If you’re dreaming of home-grown tomatoes, but have limited space, growing them in pots is the ideal solution. Cherry tomatoes, with their compact growth, small fruit and early harvest times are a perfect variety to try. Read on to learn everything you need to know about growing cherry tomatoes in pots.
Choosing a Pot for Growing Tomatoes
Pots come in a lot of sizes and materials. Clay pots are inexpensive, but the clay is porous and dries out quickly in the heat. Plastic also dries out fairly quickly and may become brittle over time. Wooden barrels are a good option, although they’re too heavy to move. If you can afford them, glazed clay pots are one of the best choices because they don’t dry out as quickly as unglazed pots and they come in a variety of sizes. Self watering planters can be a low maintenance solution, and fabric tomato grow bags are a very inexpensive way to grow tomatoes effectively. Upside down tomato planters were a big fad on TV, but are not always successful, particularly in hotter climates.
The size of pot is an important consideration too. For small determinate varieties, a 5-gallon pot is sufficient. Sprawling indeterminate varieties have larger leaves and vines, so they need more water. A 15-gallon pot works better for them. A wheeled plant caddy underneath the pot is helpful for moving the plants when needed.
Even if you have rich, fertile garden soil, resist the temptation to fill your pots with it. Regular garden soil is just too heavy to use in a container where it becomes compacted and hard. Potting soil designed specifically for vegetables is your best option. It should contain compost and vermiculite or perlite to lighten the mixture and hold moisture.
To make your own potting mix, combine equal parts peat moss with vermiculite or perlite. Buy these materials in bulk at a good gardening center and you’ll save a lot of money over bagged potting mix.
Choosing a Cherry Tomato Variety
Visit a good nursery and you’ll find several types of cherry tomatoes. How to choose? First, compact or bush varieties made for container culture usually work best. Another thing to keep in mind is harvest time. If you live in an area with early frosts, pick a variety that matures in 65 days or less. One more consideration: Determinate plants usually produce an early crop and then dwindle. Indeterminate varieties are usually larger plants that need support. They continue to bear fruit until nipped by a heavy frost. If you want tomatoes all season long, grow both determinate and indeterminate plants, or several different determinate types that mature at different times. A few to try include:
Tiny Tim, Small Fry or Patio Pik. These determinate varieties have a compact growth and produce clusters of cherry tomatoes within 65 days.
Golden Nugget and Early Cascade. Golden Nugget is a determinate hybrid that produces yellow cherry tomatoes, while Early Cascade is an indeterminate type that produces red cherry tomatoes. Both produce tomatoes early for cold weather regions.
Sweet Million and Sun Gold. Both sprawling indeterminate types, Sweet Million produces prolific, small red cherry tomatoes, while Sun Gold produces very sweet yellow cherry tomatoes. Great for a long, warm growing season.
Sweet 100 and Yellow Pear Tomato. In hot weather, tomato plants may crack or not set fruit properly. These two varieties can handle a bit more heat than most.
Planting the Tomatoes
Start your own seedlings indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost, or buy transplants from a nursery. Look for stalky, bright green plants that stand less than 12 inches high. Tomatoes are very cold sensitive so wait to plant them until daytime temperatures are predictably 75 degrees or warmer.
Plant seedlings on an overcast day or in the evening if possible. Water them well and apply a bit of transplant fertilizer. Set your tomatoes on a sunny patio or deck protected from high winds.
Caring for Your Cherry Tomatoes
Containers don’t provide the same insulation as a garden location, so your cherry tomatoes will need a bit more babying. First, protect them from extremes in temperature. Move them indoors if cold weather threatens. In very hot weather, move them to a more shaded location.
Container soil dries out very quickly. Water-stressed tomatoes will drop flowers and stop bearing fruit. Additionally, if you allow the soil to dry out and then drench it, you’ll have problems like blossom end rot or cracked fruit. Try to keep the soil evenly moist instead. Water every day or so during the heat of the summer so the soil is moist, but never soggy.
If you’re growing a compact bush variety, the plants might not need support, but larger indeterminate varieties will need a cage or trellis.
Lastly, since nutrients leach quickly from potting soil, plan to fertilizer your container plants every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer for vegetables. Within eight weeks, you’ll have delicious cherry tomatoes from your container plants.
Want to learn more about growing cherry tomatoes in containers?
Container Vegetable Gardening – Clemson Cooperative Extension
Tomato Report 2011 – Penn State Extension
Looking for a good selection of cherry tomato plants and seeds online? We recommend the Tasteful Tomato.