The way I prefer to grow cherry tomatoes at home is by planting them from seed. With a well-established healthy plant, you can harvest up to 15 pounds—or more—of juicy, sweet cherry tomatoes. But to get such a good harvest, there are a few things to keep in mind!
Grow cherry tomatoes from seed by 1) selecting a suitable variety, 2) germinating the seeds in a cell tray, 3) taking care of the seedling, and 4) transplanting the plant into a big pot or directly into the ground. They can be grown indoors or outdoors in zones 2–11, but nighttime temperatures should be consistently above 60°F before transplant.
Although there are other ways to propagate them, cherry tomatoes are generally grown from seed. Normally, people would just buy seedlings from nurseries. But the thing is, they are actually quite easy to start from seed—even for beginner home gardeners!
1. Variety Selection
When planting cherry tomatoes, select which variety to grow from seed as certain varieties may do better in some states and produce more yield like Supersweet 100. Others, like Sun Gold, have improved tolerance or resistance to diseases.
Contrary to what some people think, cherry tomatoes aren’t only red. Over 100 different cherry tomato varieties are available in the US. So expect to see them in a wide assortment of colors including green, yellow, orange, and dark red—some are even two-toned!
But despite having their beautiful colors primarily dictated by their variety, color shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when selecting which cherry tomato to grow.
The space you’ll need will also be determined by the variety you choose. Compact determinate cherry tomatoes like Chello and Small Fry need less space than viny indeterminate ones like Sun Gold and Pink Ping Pong.
Also, although you can practically grow cherry tomatoes anywhere in the US. Some varieties may only be available in certain regions and others may only grow well in specific areas.
Pro Tip: I would suggest getting in contact with your local Cooperative Extension Office to know which available varieties thrive best in your state. If you don’t know their website or contact info, check it out here. Check local seed catalogs when available as well.
After each cherry tomato variety, there’s typically a combination of numbers and letters indicating days to maturity and disease resistance. For example, Sun Gold 55–65 V, F, TSWV—resistant to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus.
If you do notice that the seeds you got are treated or coated, don’t worry!
Most commercially available cherry tomato seeds are coated and treated to improve their germination success and ensure good growth. Fungicides, for instance, can help prevent it from dying while the seed is germinating in a moist growing medium.
2. Seed Germination
Cherry tomato seeds are best started in cell trays for easier control 5–8 weeks before the last frost date. If possible, start earlier by germinating them indoors as well. Plant them 1/8–1/4 inches deep into a moist and warm sterile growing medium for fast germination. They will emerge 4–14 days after being sown.
Even though it’s possible to plant cherry tomato seeds directly into garden soil, they are best grown in small seed-starting containers indoors. In fact, that’s what most experts recommend doing.
Here are the disadvantages of directly planting cherry tomato seeds outdoors in the ground:
- Weed problems
- Taxing soil preparation
- Shallow rooting
- Later harvest
Pro Tip: For the most part, a 1-inch by 1-inch cell will be enough for starting cherry tomato seeds. You can easily find such seed trays online and in garden centers. Alternatively, you can also use small plastic cups with at least one hole punched at the bottom.
Cherry tomatoes are ideally grown for 5–8 weeks in starting containers indoors before the last frost date—falling between February and June across the US. In Minnesota where we have some friends, for instance, the last frost date is around mid-April so cherry tomatoes can be sown 1–2 months prior.
The benefits of using a small germination container include needing less growing medium which will warm up faster too. Ideally, you’ll want a sterile soilless mix—45–50% coco coir, 45–50% peat, and 5–10% perlite.
Fill each starting container about halfway with the medium and moisten it with clean water. Shallowly sow 1–2 tiny seeds about 1/4 in deep—no need to soak beforehand. Cover them with plastic domes or bags to retain heat and humidity until their true leaves grow.
Placing your seeding tray or containers on top of heat mats like the one below from Amazon can guarantee that they stay warm enough and germinate fast.
With soil temps as low as 60°F (15.5°C) it will take 14 days before they emerge. But with temps as high as 95°F (35°C) it may take about 9 days.
For quick germination, cherry tomato seeds need their growing medium to be quite warm—more specifically, 75–85°F or approximately 23–29°C. With such temperatures, cherry tomato seedlings will emerge in as little as 4–7 days.
3. Care for Seedlings
Cherry tomato seedlings are best placed near south-facing windows receiving 6–8 hours of direct sunlight daily. The growing medium must be kept moist but watering must be reduced after 4–8 weeks. Weekly application of a balanced fertilizer at half-strength should also start after the growth of the true leaves.
Taking care of cherry tomato seedlings is not that different from maintaining mature plants. However, home gardeners must take extra care of their seedlings as things can go wrong quite easily.
To learn more about their ideal growing conditions, check out our cherry tomato care guide!
When, for example, your seedlings receive very little light, they will likely grow very thin and spindly. This is something you want to avoid especially if you’re planning to transplant it outdoors. Tall but spindly cherry tomato seedlings are unstable and can easily topple over.
In case 2 or more seeds were planted per cell, keep only the strongest and most upright seedling or transfer the others into their own growing containers. Otherwise, they’re all likely to become leggy, competing for light in a tight space.
Keep the growing medium moist but not wet. Always check the soil before watering again to avoid killing your cherry tomatoes by drowning them with too much water. Make sure that all the excess water seeps out of the drainage hole each time.
Then, once you can see the true leaves of your cherry tomato, you can start applying a balanced liquid or water-soluble fertilizer at half-strength. Simply put, if the instructions recommend 1/2 tsp per gallon, you should dilute 1/4 tsp in 1 gal of water instead.
However, if you used a packaged seed-starting mix double-check whether it’s charged—meaning it already contains fertilizer. For such cases, you can delay fertilizing it to the 3rd or 4th week after the seedlings emerge from their growing medium.
Young cherry tomato plants can be transplanted outdoors or in their permanent growing containers once they’re 6–10 inches tall. Remove leaves from the bottom 2–3 inches of the seedlings and place them 3–4 inches deeper for better rooting and overall growth.
Usually, 4–8 weeks before seedlings grow tall enough for transplant. But before you go on and start transplanting, be sure to check for the last spring frost date in your area.
Pro Tip: Remember, cherry tomatoes are warm-season plants. They don’t handle frost well. Wait until temperatures at night consistently fall above 60°F (15.5°C) to guarantee their survival after transplant. That’s 1–3 weeks after the last frost date—at the earliest.
More importantly, take the time to harden off your plants if you ever plan on growing them outside. This will help it better handle the change in the environment. Gradually reduce watering and move the seedling from indoors to outdoors over about 7 days or more.
Water the plants early in the morning on the day of the transplant, then set them free from their containers late in the afternoon when it has cooled down a bit. Then, like before, cut off the lower leaves of the seedling. Leave only 2–3 sets of true leaves.
Set the young cherry tomato plant deep into the soil. Do this until the lower parts of the stem where the leaves were cut from are fully buried in the growing medium. Roots will grow from that section and encourage the plant to develop a more robust root system.
Lightly press the soil around your seedlings so that they can stand on their own. But be careful not to make it too compact.
Pro Tip: Immediately give each cherry tomato transplant about 23–39 oz (0.68–1.15 L) of water. Watering the growing medium right after transplanting will help it settle around the young roots. This will also help speed up its establishment.
Once you finish successfully transplanting your cherry tomato, it’s time to give it some support!
Do You Need to Support Cherry Tomatoes?
Cherry tomato plants often need some support structure after being transplanted to keep their fruits off the soil and help them stay upright.
Determinate cherry tomato varieties and cultivars generally don’t need to be supported. Still, experts will recommend providing sturdy upright support for determinate varieties even if these cherry tomatoes are commonly grown in containers.
Indeterminate cherry tomatoes, in comparison, should always have a supporting structure because of their sprawling habit.
With good support structures, the fruit-bearing stems of your cherry tomato plant won’t droop or break. There’s also little to no chance of its juicy fruits coming into contact with your growing medium.
Pro Tip: Metal cages and stakes are best used for compact determinate cherry tomatoes. Meanwhile, bigger indeterminate plants require heavy-duty trellises made with materials such as cattle or hog panels. Florida weave trellising can also be an option for raised beds.
The number thing you need to keep in mind, however, is that cherry tomatoes should be supported right after transplant. When you do this, you allow the plant’s roots to grow and develop around the support, providing better anchorage.
Otherwise, you can seriously damage the plant if you only try to install stakes, cages, or trellising after they have started setting fruit.
When Should You Harvest Cherry Tomatoes?
Cherry tomatoes can be harvested 45–85 days after being transplanted, typically during the summer and fall months. Ideally, most fruits should be their mature color when they are picked.
Unlike bigger tomatoes, cherry tomato varieties don’t have to reach the “mature green” stage to signal that it’s time for harvest. That is unless the variety you’ve chosen is known to have green skin, even once it’s ripe.
|Ripe Cherry Tomato Color||Varieties and Cultivars|
|Pink||Pink Ping Pong|
|Deep Pink||Cherry Pink|
|White||Super Snow White|
As you can see from the table above, cherry tomatoes come in a wide variety of colors. You need to keep this in mind when harvesting because not all varieties should be green or red when you pick them—some have even more than one skin color!
More often than not though, you can reliably estimate the ideal time for harvest by keeping track of when you planted or transplanted your delicious cherry tomatoes.
You can get sweet cherry tomato fruits as early as about 45 days. But some varieties may have you waiting for up to 85 days before they ripen. In other words, they could be ready for picking within 2–3 months in total.
Harvesting flavorful cherry tomatoes can easily be done by hand, a gardening scissor isn’t really necessary. Simply pick the ripe and firm fruits by gently twisting them from the stem. If they don’t come off easily with that, let them ripen up some more.
Pro Tip: Never let cherry tomatoes fully ripen on the vine because they are likely going to become very mushy and soft or begin cracking. Overripe fruits can also degrade other cherry tomatoes in the cluster.
Why Should You Prune Cherry Tomato Plants?
Prune suckers from the bottom half of cherry tomato plants every week to encourage better fruit development. This practice can also speed up harvest time.
Compact or determinate cherry tomatoes don’t really need to be pruned since they are generally low-growing plants. However, you can’t still do so if you want to harvest fruits of much higher quality each time.
By pinching off the shoots (suckers) growing between the main stem and leaf branch from the bottom half of a cherry tomato, the plant will redirect its energy into the fruits in the top half. This, in effect, will give you bigger and tastier cherry tomatoes.
Pro Tip: Prune cherry tomato plants so that only 1–3 main stems are left. This will prevent the growth of too much foliage which can cause problems as a result of higher humidity.
Just keep in mind that an avoidable result of pruning also includes less fruit. This is because suckers normally produce flowers and fruits as well when they are left alone.
If, however, you don’t have any plans of selling your harvest, I’d still recommend pruning your cherry tomato. Furthermore, checking for and removing unwanted suckers every week will make your plant more manageable in the long run.
Do cherry tomatoes come back every year?
Depending on their growing environment, cherry tomatoes may or may not come back every year. In places with colder temperate climates such as Idaho, cherry tomatoes and most other tomatoes are grown as annuals since they can’t survive the frost. However, in warmer tropical states like Florida, tomatoes can be grown as perennials.
How tall do cherry tomato plants grow?
Most cherry tomato plants grow to about 6 feet tall. However, depending on the exact variety or cultivar being grown, cherry tomatoes can grow as little as 2 feet or as tall as 8 feet—some reaching 10 feet. Determinate types, like Chello, tend to be shorter and bushier. Meanwhile, indeterminate ones, like Amarillo, grow taller and require support.
Are cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes the same?
Cherry tomatoes and grapes tomatoes refer to 2 different groups of varieties based primarily on shape and size but both are typically used for salads. In comparison to cherry tomatoes like Sun Gold, grape tomatoes like Mini Charm are smaller and less juicy. There are fewer grape tomato varieties because they were only recently cultivated.
Summary of How to Grow Cherry Tomatoes
Home gardeners can easily plant cherry tomatoes from seed at home, as long as the variety they choose is appropriate for their region, space, and preferences. Though they can be grown by direct sowing outdoors, it is highly recommended to start them from seed indoors in small containers such as cell trays.
It can take up to 2 weeks of germination for cherry tomato seedlings to emerge from a soilless growing mix of coco coir, peat, and perlite. These young plants need their medium to be evenly moist, warm, and fertile. Moreover, they should be placed in an area where they can get at least 6 hours of direct full sun.
Once the cherry tomatoes have reached at least 6 inches in height, they are ready for transplant. More importantly, they should be hardened off and nighttime temperatures should consistently be at least 60°F (15.5°C) before they are to be transplanted outdoors. For potted indoor transplants, neither is strictly needed.
- “Tomato” by Marjan Kluepfel and Robert J. Dufault in Clemson University Cooperative Extension
- “Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden” by Steve Reiners and Peter Nitzsche in Rutgers Cooperative Extension
- “Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden” by Gary Gao, Brad Bergefurd, and Bob Precheur in Ohio State University Extension
- “Growing tomatoes in home gardens” by Cindy Tong, Marissa Schuh, and Jill MacKenzie in the University of Minnesota Extension
- “Container tomatoes for the Tennessee gardener” by Natalie Bumgarner in University of Tennessee Extension