growing both determinate and indeterminate plants is advisable.
They can even try several different determinate varieties that will mature at different times.
Here are some of the best cherry tomato varieties.
NOTE: Brix refers to the sweetness of the tomatoes. Having the brix of 8 is great, whereas having it up to 12 or more is outstanding.
These determinate type of plants grow up to 18”-24” but under 2 feet and produce bountiful tasty red cherry tomatoes. Their brix is 6.6%.
This indeterminate type of variety grows up to 6 to 12 feet and produces abundant golden-orange cherry tomatoes that are sweet to taste with a brix of 9.3%.
This determinate type of dwarf variety grows up to only 6 to 8 inches and hence can be grown even in 4” pots. This is perhaps the shortest variety of cherry tomatoes. Tomatoes grow in bunches and are mildly sweet with a low brix. It can be grown for decoration too as it looks beautiful.
This indeterminate variety can grow up to 4 to 6 feet and produces red tomatoes in large bunches that look like grapes. Fruit is sweet and tangy flavored with a brix of 6% to 8%. It’s drought-tolerant and easy to grow.
Cherry tomatoes tend to crack or not set fruit properly. But Sweet 100 is a variety that can handle heat better than most other varieties. As suggested by its name, this is a very sweet variety with a high brix of around 10%.
This is a determinate variety that is easy to grow and grows up to 16 to 20 inches. It produces compact cherry tomatoes that are sweet tasting with 6% brix.
This determinate hybrid variety is 1 to 2 feet tall and grows golden-yellow tomatoes that are delicious, juicy, and thin-skinned with low acid content and 6.5% brix. It grows well in a hot climate.
This indeterminate variety grows up to 3 to 5 feet and produces tiny 1-inch bite-sized tomatoes that have unique sweet and tangy flavor with 6% to 8% brix.
This indeterminate variety is heat tolerant and grows as a long vine to a height of 8 feet or more. It produces very sweet tomatoes with a 12% brix in large clusters.
This is a semi-determinate dwarf plant perfect for growing in hanging planters. It grows heart-shaped deep red tomatoes with a sweet and tart flavor with an 8% brix.
Also known as Small Fry or Patio Pik, Tiny Tim is a determinate 1-foot tall dwarf variety that produces clusters of tiny but delicious tomatoes with an average brix within 65 days.
Growers can start their own seedlings indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Or they can buy transplants from a good nursery.
Growing from Transplants
While growing from transplants, growers should choose stalky, bright green plants that are less than 12 inches tall. Tomatoes are very sensitive to cold; hence growers should wait before planting till the daytime temperatures become consistently 75°F or warmer.
Choosing the Right Pot
Growers should choose a pot that is at least 14 inches wide and 12 inches deep for planting cherry tomatoes. A 20-inch wide and 18-inch deep pot is even more ideal.
Containers for tomatoes should be wider than deep because the root system of tomato plants tends to spread out more than going deeper.
For dwarf determinate varieties, 5-gallon pots are perfect, while for indeterminate varieties, one will need 10- to 15-gallon pots.
Growers should avoid using plastic or clay pots that are cheap as they dry out quicker and don’t last long. Still, if the grower is on a budget, they can use a plastic pot. Other good options are glazed clay pots, half wine or wooden barrels or 10-gallon grow bags.
The pot should of course have a good number of drainage holes to facilitate drainage. If required, growers should also drill a few more.
A self-watering container is also a good idea to keep the plant consistently watered and the soil moist.
A wheeled plant caddy comes in handy to keep the pots on it and move around conveniently when required.
Collecting soil from the yard and placing it straight in the container is a common mistake several home growers do. The yard soil may have a lot of clay in it and upon watering it’ll become compact and sink down, negatively affecting the root growth of the cherry tomato plants.
Another thing to remember is that although using garden soil is quite economical, it also contains weed seeds, fungi, and pests that may affect growers’ plants.
If growers want to use their own soil, it’s recommended to use 1 part of garden soil, 1 part of compost, 1 part of coco coir and 1 part perlite or vermiculite. If they cannot get perlite, they can use coco coir instead.
Coco coir is an ideal material for loosening soil and thus retaining moisture. It promotes root growth and facilitates sufficient airflow to roots leading to healthier plants with high yields.
Growers can even choose a ready soil mixture; however, they can add some coco coir even to the ready soil mix to further enhance it.
Tip about an Economical Option for Coco Coir: One can save a little money by making their own coco coir. They can buy coco peat block instead of coco coir and keep adding water slowly until it fully breaks down. It will create coco coir at least 5 times more than its original volume.
After loosening the soil with coco coir, the first thing the grower should do is to ensure their soil is rich with nutrients as cherry tomatoes need to be fed well. Not only coco coir, but also worm casting, bone meal, crab meal, alfalfa meal, perlite, kelp meal etc. are all good indications of a good soil mix.
When growers plan to plant their baby cherry tomato plants to actual containers, they should plant them deep so as to place 2/3rd of the plant under the soil. Before setting the plant in the soil in such a way, they should remove any leaves or stems near the bottom.
Planting the plant in this manner will form a solid base for the plant. Roots will grow from the sides of the buried part of the plant. A tomato plant is not very sturdy and hence they should have a strong root system formed in this way for holding the plant upright and absorbing nutrients.
Overcrowding Should be Avoided
It’s recommended to plant only one cherry tomato plant in a 14-inch wide pot, although the bigger would be the better. Since pots have a limited space and nutrients, overcrowding will make the plants compete with each other for water and nutrients.
Also, root congestion and excessive shade can attract pests.
Only if the grower will be planting in a raised bed or giant pot, they can consider planting more than one plant in a single pot.
Spacing depends on the variety the grower has chosen. Plants of a dwarf variety should be spaced 1-2 feet apart, while that of a larger variety should be spaced 3-4 feet apart.
Cherry tomatoes need a lot of sun, so growers should not skimp on it. The plants should get a generous amount of direct sunlight at least for 6 to 8 hours a day. Tomato plants are happy in warm conditions and thrive when the daytime temperature range from 65°F to 85°F.
Temperature below 55°F will retard the growth of the plants and will stunt flowers and fruits. At cool temperatures, plants cannot perform photosynthesis that makes plants’ food, and so, plant growth is stunted.
However, growers should also keep in mind that even extremely high temperatures may harm the plants and cause blossom drops and leads to plants with no fruits.
Growing cherry tomatoes in pots thus has the advantage of being flexible to move the pots to various spots and thus control the heat the plants get.
Using Grow Lights
If sunlight is sparse in growers’ area or if the grower has planted their plants late in the season when winter has already caught up, there is no need to be disappointed. They can still grow cherry tomatoes with grow lights.
Today grow lights can simulate full-spectrum sunlight or light that provides all the required wavelengths that tomato plants need to grow and give a healthy harvest. With grow lights, one can actually grow cherry tomatoes as well as other vegetables indoors all through the year.
If one wants to grow cherry tomatoes indoors, they can just get a grow tent (optional) and suitable LED grow light for that space.
If they don’t have an access to grow lights, they should either cover their tomatoes with plastic when it’s cold or place them on wagons and carts and haul them in an enclosed area (such as a garage) until temperatures warm up. If they choose this path, they should harden off their seedlings.
Cherry tomatoes need regular watering (every 2-3 days; in hot areas, they should be watered every day) to keep the soil moist. However, overwatering can cause root rot due to waterlogging. It can also further lead to blossom-end rot.
Therefore, before watering, growers should poke a finger 1 to 2 inches in the soil close to the pot’s edge. If the soil there feels dry or not moist enough, they should water the plant. Soil should be kept moist but not soggy.
As mentioned earlier, self-watering containers are a good idea to make sure the soil is consistently moist.
By mid-season, a big tomato plant may need to be watered at least once a day and sometimes even twice. Also, growers should make sure they really soak the plants while watering. If they give plants just a sip, the water will only wet the top layer of the soil. Also, while watering, one should water the soil and avoid wetting the leaves as wet leaves can invite fungal diseases.
A good way to avoid keeping the leaves wet is to water the plants in the morning so that any water accidentally fallen on the leaves can dry out during the day. If growers water the plants in the evening, any wet leaves won’t dry during the night and can contract diseases.
A soaker hose is also an easy way to water at the ground level.
The idea of using water crystals is not very good because they are just expensive and have been found to be not particularly effective.
Growers can even add more fertilizers to the soil mix at the flowering time or when the plant just begins to produce fruit. Fertilizers rich in phosphorous and potassium and some calcium are good for cherry tomato as they can help prevent blossom end rot.
When it comes to nitrogen, it’s of course required; however, applying too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer will cause heavy foliage growth and fewer fruits.
It’s necessary to feed plants once a week as per the directions.
It’s important to mulch cherry tomato plants with organic or inorganic materials so as to help hold moisture in the soil, regulate soil temperature, and deter weed growth.
Growers can use a 1-2 inch layer of dry leaves, coco coir, tree bark, sawdust, pine needles, wood chips, etc. to mulch cherry tomatoes. Mulching should be done right after the baby plants are transplanted to the pots. Growers should preferably avoid using hay for mulching as it may contain various seeds that will germinate when watered.
Pruning of Cherry Tomato Plants
Pruning one’s cherry tomato plants is very essential to increase yields. Pruning enables plants to produce more and tastier tomatoes.
Type of cherry plants to be pruned or not to be pruned:
- One should only prune indeterminate (keeps growing in height) type of cherry tomato plants,
- One should not prune dwarf and determinate (grows only to a fixed height of 1 to 3 feet) varieties of cherry tomato plants.
Why to Prune Cherry Tomato Plants?
The main aim of pruning is to remove excess stems and tomato suckers. A sucker is a new stem formed from the joint of the main stem and a leaf stem.
Excess main stems and tomato suckers can absorb too many nutrients and use them to produce excess foliage, instead of using them to produce healthy tomatoes.
When to Prune?
One should prune their cherry tomatoes time and again as they grow bigger and particularly when they near flowering or fruiting.
How to Prune?
The grower should aim to keep 1 or 2 main stems while growing tomatoes in containers and remove any excess stems from the base and any suckers in the bottom 2/3rd of the plant.
The top 1/3rd of the plant should be left untouched. Suckers from the bottom 2/3rd of the plant should be removed. To remove a sucker, it should be just pinched off from the joint.
Pruning Excess Stems
Growers should check the base of the plants for too many stems growing out. If there are any, they should cut them off with a sharp knife or scissors. However, the main stem should be kept intact and also one or two extra stems for a 5-gallon pot. If the pot is still larger, growers can keep a few more.
What Else Should be Pruned?
Growers should prune:
- Any yellow leaves (as such they’re dying)
- Sick leaves
- Leaves that are infested with bugs
Pruning is extremely helpful in removing unnecessary load from tomato plants and directing more nutrients towards blooming and fruiting, leading to more yields and tastier cherry tomatoes.
PRO TIP: After pruning, growers should rub some turmeric diluted in water (1/2 tsp. turmeric + 2 tbsp. water) on open cuts to keep pests away from sucking plant sap and beginning infestation.
Caring for Cherry Tomato Plants
General Care for Container Cherry Tomatoes
Containers don’t provide the insulation a garden location provides. Hence the container cherry tomatoes will need a little babying.
Firstly, the grower should protect the plants from extremes in temperature. When cold weather hits, the plants should be moved indoors, whereas in hot weather they should be moved to a more shaded spot.
Soil in pots dries out quickly. Water-starved tomatoes will suffer from flower drops and won’t bear fruit. Plus, if growers allow the soil to dry out and then drench it, problems like cracked fruit or blossom end rot can arise. Therefore growers should keep the soil evenly moist. They should water the plants every day, especially during the summer heat so as to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
A compact bush variety may not need support, but larger indeterminate varieties will need a tomato cage or trellis.
The last thing to remember is that potting soil also tends to lose nutrients quickly. Hence growers should plan to apply water-soluble fertilizers to their container plants every two weeks.
Support with Tomato Cage
Tomato vines/stems are not strong enough to bear the weight of tomatoes while fruiting. No matter, whether the variety is determinate dwarf or indeterminate tall, the plant will bend and tip over. Therefore growers should support them. A tomato cage comes in handy for this purpose.
Growers can purchase a standard tomato cage or make one on their own with a few stakes and metal wire. They should make sure to set up the cage on the pot before transplanting the plants, as setting it up, later on, can harm the roots.
The cage support also helps the plants grow more vigorously with its branches spread faster in all directions.
As the plant grows, its branches will start poking out through the cage wires. Growers should push them back inside so as to prevent the plant from drooping.
If growers want to save money on a cage, they should choose a spot near the balcony or railing where the plants can get support. Of course, this spot should receive 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight.
Growing Cherry Tomatoes in Pots from Seeds
To grow cherry tomatoes from seeds, growers would have to be patient but not too much because these seeds germinate quite quickly and need only a little care.
Here are steps to grow cherry tomato from seeds:
- Growers should use trays to germinate the seeds. They should fill the trays with potting mix up to 1 inch from the top. They should then smooth the top with their hands and water completely, but should not saturate. This will help the soil settle more uniformly in the trays.
- Now they should poke holes in the soil with a pencil tip. Holes should be ½ inch deep and spaced 1 inch far from other holes. Now growers should place one cherry tomato seed in each hole.
- Now they should spread soil lightly over the seeds and cover the trays with a clear plastic sheet with one end slightly open to permit air circulation.
- Growers should place the trays in a warm but dark area. The temperature should be constantly at least 70°F until the seeds sprout and appear through the surface of the soil.
- Once the sprouts start showing, growers should remove the plastic sheet and place the trays on the stand under the grow lights. They should turn the grow lights on at night when there is no daylight.
- They should position the trays around 6 inches under the lights and should adjust the distance to avoid plant burn if the lights are high-wattage.
When the seedlings become around 4-5 inches tall, growers can transplant them to their pots. Choosing pots, soil, location for the pots, etc. should be done as mentioned earlier.
Diseases and Pests
Sometimes cherry tomatoes can split open. This happens when plants get insufficient watering and absorb too much when they get some. It’s essential to keep the plants watered consistently so that the soil remains moist all the time.
Blossom End Rots
In blossom end rots, tomatoes turn black. This can happen due to a lack of calcium in the soil. Growers can apply a high-calcium fertilizer or grind up dry eggshells and spread over the soil.
Although cherry tomatoes are not usually troubled by pests, if they are kept in the garden or patio, they can attract some bugs which love to suck the plant sap. An easy way to deter bugs is to use neem as bugs hate neem.
If cherry plants are attacked by bugs or gnats, growers should just sprinkle a few tablespoons of neem cake powder around the pot. Bugs will be eliminated permanently.
Growers can even add a few tablespoons of neem cake to the potting soil mix and any larvae or pests in the soil will be removed. What’s more, it will act as a fertilizer too.
If growers notice any pests on the leaves, they should spray neem oil diluted with water every week for a few weeks and pests will go permanently.
A word of caution for growers is that neem products tend to have an unpleasant odor. However, it’s excellent for repelling bugs and the odor goes away in a short while. Plus, it’s a natural product and better than chemical pesticides.
In early blight, leaves turn yellow and brown spots appear. This indicates an infection with a fungus. Growers should cut off the infected branches and discard them before the infection becomes widespread. Blight overwinters in the soil. So, growers should make sure to get rid of their pots once the season ends and start a new next year.
When growing plants in the garden and especially in the pots, crop rotation is very important for protecting the plants from various diseases.
Cherry Tomato Harvest
Most cherry tomato plant varieties start flowering in around a month. To help pollination, growers can tap on the flowers. When plants are grown outdoors, pollination is carried out by bees and wind. Flowering is followed by tiny green fruits. In a few weeks after this, they will turn red and ready to harvest.
When a cherry tomato is truly ripe, it will easily come off its stem. Therefore, growers should be patient until tomatoes are fully ripe. For best results, it’s recommended to pick individual fruits every day. Fortunately, cherry tomatoes will keep producing fruits right until frost.
If the weather turns cool before time or an early frost occurs, growers should cover their plants with an old sheet to extend the harvest season.
The tiny deep red or golden yellow or orange cherry tomatoes are not only delicious and nutritious, but are also beautiful to look at, and hence every garden-lover should get an experience of growing them in containers. They can keep adorning one’s house and giving bountiful fruits on and on that the grower can keep relishing!