For the first 27 years of my life, I hated the taste of tomatoes. More than hated, I actively couldn’t understand why anyone would eat these pungent, round monstrosities. I admit it and accept the shame of my poor palette. Of course, that all changed when a friend introduced me to his homegrown, organic cherry tomatoes with high sugar content - I was hooked from then on. In fact, I started gardening more seriously soon after and cherry tomatoes planted in fabric grow bags were my first seriously successful crop. I’ve loved them ever since.

While we’ve moved most of our tomatoes into a permanent in-ground plot on the new urban homestead, I’m still planting ten or so into grow bags this year and think it’s a great strategy. Here’s my guide to growing super productive cherry tomatoes in containers year after year.

Why Grow Cherry Tomatoes in Containers

Don’t mistake container-grown tomatoes for second-class citizens of the garden. Sure, the smaller soil volume limits plant size and therefore maximum production, but the isolated, controlled environment also makes them more predictable producers. And predictable trumps potential every time.

I also love that my container tomatoes can be moved around to find the perfect location and orientation (so long as they’re still small). After a few years of gardening in the same place, you might not need that kind of flexibility, but it’s a lifesaver if you’re new to growing tomatoes or in a new space.

Finally, it’s still super easy to group together grow bags to support the plants with a shared DIY trellis, eliminating a lot of the downside.

Best Container for Cherry Tomatoes

Even large indeterminate tomatoes can successfully grow and produce in containers as small as five gallons. But, if you can swing it, your life will be much easier planting yours in a slightly larger home. From experience, I use and recommend ten gallon containers because it’s just too easy to accidentally let a five gallon dry out, potentially ruining a whole lot of hard work.

If you haven’t already got a container (or ten) picked out, consider fabric grow bags instead of a plastic or terracotta pot. Grow bags are extremely affordable, lightweight, durable, have handles for easy moving, and most importantly, result in a healthier plant with stronger roots. That’s because a grow bag is air permeable and when the roots reach that air, they naturally prune themselves and grow into a fibrous ball instead of circling the container.

Best Cherry Tomato Varieties to Grow in Containers

First off, try to resist the temptation to buy a pack of cherry tomato seeds at the local chain hardware store. There are an incredible number of both hybrid and heirloom cherry tomato varieties to choose from and it’s so much more fun to pick one (or more) you’re super excited about from a specialty seed store. We like to buy seeds from, migardener, and personally (and have no affiliation with any of them), but you may have a local seed company that can help you out too!

I do however recommend thinking through a few parameters first:

  • If you don’t have a lot of time left until cold weather hits, consider something fast growing like 42 day tomatoes or Tommy Toe Tomatoes. There are many, many more options that are ready to harvest sooner than the usual 75 days so look around if these don’t look right!
  • If you’re in a smaller container or you don’t want to deal with heavy-duty trellissing, consider the compact determinate variety Tiny Tim.
  • If you’re open to hybrids (meaning, you won’t be able to store seeds from your tomatoes to replant next year) and taste is the most important factor, check out Sun Gold and Super Sweet 100

We generally prefer growing indeterminate tomatoes (as opposed to determinate) and that’s what most cherry varieties are anyhow. You may hear that indeterminates are not a good fit for containers because they don’t stop growing at a manageable height, but I think that’s a bit overblown. The tall height and continuous harvests are pluses, not minuses! Read onto the trellising section below for some different options to support even a tall plant in a container.

My final advice is to buy a pack of ten gallon grow bag containers and choose not one, but a handful of the seed packets you’re most excited about. The variation will boost the odds of finding a winner for your local conditions as well.

Start Cherry Tomato Seeds in Trays

Tomatoes - like many garden favorites - are easier to germinate and ultimately healthier when started in a seed tray indoors. If you’re new to the seed starting process, it’s actually remarkably simple: buy a seed tray with enough cells to grow your desired number of plants, fill it with potting soil or seed starter mix, shallowly bury two to three seeds in each cell, and keep them warm and moist. Most cherry tomatoes will germinate in about 5-14 days.

If you’d like to better understand the process end-to-end, here’s our no-frills guide to starting seeds indoors and an overview of common reasons seeds fail to germinate in trays.

Soil and Amendments for Cherry Tomatoes in Containers

Tomatoes are such a popular garden plant that even home growers are willing to go to great lengths to optimize for their plant’s health and fruit production. Which is great, but can also give the completely inaccurate impression that tomatoes are impossible to grow for beginners.

Once your tomato seedlings are a few weeks old and have a couple sets of true leaves on them, go ahead and fill your container(s) with a decent organic potting soil. Skip the “garden soil” or “top soil” bag - they don’t drain well enough. You can splurge on the super premium stuff, but know you don’t have to and you probably won’t make your money back with extra tomatoes (which is sort of our whole goal on the homestead).

The soil will settle and compact some over the next day, leaving a few inches of space between the soil line and the top of the bag. Once that happens, add a 1-2 inch layer of compost, a couple scoops of worm castings (optional, but very helpful) and a 2 inch layer of a good mulch like wood chips on top of the potting compost. The compost and the worm castings will feed your soil - and in turn, your tomato plant - and the mulch will reduce evaporation to keep the soil moist for longer between waterings.

Tomatoes planted in potting soil containing fertilizer and given plenty of compost from the start do not strictly require additional fertilizer. And while I generally don’t give mine any extra store bought fertilizers (mostly to keep costs down), most gardeners do. Additional fertilizer will likely improve total yields, so if you’d like to feed your plants a little extra, go with a balanced mix applied every two weeks or so. Organic fertilizer spikes like these are an easy option too.

No matter how you elect to feed your plants, it’s a good idea to regularly add additional compost around the plant stem.

It’s unlikely that your soil is critically lacking in micronutrients like magnesium and calcium so it’s fine (read: better) to skip the epsom salt and gypsum.

Where to Place a Cherry Tomato Container

In most climates, for most of the season, selecting a spot for your container is easy: find the sunniest location with convenient water access and plop it down. Done!

However, there is a caveat for those of us with hot summers: tomatoes do have an upper limit for heat. And it’s around 90 degrees fahrenheit. Temperatures beyond that, especially for extended periods of time, cause the plant harm in a few ways:

  1. The heat stresses the plant into a survival mode, stunting growth and increasing risk of disease.
  2. High temperatures actually prevent pollination, costing you fruit production down the line.
  3. Very intense sunlight can actually damage the fruit itself!

The two best options to mitigate the impact of a heat wave are to move the container to an area that receives more shade hours during the day (and then back again when the temperatures subside) or provide relief with some greenhouse shade cloth.

Transplant Cherry Tomato Seedlings into Containers

Once your tomato seedlings have three sets of true leaves (don’t count that first pair that popped up initially, those are cotyledons), they are ready to transplant. You have two options at this point: transplant the seedlings directly into their permanent container or move them into a 4” or 6” plastic pot as an intermediary home. If the weather is warming up and all danger of frost has passed, go ahead and plant them directly in the permanent container to keep it simple.

The proper technique to transplant tomatoes is actually a little different than most garden plants. As a member of the solanaceae family, tomatoes are capable of growing special roots called adventitious roots from structures present on the stem. This means you can give your tomato a stronger start by actually planting the stem and not just the root ball. To do so, remove all of the leaves up to the top set and bury up the stem up to just below that point. In short, plant your tomato deeply!

Be sure to provide a thorough watering after transplanting to make the transition easier on your plant.

How to Water Cherry Tomatoes in Containers

Watering volume and frequency will depend on your specific conditions like the type and size of container, local temperatures and humidity, soil composition, mulch depth, and more. So instead of following bad blanket advice, consider these guidelines:

  1. Tomatoes, especially mature plants that are starting to fruit, need consistent moisture. A pattern of dry periods followed by tons of water will not only stress the plant, it will ruin the fruit by causing blossom end rot and splitting.
  2. When gauging whether the container needs watering, feel the soil a few inches beneath the surface. Containers dry out surprisingly fast (although that mulch sure helps) and it’s easy to think you’ve watered enough when actually only the surface is moist. Make sure you’re watering deeply.
  3. Careless watering from above spreads disease to the plant. When watering, do so slowly, gently, and near the surface of the soil to prevent splashing pathogens onto the leaves and stem. This is even more important in humid climates.

In a warm climate, don’t be surprised if you need to water daily or even multiple times a day in a very small container.

How to Support Container Cherry Tomatoes

Those adorable tiny seedlings will quickly transform into chest-high monsters liable to collapse from the weight of their own fruit. Support your plants from the start to prevent calamity.

There are three basic options to choose from when it comes to structural support:

  • A tomato cage - An old classic, but if we’re being honest - my least favorite method. Cages are expensive, often too short for anything but a small determinate variety and make it a hassle to prune and harvest. I only recommend these if you already have them or find a killer deal.
  • A single stake with plant clips - In this option, you simply bury a tall, sturdy object into the soil a few inches away from the plant and occasionally use a plant clip or some twine to gently tie it to the new growth. An 8 ft. furring strip or large bamboo pole (not the thin bamboo stakes which will break) will work great for this purpose and are super cheap. Make sure to use a safe material that won’t leach into your food (so no treated lumber for instance)
  • Shared Trellis - If you have a lot of grow bags all set in a neat row, you can use a single trellis for all of them. This is a good option if you’ve elected to allow some of the suckers to grow out as the single stake method won’t provide any lateral structure to tie those onto like a grid trellis does.

Prune Cherry Tomatoes for Plant Health and Production

Pruning tomatoes is a hotly contested topic! There are multiple effective strategies, so feel free to experiment.

On the nextdoor homestead, we typically remove all suckers (the stems that grow out from the crux of the main stem and a side branch) from our indeterminate tomatoes. That aggressive approach really helps us plant densely and maintain good airflow. However, for cherry tomatoes in containers, you can go ahead and allow the plant to grow out some of their suckers so long as your trellis has some lateral support available. The suckers you keep around should be a few feet off the ground (so prune the lower ones) and watch out that they don’t get too wild and matted.

As mentioned earlier, it is possible for disease to spread from the soil to the lower leaves of the plant. The best way to avoid this? Prune off the lower branches entirely, leaving a bare stem barrier between the soil and the first set of foliage.

Ensure Pollination with a Hands-On Touch

Tomato plants produce flowers with both male and female structures capable of self-pollinating. This is in contrast to something like a pumpkin (side note: pumpkins are a surprisingly great container plant) that produces separate male and female flowers.

This self-pollinating trait means you will likely get some tomatoes even if the only thing helping with pollination is a light breeze. However, manually assisting the pollination process will massively improve production.

It’s super easy to help a tomato flower successfully pollinate. Simply give each flower a few gentle taps at the base to help dislodge some pollen. Or, for even better results, place the back of the head of an electric toothbrush in that same spot and let it vibrate for a few seconds.

As unbelievable as it sounds, this might be the most important tip of all.

When to Harvest Cherry Tomatoes

First off, it’s pretty hard to ruin a harvest of indeterminate cherry tomatoes. So try not to sweat getting the timing just right. You’ll have lots more tries if the first few are off the mark.

The most reliable strategy is to wait until a tomato looks pretty similar to the color on the seed packet - which can be anything from pale yellow to almost black depending on the variety - and see if it will come off the vine with the only very light pressure. Rinse and repeat until you can confidently identify a ready-to-eat morsel.

Happy harvesting!