Love the idea of growing tomatoes, but not sure where to start? Grab a pot and some cherry tomato seedlings. They’re amazingly easy to grow, and even one plant will bear a steady crop of bite-size fruits all season.
There are a few varieties you can choose from when planting cherry tomatoes. A popular variety of cherry tomatoes is Sweet Million, which bear long clusters of sweet yet tomatoey red fruit; SunSugar, which produces super-sweet, richly flavored golden fruit; and an heirloom called Black Cherry, whose tomatoes have a complex, rich, sweet flavor.
All three are what are called “indeterminate” varieties, meaning they will continue to grow taller and produce more until the plants are killed by frost, which — if they really like where they are — means the plants may grow to 6, 8, or even 10 feet tall. If you don’t want to deal with that much plant, you can ask if your local organic garden center has any dwarf or patio varieties of cherry tomatoes for sale.
Red or yellow pear tomatoes are fun because of their shape (they have necks just like their namesakes), though their skins tend to be a little thicker than your average cherry tomato. You can also often find grape tomato plants, which bear very sweet oblong fruits similar to those sold in supermarkets.
Once you’ve chosen your variety, you’ll just need to grab some supplies.
What You’ll Need
- Cherry tomato plants
- Tomato cages (For a good crop, go with the largest size; the wire mesh supports the plant as it grows.)
- Potting mix
- Tomato plant food
- 5-gallon buckets
If you’d prefer something more aesthetically pleasing than a bucket, there are many different planters, pots, and even ready-made self-watering models available at your local garden supplier. Choose one that holds about 5 gallons; a round 5-gallon flower pot is about 12 inches tall and 12 inches across at the top.
How to Plant
1. If your container doesn’t already have them, drill ¼- to ½-inch holes every few inches around the bottom edge, plus another few in the center bottom so excess water can drain.
2. For best fruiting, pick a location where the plant will get at least eight hours of direct sun each day. You can actually skip the tomato cage — and save a little cash — if you have a spot close to a balcony or railing, which you can use to support the tomato vines.
3. If you do go with a cage, insert the pointy end into the planter, and then fill the planter with potting mix.
4. Water until the potting mix is evenly moist. Top it off with a little more potting mix, adding enough so it comes to about ½ inch below the rim of the planter and making sure the soil surface is level.
5. Dig a small hole in the center of the planting mix. Carefully remove your tomato plant from its original pot (unless the pot is designed to dissolve), and slide it into the hole, planting it deep enough so only the top four to six leaves show once you cover it back up with potting mix.
6. Water every two or three days to keep the soil evenly moist (in hot, dry weather you may need to water every day). Feed your plant fertilizer once a week, according to directions.
7. As the plant grows, the branches will start to poke through the holes in your tomato cage. Push them back inside so the plant doesn’t droop.
Most cherry tomato plants will start flowering in about a month. Flowers will be followed by tiny green fruits. After a few weeks, those turn into full-blown cherry tomatoes you can harvest.
A truly ripe cherry tomato will come off its stem very easily and is well worth waiting an extra day for, so hold off on picking them until they’re ripe. Pick individual fruits every day for best results. With luck, your plant will continue to produce right up until frost. If the weather turns unseasonably cool or an early frost threatens, you can tuck an old sheet over and around the plant to extend your harvest season.
Got a bumper crop? Check out these tomato recipes that will let your homegrown produce shine.
6 easy-to-grow cherry tomato varieties
To have tomatoes in time for summer, start planting soon. Cherry tomatoes are a good option for those with only a small amount of space.
The fabulous aspect of cherry tomatoes are is that the plant itself is compact, easy to grow, has fairly disease-resistant cultivars and you can grow them for much of the year. If you’re really keen, you could keep cherry tomatoes growing all-year-round if you didn’t mind it being inside.
GROWING CHERRY TOMATOES
A cherry tomato plant needs to be put in a sunny, sheltered area. Plant about half a metre apart in the garden, or put them in a pot, a tub or even just a plastic bag full of soil and well-rotted compost (not fresh manure).
The key to great tomato production is keeping them well watered, so by having them close at hand in a pot, especially on your patio or deck, you can easily remember to give them a drink, and grab them when ripe for the freshest-ever addition to your salad.
VARIETIES TO TRY
Baxters Early Bush Cherry (heirloom)
72 days to fruit from seed
This is a yummy red cherry, very quick to grow, good fruit set, split-resistant, sweet, firm. Compact plant, determinate.
Gold Nugget (heirloom)
60 days to fruit from seed
Just gorgeous golden cherry tomato, usually a deep yellow colour, early to bear fruit. Slightly oval in shape, tends to be mostly seedless, determinate.
75 days to fruit from seed
This sweet cherry tomato goes a cream to pale yellow colour, very attractive and almost impossible to not eat before you get back to the house. Indeterminate.
75 days to fruit from seed
Possibly the original cherry tomato, sourced from Mexico, sweet flavour, some natural resistance to disease.
72 days to fruit from seed
This sweet red cherry tomato is perfect for a pot or window box as it is a dwarf bush, quite disease resistant and easy to grow.
77 days to fruit from seed
Sweet, succulent fruit from this award-winning hybrid cherry tomato from Yates, also known to be disease and pest-resistant.
DETERMINATE OR INDETERMINATE?
In the descriptions above you’ll see cherry tomatoes are determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes will grow to a certain size, flower, then produce a single crop. Indeterminate tomatoes are ones that grow stem and flowers at the same time, require staking and produce fruit over a long period of time.
Recipe: Roasted Cherry Tomatoes on Garlic Croutes
These canapés are easy to make and the garlic gives them a lovely kick. Alternatively spread the cooked croutes with pesto or tapenade.
½ baguette (200g)
2 tbsp olive oil
24 cherry tomatoes (400g)
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
Torn basil leaves to garnish
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut the baguette into 24 thin slices. Place on a baking sheet and brush with the olive oil. Place the cherry tomatoes on the same tray and bake in the oven for 6 minutes or until the croutes are lightly golden. Remove the croutes from the oven and continue cooking the tomatoes for a further 6-8 minutes until the skins split and become very soft. Meanwhile rub each croute well with the cut side of the garlic cloves. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and place them on the croutes. Leave to cool slightly, garnish with the basil leaves and serve.
Recipe: Runner Bean Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and thyme
If you can’t get hold of fresh thyme, you can use fresh basil. This is also delicious with sliced mushrooms in place of the tomatoes.
300g cherry tomatoes
250g runner beans, top and tailed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Place the cherry tomatoes in a roasting tin, drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil and season. Roast on the highest shelf of the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the tomatoes are just starting to pop their skins. Meanwhile slice the beans into thin ribbons and blanch in boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes until just tender. Refresh under cold running water and drain well. Place the beans and tomatoes on a serving dish. Remove the leaves from the thyme and mix with the remaining oil and lemon juice. Season to taste, pour over the beans and serve straight away.
Discuss This Article
Organic (F1) Tomato Seed
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Solanum lycopersicum
DETERMINATE (Bush): Varieties do not need pruning and may be grown with or without support; fruit ripens within a concentrated time period.
INDETERMINATE (Climbing): Varieties should be staked, trellised, or caged, and pruned for best results; fruit ripens over an extended period.
CULTURE: GROWING SEEDLINGS: Don’t start too early. Root-bound, leggy plants that have open flowers or fruit when planted out may remain stunted and produce poorly. Sow 1/4″ deep in flats, using a soilless mix (not potting soil), 5-6 weeks before plants can be transplanted out after frost danger. Keep temperature of the starting mix at 75-90°F (24-32°C); tomato seeds germinate very slowly in cooler soil. When first true leaves develop, transplant into plug trays or 3-4″ pots for large, stocky 7-8 week transplants for earliest crops. Grow seedlings at 60-70°F (16-21°C). Water only enough to keep the mix from drying. Fertilize with fish emulsion or a soluble, complete fertilizer.
TRANSPLANTING OUTDOORS: Transplant into medium-rich garden or field soil 12-24″ apart for determinate varieties, 24-36″ apart for indeterminate, unstaked varieties, and 14-20″ for staking. Plant 3-8″ inches deep, covering the root ball well and up to the cotyledons (first leaves). If using grafted plants, take care to ensure the graft union is not touching soil. Water seedlings with a high-phosphate fertilizer solution. For earliest crops, set plants out around the last frost date under floating row covers, which will protect from frost to about 28°F (-2°C). If possible, avoid setting out unprotected plants until night temperatures are over 45°F (7°C). Frost will cause severe damage.
FERTILIZER: Abundant soil phosphorus is important for early high yields. Too much nitrogen causes rampant growth and soft fruits susceptible to rot.
DISEASES: Learn the common tomato diseases in your area. Select resistant varieties. For prevention, use young, healthy transplants, avoid overhead irrigation, plow in tomato plant refuse in the fall, rotate crops, and do not handle tobacco or smoke before handling plants. Fungicides can reduce certain diseases when properly selected and applied.
BLOSSOM END ROT: Prevent blossom end rot by providing abundant soil calcium and an even supply of soil moisture.
INSECT PESTS: Use row covers to protect young seedlings from flea beetles. Tomato hornworms can be controlled with Bacillus thuringiensis. Use spinosad for potato beetle larvae and adults.
HARVEST: Fully vine-ripen fruit only for local retailing or use. To deliver sound fruit, pick fruit less ripe the further the distance and the longer the time between the field and the customer.
STORAGE: Store firm, ripe fruit 45-60°F (7-16°C) for 4-7 days.
DAYS TO MATURITY: From transplants.
TRANSPLANTS: Avg. 850 plants/1,000 seeds, 7,450 plants/oz., 119,000 plants/lb.
AVG. PLANTING RATE: Avg. 785 seeds/667 plants to produce 1,000 ft. of row. Avg. 8,540 seeds/1 oz., to produce 1 acre of transplants, 18″ between plants in rows 4′ apart (7,260 plants needed).
SEED SPECS: SEEDS/OZ. (varies): Avg. 13,400.
PACKET: 40 seeds, unless otherwise noted.
Tomatoes are one of the most popular of garden edibles to grow and have been cultivated by humans for 1,000’s of years. It might surprise you to learn that they originate from South America and not Spain or Italy.
Now there’s lots to cover when growing super tasty tomatoes so let’s get straight into it!
How to Grow Tomatoes
Tomatoes must be grown in full sun in a nutrient rich, free draining soil. Improve soil quality by adding organic matter before planting (eg compost and aged manures). On clay soils add some eco-flo gypsum to improve drainage.
Tomatoes are warm season plants and are frost sensitive. If you are in a frosty climate they’ll need protection at the very beginning and end of the growing season. This can be done by covering plants with shade cloth or growing in pots that can be moved easily if frost is forecast.
While there are lots of different types of tomatoes and they can be divided into two categories:
- Indeterminate – climbing types that will need staking or
- Determinate – compact bush forms that don’t require staking and are well suited to pots.
It’s important to know what type you have so if staking is required it’s done straight after planting. This way the roots won’t be damaged by pushing stakes into the soil at a later date.
Tomatoes require consistent watering for plant health and fruit development. Periods of drying out and then over watering may cause fruit to split or develop blossom end rot. Water stressed tomatoes will also produce less fruit and be more susceptible to pest and disease problems.
Tomatoes can be purchased as seedlings or more advanced plants but they’re also easily started from seed. Growing from seed is a great way to try heirloom varieties not commonly available as seedlings in stores. It can also be a way to get a head start on the season if you keep the seedlings in a protected spot and then plant out after the frosts have finished.
Tomato seeds are almost always sown in punnets or small pots, in regular potting mix, and then planted out when a decent size. Unlike many other seedlings you don’t need to worry about leaving them too long in the punnets before planting. Seedlings which have been “cramped” will start flowering earlier meaning less time to wait for juicy tomatoes!
Please note that tomato seeds require warm soil to germinate so if you are sowing early place them on a heating tray or in a warm spot (like a sunny window sill) to speed things up.
Sowing Guide for Tomatoes
|Growing Zone||Sowing Time|
|Warm & Temperate Frost Free||Autumn, Spring, Summer|
|Tropical & Subtropical||All year round|
Tomatoes are hungry plants and respond well to the soil being prepared with aged manure and compost before planting. Also apply eco-flo dolomite or eco-flo lime to ensure there is plenty of calcium available to the plants. If your soil is already the correct pH then use eco-flo gypsum to boost calcium as it won’t alter the pH.
To really keep your tomatoes charging along we recommend fortnightly liquid feeding with eco-aminogro and eco-seaweed. They’ll produce more flowers and fruit and be more resistant to disease attack and other stress factors. Half way through the growing season boost calcium levels again with a further an application of eco-flo dolomite, eco-flo lime or eco-flo gypsum.
This might sound like a lot but regular feeding is one of the key secrets to success with tomatoes.
Tomatoes that are indeterminate types (climbers) are usually very vigorous and grow quite tall. Pinch off the side shoots (called laterals) to maintain one main leader stem and stop the plant from sprawling all over the place. This makes it easier to stake and protect fruit. No need to worry about this with bush tomatoes (determinate varieties).
With both types remove the older lower leaves as soon as they start to look tatty. This improves air circulation within the plant and helps reduce the risk of diseases taking hold.
Tomatoes can be ready as early as 7-8 weeks (cherry tomato types) but the larger varieties will be closer to 12-14 weeks. As your tomatoes start to colour up you’ll know harvesting time is near. Ripening is actually determined by consistent warm temperatures and not sun exposure. In cool and Mediterranean regions it’s best to pick the end of season green fruits and place them indoors in a warm spot to ripen.
Pests and Diseases of Tomatoes
Unfortunately there is a long list of things which can go wrong with tomatoes. Here are some of the main ones:
- Aphids, mites and whitefly are very common problems but are easily treated with eco-oil. Be sure to spray at the first sign of trouble as numbers very quickly escalate and are then harder to get under control.
- Caterpillars can attack the foliage and fruit. Pick them off as you see them.
- Developing fruit can be stung by fruit fly so we recommend hanging the eco-lure trap early and at the first sign of flies apply eco-naturalure.
- Root nematodes are microscopic worm-like creatures which invade and damage roots. Difficult to control once plants are infected so it is better to practice crop rotation and improve organic content of soil. Alternatively grow plants in pots with fresh potting mix.
- Blossom end rot will cause the fruit to rot before it ripens and is due to a lack of calcium and/or infrequent watering. Give the plants deep and regular watering and apply one of the high calcium products as mentioned above (eco-flo dolomite, eco-flo lime or eco-flo gypsum) throughout the growing season.
- Split fruit can occur with a surge of watering/rain. The fruit swells faster than the skin can grow resulting in the split. Again maintain frequent and even watering to avoid this. As for the rain well you’re on your own there 🙂
- Powdery mildew can spread across foliage quickly but is easily fixed with a spray of eco-fungicide.
- There are several other fungal, bacterial and viral wilts which cause plants to wither and die. Many live in the soil and once plants are infected they are virtually impossible to save. It comes back to practicing crop rotation to avoid a build up of pathogens in the soil or growing plants in pots with fresh potting mix.
This might seem daunting but don’t be put off. If you practice the following cultural tips many of the difficult problems can be avoided:
- Keep plants well fed so they stay healthy and vigorous.
- Water regularly and deeply but avoid wetting foliage if possible (especially in the evening).
- Don’t grow tomatoes or other plants in the same family (capsicums, chillis, eggplants and potatoes) in the same soil year after year. Rotate the crops.
- Prune off old tatty leaves.
- Stake and tie up climbing varieties to minimise foliage contact with the soil.
- Control aphids which can spread viral diseases.
- Control other sap suckers (eg mites and whitefly) as they will weaken the plants.
And our final tip if you’re a novice tomato grower – start with the cherry tomato varieties. They are the easiest to grow and will produce loads of fruit with fewer problems compared to the large varieties.
Our Top Tomato Picks
There are literally 100’s of named varieties of hybrid and heirloom tomatoes. We generally prefer the heirloom or heritage varieties because they taste better and usually suffer from fewer pest and disease problems. Plus you can save their seed for sowing again next year (just be mindful of any cross pollination). Here are a few of our favourites:
Green Zebra: yellow mid-size fruit with green stripes. Bears large crops with a creamy texture.
Black Russian: show stopping black/purple fruit that not only look amazing but taste amazing too.
Mortgage Lifter: developed in the Depression and is one of the largest tomatoes in the world (up to 1.6kg each).
Tommy Toe’s Gen Y: this cherry tomato has won numerous best flavour awards in Australia. Once just available in red, it now comes in a speckled bronze, yellow and light pink.
Lemon Drop: delightful yellow cherry fruit that have an amazing fresh tomato flavour.
San Marzano: the ultimate preserving, sauce, paste and Italian cuisine tomato. Similar shape to Roma tomatoes but stronger flavour and less seeds.
Grosse Lisse: One the most popular home gardener varieties. Large fruit and a proven winner.
Beams Yellow Pear: vibrant small yellow pear shaped fruit are produced within seven weeks. A delightful addition to the salad bowl.
Granny’s Throwing Tomato: Italy’s favourite tomato can be used for either sauces or salads or throwing apparently!
Amish Paste: rich sweet fruit that is very versatile and can be used in salads and sauces.
All are climbers (indeterminate) so remember to stake them or provide support.
Growing Lemon Drop Tomato Plants
One of the most prolific plants in my garden is the Lemon Drop tomato (Solanum lycopersicum). This beauty is a sport from Snow White cherry plants, a happy accident, of which most gardeners like myself love. It produces sweet large cherry tomatoes with a golden color and lovely scent. Heirloom cherry tomato plants are open pollinated, organic and just the right size for eating out of hand.
Background Info on Lemon Drop Tomato Plants
The genesis of this popular cherry tomato is not unique. Many of our best loved plants have arisen from a cross or natural hybridization of a planted species. In this case, Lemon Drop cherry tomatoes were found by an elderly tomato breeder who was a member of the Seed Savers Exchange. J.T. Sessions recognized a winner when he saw it and saved the seeds of the plant, offering them for trade on the SSE. And I am glad he did. The incidental plants became a hit and are now available at many nurseries and in most organic seed catalogs.
Growing Lemon Drop Cherry Tomatoes
If you are like me, you can’t wait to start your seeds and have indoor flats growing by the end of February. This is a great idea for the long season veggies and fruits since I have a relatively short season in which to produce. Tomatoes are one of the items that do great started indoors. By the time the soil has warmed up and all danger of frost is past, you can have some really big plants, ready to start blooming and producing.
Sow the seeds 6 weeks before the last frost in flats ¼ inch deep. Keep them moderately moist and in bright indirect light. Harden off the plants before transplanting them outside. Choose a sunny location with organically amended soil. At planting time, bury the stem up to the first set of true leaves. The stem will produce new roots soon, which leads to healthier producers. Avoid planting Lemon Drop cherry tomatoes where you have had tomatoes before. Crop rotation is important to reduce overwintered pests and disease that target specific plant groups – and this is one plant you want to keep growing again and again.
This type of tomato is indeterminate. That means it will require staking and you will have fruit ripening throughout the summer. Water plants deeply once per week to really soak the roots. Pinch off suckers to force the energy into producing shoots. Harvest heirloom cherry tomatoes when they are firm but fully colored, as over ripe fruits can be mealy. Enjoy these golden delights fresh, in sauce or as part of a unique bruschetta.