To complete that natural sweet flavor on your vegetable salad, make sure to add cherry tomatoes. Unlike your normal large-sized tomatoes, cherry tomatoes are down smaller in its size. In fact, it can be compared to the size and appearance of ripe cherry, thus, its name.
However, what it lacks in size, it compensates for in flavor. These small, yellow, gold, orange, or red cherry tomatoes are rich in taste and are way sweeter than the rest. And aside from topping your salad, there are a lot of ways in which you can consume them.
While it’s readily available in most supermarkets, having your own tomato at home will be of great advantage. One is that you’ll have a steady supply of freshly picked tomatoes from your backyard or porch. Two is that you’re one hundred percent sure it’s safe to eat and last, you’ll save bucks by cutting down the budget for vegetables because it’s already available at home.
Now, if you’re having doubts about growing your own tomato, don’t worry. Cherry tomatoes are easy to grow and they’ll do well even in pots. To give you basic knowledge on how to care for and maintain this plant, read on so you’ll know where to start.
Choosing the Right Type of Cherry Tomato Plant
Like in growing many other plants, there are different considerations you have to keep in mind before planting a tomato. There are various kinds of tomatoes and they differ in their own characteristics and purpose. To make the most of your gardening, you have to start by choosing the right type of cherry tomato to plant at home.
Determinate vs Indeterminate Varieties
When you go to the garden store and decide to buy a packet of tomato seeds, one crucial thing you have to decide on is the type of variety you want to grow. Varieties differ in their fruit size, color, disease resistance, and days to harvest. It also indicates if the tomato plant you’re going to grow is determinate or indeterminate.
Determinate varieties are those plants that have a bushy growth habit and stops growing when it reaches the mature stage. They bear clusters of fruit and when it’s harvested, the plants start to decline and eventually die. They grow relatively smaller, around 48 to 60 inches tall.
The indeterminate varieties are those that grow like vines continuously producing suckers even when they’ve reached maturity. They will supply you with tomato fruits all throughout the season. Its life span is longer than the determinate tomato varieties.
Choose a variety that suits your preference. If you want a whole batch of tomatoes you can use for food processing and preservation then plant the determinate variety. If you rather opt for a steady supply of fresh tomato fruits every other day, then grow indeterminate varieties in your garden.
Seeds vs Transplants
Choosing a good quality planting material is a very important step for successful gardening. There are two types of common planting materials to choose from. You can start with seeds or with readily available transplants that you can purchase from nurseries.
When using seeds, remember to buy a new set if you’re using a hybrid. You cannot save seeds from the previous hybrid plant and sow them again next season because they’re not going to produce superb quality plants. On the contrary, you can use saved seeds from open-pollinated tomatoes to produce new plants.
If you want to save time and energy, you may just use the transplants. These are seedlings of tomatoes that you can readily transfer to a garden bed or pots. By doing so, you’ll shorten the days in which you can harvest the fruits.
It’s crucial that you select only the seedlings that are vigorous and disease-free. Buy transplants only from reputable nursery owners. And make sure that the distance from the nursery to your home is short to avoid stressing the transplants during hauling.
Heirloom vs Hybrid
Heirloom varieties are those types of tomatoes that are typically grown at home for family consumption. Unlike commercial cultivars, heirloom seeds are the product of years and years of open pollination. It’s often passed on from one generation to another.
Cherry tomato fruits produced from heirloom seeds are often tasty and sweet. However, they’re not resistant to diseases making it more challenging to achieve high production of fruits in a single plant. Heirloom cultivars are also classified as family heirlooms or commercial heirlooms.
Hybrid varieties, on the other hand, are those types of tomatoes that have improved genetic characteristics. By combining the desirable characteristics of two tomato parents, a hybrid variety is produced. The outcome depends on what characteristics the breeder desires for the new plant to be whether its better taste, larger size, different color, and better resistance to diseases.
Growing and Caring for Cherry Tomatoes
After you’ve decided on the type and variety of cherry tomatoes you want to grow, the next thing to do is prepare for the handwork. Following are the steps you need to take to finally start growing and caring for your own cherry tomatoes:
Preparing the Site
There are a lot of ways in which you can do gardening now. If you have enough space in your backyard, you can make use of that to start your own home garden. Or if there’s none, you can always utilize containers and pots.
For in-ground planting, make sure to clean up the area. Cut the grasses and remove obstructions. You’ll need to do some tilling to loosen the soil or create raised beds whichever you prefer.
If you’re going to use containers, you’ll have to search for a location that is sunny. An east-facing porch or patio is a good option. Remember that the location must be receiving enough sunlight.
Mixing the Soil
Tomatoes require a well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. The soil pH must range from 6.5 to 6.8. This will ensure the availability of nutrients for the plant’s utilization.
To prepare the soil, you’ll need to incorporate decaying materials in the beds weeks before you transplant the seedlings. This will serve as a natural source of fertilizer. It’ll also improve the texture of the soil.
For tomatoes in pots, you can use vegetable potting mixes that you can buy in stores. Most of them are actually soilless that come from mixtures of coco peat, coir, vermiculite, or perlite. Always sterilize the potting media to avoid the spread of diseases caused by pathogens.
If you’re starting with seeds, you’ll need to sow them first in a seed tray using a soilless potting medium. The seeds should be at most 1/4 inch deep to facilitate germination. Sprinkle water on the tray gently and place in a location with a temperature of 75°F to 85°F.
Check the tray daily and sprinkle water when it starts getting dry. Ideally, the potting mix must be kept moist but not overly wet. Once the seedlings start to emerge, you’ll need to provide an overhead light to help them create their food.
You’ll need to thin out the less vigorous seedlings to allow more room for the healthy ones to grow.
When there are at least four true leaves present on your cherry tomatoes, then it’s ready for transplanting. Gently remove the root ball from the seedling tray and transfer them one by one in the dug holes for in-ground planting. Ensure that it’s seated deep enough in the soil.
If to be grown in pots, use a container that has at least 14 inches diameter. The ideal time to transplant is in the afternoon when the sun’s heat is no longer that intense. This will lessen the stress that the seedlings have to go through.
For seedlings bought from a nursery, always give them a rest period of at least a day before you transplant them. This will give them enough time to recover from the stress brought about by hauling.
Water the transplanted seedlings immediately and place the container pot in a shady environment. For in-ground plants, you may put some shades to protect the newly planted tomatoes from extreme sunlight. Expose them to sunlight gradually to avoid shock.
In order for plants to produce their own food, they require light. Light is an important element in the process of photosynthesis. For tomatoes, you’ll have to provide ample light for at least 6 hours.
In-ground gardens would normally find no trouble in catching light because they’re located outside. For potted tomatoes, this could be a challenge. In that case, you’ll have to move around your pots to where light is directed to ensure that it will get the right amount of light.
An indication that your plants are not receiving enough light is if turns out to be leggy. Another sign is that the leaves turn pale green in color. On the other hand, if the light is too much, the plant will curl its leaves and will start wilting.
Tomatoes love water and they need a generous amount of supply every day. Soak the soil by deeply watering the plant. This will prompt the tomato to develop a deep and extensive root system.
Check if the water is properly draining from pot to avoid root rot. Do not sprinkle overhead because it will wet the foliage making it more prone to diseases. Pathogens are most likely to thrive in damp areas.
Increase the amount of water as the plant grows or as the temperature rises. Keep the soil moist but not wet. The right amount of moisture will help the cherry tomatoes produce the best quality fruits with a sweet flavor.
As heavy feeders, your cherry tomatoes would love a consistent feeding of nutrients. Before planting, amend the soil with organic materials such as compost to ensure that the soil is fertile before the transplant.
At the time of planting, side-dress with slow-release fertilizers several inches away from the seedlings. It will ensure a continuous supply of essential nutrients throughout the season. After two weeks, you can apply soluble fertilizers to provide a more readily available source of nutrients.
When the plants start flowering, increase the amount of phosphorus. Choose the fertilizer with 5-10-10 levels of NPK. At this point, nitrogen isn’t much needed because we all want the tomato to set more fruits rather than leaves.
It’s important that you regulate the amount of fertilizer you feed on your plant. If the soil is already rich in nutrients, there’s no point to add more. Overfertilization is also dangerous because it will burn the roots and the leaves of the plant making it more susceptible to deterioration.
If the plant is lacking in nutrients, it will show in its leaves depending on what type of nutrient is missing. Normally, mature or young leaves will change in color from green to yellow, purple, brown, etc. Interveinal chlorosis might also appear.
The kind of fertilizer to apply will depend on how you want to grow your cherry tomatoes. You can choose between organic and inorganic sources. You’ll also save a great deal of money if you utilize the scraps you have from vegetable and fruit peelings and turn them into DIY fertilizers.
Weeds are any plant that competes with the nutrients intended for your cherry tomatoes. Certainly, you have to pull them out of the garden bed or the pot. This will help better the intake of nutrients by the cultivated plant.
In potted plants, this is not much of a problem. But for those planted in-ground, there’s a high chance that weeds will grow. You can manage them by manually pulling the weeds out while ensuring that the roots of the tomatoes are kept intact.
Using plastic mulch is another way of repressing the growth of weeds. Most commercial growers use this on their tomatoes to save time and effort during manual work.
Managing Pests and Diseases
There’s a wide range of diseases that can possibly infect your cherry tomatoes. If you’re not using certified seeds, there’s a high chance that your plant will encounter one or two of these problems. If you’re using a resistant variety, then your plant will most likely overcome them.
Diseases can be caused by fungi, bacteria, or physiological problems. Most of them cause leaf spot or fruit rot such as septoria leaf spot, blight, blossom end rot. Other diseases like bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt, and damping-off (for seedlings) lead to the entire death of the plant.
To prevent these diseases, always start with certified seeds. Employ crop rotation so that the pathogen will cease having hosts. Buy sterilize potting media and avoid wetting the foliage of the plants.
If plants get infected, apply fungicides specific to the fungi being controlled. Always remove infected parts immediately to prevent the spread of diseases.
Most pests can be managed by mechanical control. Remove them once spotted. Spray water to flush them off or apply diluted soap and horticultural oils on the surfaces infected.
For tomatoes that grow like vines (indeterminate), staking is necessary. Stakes will serve as support to enable the plant to stand erect. If you don’t put stakes, your tomatoes will sprawl on the ground making it messy.
Wooden stakes are commonly used for support. Prepare a stake that is at least 72 inches tall and bury one foot deep in the soil. Make sure that the stake is installed steadily making it able to carry the weight of the plant.
As your cherry tomatoes start growing, tie them loosely along with the stake. Other materials you can employ for support include cages.
Pruning suckers is a part of the cultural management for tomatoes especially those with indeterminate growth habits. Once suckers grow at the axils of the plant, you have to pinch them off to keep the plant from growing more branches. That way, the plant will produce tomatoes with better sizes and the ripening process will be hastened.
The leaves at the base of the plant should also be removed when the flowers start to bloom. By doing so, the nutrients channeled in the soil will be utilized in producing fruits rather than supporting the foliage.
Harvesting and Storing
Fully mature fruits will eventually turn its color from green to golden yellow, orange, or red. It actually depends on what type of variety you planted. For cherry tomatoes, harvest the fruit when it’s not fully ripe.
Freshly picked tomatoes are good for consumption within 2 to 3 days. Once overripe, it will start losing its flavor. On the other hand, underripe fruits that are harvested ahead of time will not develop into their best taste.
Never ever leave the fruit to rot in a plant because this will cause serious troubles such as diseases. If you have more than enough harvest in a batch, you may opt to process them to prolong the shelf life.
Common Challenges in Growing Cherry Tomatoes
Every gardening story has obstacles to conquer. Your cherry tomatoes are not an exemption to this. To know the common challenges you’ll encounter, here’s some information you can read to prepare yourself.
Dropping of Flowers
It’s unfortunate to see the blooms drop even before it develops into a fruit. This could be a discouraging event, especially for newbie gardeners. However, this happens normally, especially if there’s so much nitrogen in the soil.
Nitrogen encourages the growth of foliage in your cherry tomatoes making the leaves look dark green. However, the downside is that flowers become the trade-off. Dropping of flowers will significantly reduce the yield of the tomatoes.
The solution to this is that you have to lessen the nitrogen level in fertilizers when the blooms start showing. A foliar spray of liquid fertilizer containing phosphorus will also encourage the flowers to flourish.
Other sources of stress such as fluctuating temperatures, drought, and salinity can also lead to the same problem. That’s why you have to provide the right growing conditions in your garden so that the plants remain healthy and sturdy.
Deformation happens as a result of low temperature. The cold temperature is not favorable for the growth of tomatoes and it will prevent the setting of best quality produce.
It’s better to wait for the ideal temperatures to come before you start sowing the seeds. When the growing condition is favorable, there’s less chance of developing deformations. You’ll most likely enjoy harvesting many delicious, sweet, and small tomatoes in clusters.
Another problem that affects the quality of your cherry tomatoes is fruit cracking. Aside from its unfavorable appearance, the cracks can probably serve as open wounds where insects and pathogens can start thriving.
The common reason for cracking is inconsistent watering. Fluctuating temperatures especially the night and day difference will also contribute to the same problem.
Always provide an even amount of water. It’s not advisable that you withhold water for too long and then suddenly provide large amounts of water.
Chlorosis or the yellowing of the leaves often indicates that the plant is lacking any of the essential nutrients. But, it can also be a sign of a disease. Either way, it tells you that your tomato is not in a healthy state.
Yellowing may occur at the various parts of the leaves depending on whether the lacking nutrient is mobile or immobile. If it’s mobile, the yellowing will show on the older leaves. If it’s immobile, it’ll show on the young leaves.
Chlorosis caused by disease is most often coupled with brown and black spots. Proper diagnosis is crucial to be able to find the right solution.
Typical Questions on Growing Cherry Tomatoes
What is the best cherry tomato?
One cherry variety cannot have all the good characteristics. One becomes superior over the other in certain traits. There are many options for cherry tomatoes but in order you get the best out of it, you have to consider your own preference.
For beginners, the best cherry tomato to plant is the bing cherry. It has a high tolerance for drought and will thrive in a wide variety of climates and soil types. Despite being low maintenance, it produces sweet and juicy fruits that will not disappoint.
If you’re a chef who experiments on cooking, it’s better to opt for black cherry. It has a very tasty and delicious quality because it’s an heirloom tomato. You can keep this in your garden as an attraction too.
For an urban gardener who has limited space, the Tiny Tim, Red Robin, and Pixie Hybrid varieties are here for you. It can thrive even in a small pot. Although it’s relatively smaller than other varieties, it’s still tasty and juicy plus it’s very easy to maintain.
What are cherry tomatoes good for?
Cherry tomatoes are commonly used for salads and pasta. But they’re also good to consume when raw and fresh just like the way you normally eat a red, ripe cherry. Its sweet taste makes it palatable to savor even right after picking.
Other ways to consume cherry tomatoes is by putting them in your salsa, tart, gratin, skewer, and roast dishes.
What is the difference between cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes?
One distinct difference you’ll see between cherry and grape tomatoes is their shape. Cherry tomatoes are round while the grape tomatoes are oblong. Their name suggests a lot about the way they look on the outside.
Although both are delicious, cherry tomatoes are naturally sweet and watery. Grape tomatoes are meaty, firm, and have less moisture content. Since grape tomatoes have thicker skin than cherry tomatoes, they’re easier to handle and pack.
When it comes to culinary, cherry and grape tomatoes can be used interchangeably. However, cherry tomatoes are more preferred if the dish needs stuffing because it’s more hollow.
How long do cherry tomatoes take to grow?
Depending on the variety, the days to harvest of a particular cherry tomato cultivar may vary. But generally, since they’re small, you can expect them to produce fruits in 65 to 70 days. This will happen given that the environmental conditions are well.
Cultivars like Super Sweet 100, Yellow Pear, and Large Red Cherry can be harvested in such a period. The fruits as little as 1 to 1.5 inches shall be ready for picking.