Growing cherry tomatoes in pots (from seeds)

Our easy to follow guide to growing cherry tomatoes will help you focus your time and attention to the areas that matter.

We grow cherry tomatoes in grow bags, pots, containers and hanging baskets all over our garden. And we do so as it is a true everyday luxury to pick a cherry tomato from a plant as you move around in your garden.

Here in this article we will take you by the hand and show step by step how we grow cherry tomatoes in pots from seeds.

We do hope you follow along as we will cover all the important steps, actions and techniques you need to follow to harvest cherry tomatoes quite possibly as early as June this year.  

Picking the right variety of cherry tomatoes

Solanum lycopersicum var. Cerasiforme “Bajaja” is our preferred variety as it grows compact and is low maintenance while producing plenty of fruits. And, even better, Bajaja produce fruits early and can often be harvested as early as June when started from seed in January/February.

Update: seeing flowers in tomato plant 1 May
Update 1: seeing flowers 1 May (tomato seeds started early Feb)

Could you pick another variety of cherry tomatoes? Of course you can. Finding the best cherry tomatoes to grow is of course very subjective.

We do however recommend you choose a variety that produce fruit early and that can be grown in medium sized pots and grow bags.

Seeing green cherry tomato fruits mid-May (started from seed February)
Update 2: seeing green cherry tomato fruits mid-May (tomato seeds started early Feb)
Harvesting red ripe cherry tomatoes late-June (started from seed February)
Update 3: Harvesting ripe cherry tomatoes late-June (started from seed February)

Determinate vs indeterminate tomato plants

Tomato plants are either determinate or indeterminate.

Cherry tomatoes are determinate tomatoes that grow compact and bushy. We only prune or trim determinate tomatoes when they start producing fruits. Determinate varieties need less support but staking or the use of tomato cages will help you grow more tomatoes.

There are also indeterminate tomatoes like the Striped Stuffer beefsteak tomatoes we grow. Indeterminate tomatoes develop slower but grow tall and long. Indeterminate tomato plants need a lot of support as they grow and are ideally placed against for example a wall.

Growing cherry tomatoes is easier as the plants grow compact and are easy to move around when they need more sun, a bit of shade or even to get pests like leaf miners under control.

What you need growing cherry tomatoes from seed

Growing cherry tomatoes from seed do not have to be complicated. Let’s start by quickly looking at what you need to get started.

1. Quality seeds that will germinate

Always get quality seeds from a good and reputable source. 

We also have an article on how to grow tomatoes from store bought tomatoes.

And I do not mean that you should seek out a specialist in another country dedicated to your chosen type of cherry tomato.

Just make it a point to work with fresh seeds and make sure to pre-germinate if your seeds are old or of unknown quality.

2. Quality potting mix

Look for a quality potting mix that drains well while holding enough moisture for seeds to germinate.

Choose to use a soil less potting mix or use a quality potting mix. We add perlite to our potting soil mixes as it helps with proper drainage. 

3. Starter pots with cover

You can pretty much choose any type of pot or container. Just make sure that you can monitor and control soil moisture when growing cherry tomatoes in pots.

You can use plastic wrap for cover or simply put your pots in a plastic bag that is not completely sealed.

For cherry tomatoes in pots we like to use seed starter trays with a plastic dome. 

4. Get the temperature right. Warm – but not hot

Tomato seeds need moisture and a warm growing environment to germinate.

You are ideally looking for a temperature of 20-25 degrees Celsius / 68 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit to help your cherry tomato seeds germinate successfully.

But remember that too hot is no good as the soil will dry out and your seeds will die.

Our setup growing cherry tomatoes in pots

We prefer to use seed starter trays with plastic domes as they are inexpensive and help us keep a tidy growing environment. 

But as you can see from many of our tutorials it is also possible to use starter pots that you cover with plastic wrap or the top of a plastic bottle.

Tomatoes are not difficult to grow. The reason we pay attention to the needs of our tomato plants is quite frankly because they respond so well to being taken care of.

Trust us, give your tomato plants a bit of tender love and care and they will reward you with plentiful harvests all season long.

7 steps to start cherry tomatoes from seed

Watch this video on YouTube.

1. Prepare soil and pots: Fill your pots with soil that drains well. 

2. Bottom water pots: Place pots in a container with water to bottom water the pots. Allow up to 15 minutes for the soil to absorb enough water. The pots have absorbed enough water when the surface of the soil is moist. Now remove the pots from the water and let any excess drain off.

3. Plant seeds: Make two small holes in each pot using a wooden spatula (or a similar instrument). Do not use your finger as it is too blunt a tool for the job at hand. Now drop one seed in each hole. 

We plant cherry tomato seeds about 1 cm / 0,4 inches deep. 

4. Cover seeds: Next, cover the seeds with a thin layer of potting soil.

5. Spray soil: Use a spray bottle to thoroughly spray the soil with water.

6. Place pots in the dome: Cover the pots with plastic or place the pots under the plastic dome. 

7. Put pots in a warm location: Use a heat mat set to 20-25 degrees Celsius / 68 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit or simply place the pots on top of an electrical appliance like a refrigerator. 

Tomato seeds need soil to be warm to germinate. And early in the year this often means making some arrangements to avoid temperatures dropping especially at night.

What to do when you see first leaves

Cherry tomato seeds germinate in 7-14 days but results do vary with external factors such as temperature.

When you see first leaves you

  1. move the pots to a slightly cooler growing environment (18-20 degrees Celsius / 64- 68 degrees Fahrenheit)
  2. ensure a minimum of 6-8 hours of natural sunlight 

If there is not enough natural sunlight, you need to use grow lights for your cherry tomato seedlings to develop into strong and healthy plants. 

When using artificial grow lights you need to increase the number of hours of light by a factor of 1,5 as artificial light is less effective. 

There is such a thing as starting tomato seeds too early. Tomato seeds do not need light to germinate. But cherry tomatoes plants will need light after germination if you want the tomato seedlings to develop into healthy tomato plants. Keep this in mind when starting seeds early. If there will not be enough natural light when your seedlings start to develop you need to provide artificial grow lights.

Transplanting the young cherry tomato plant

When your cherry tomato seedlings develop their second pair of leaves it is time to transplant the seedlings into new pots.

Plant one seedling in each 10 cm / 4 inches sized pot filled with standard gardening soil.

Cherry tomato plants tend to grow low and compact. Still you should plan to transplant the tomato plant one more time as it grows stronger. 

Use a 20 cm / 8 inches size pot filled with 80% gardening soil and 20% aged compost. 

Transplanting your seedlings into larger pots helps promote root growth and the development of a strong  root system. 

When and how to move cherry tomato plants outdoors

When there is no more risk of frost you can start preparing to move your cherry tomato plant pots outdoors.

We follow a 3 step process when moving our cherry tomato plants outdoors. 

Compost, potting soil, peat moss, perlite and vermiculite to mix our ideal soil mix
Our ideal potting soil mix

1. First we prepare the soil mixes we will use.

For smaller cherry tomatoes in pots (for example hanging planters) we use regular potting soil mixed with compost. These containers typically hold less soil and will need watering more often.

For container cherry tomatoes where the containers are larger sized, we use a mixture of compost, potting soil and peat moss, perlite, or vermiculite. These containers hold more soil and we need to ensure that the soil holds moisture and drains well. You do not want tomato plants to sit in wet soil.

Growing cherry tomatoes in regular garden soil mixed with compost will work. And yes, you will have sweet and juicy tomatoes to harvest. But for container gardening where we use larger containers that hold more soil, it is advisable to add for example Perlite or coarse sand to ensure that the soil drains well. 

2. Next, we transplant the tomato plants into pots, grow bags, hanging planters, or containers.

Smaller sized plants are selected for our hanging planters and most other plants end up in pots or smaller sized grow bags. Support the tomatoes with stakes or tomato cages as needed.

3. Then we harden our plants by starting to move them outdoors for a couple of hours per day. We increase time spent outdoors incrementally over a week or so before moving the plant outdoors permanently.

Size of pots or grow bags we use varies. Hanging planters are typically smaller than the grow bags we make at home. But generally speaking we recommend using pots that are a minimum 20 litres (5 US gallons, 4.4 Imperial gallons) but never smaller than 10 litres (2,5 US gallons / 2,2 Imperial gallons).

How to care for your cherry tomato plants

Looking after your cherry tomato plant can be summarized below:

Pruning: Most cherry tomato plants grow compact and bushy and there is no need to pinch or prune side-shoots or so-called “suckers”.  But we do prune plants when they start producing fruits.

Watering: Water early in the morning or late in the evening. Always use bottom watering if possible. Tomato plants respond well to regular watering and make sure to keep soil moist but not wet. 

Keep in mind that when you are growing cherry tomatoes in pots and containers, the plants will need to be watered more often as the plants cannot reach for extra moisture as garden planted cherry tomatoes would. This is especially important to remember in periods with hot weather.

Sun: How much sun do cherry tomatoes want? Cherry tomatoes want full sun and, as long as you water, more is better. But a minimum of 8 hours of full sun per day will keep your tomato plants thriving and growing.

Still when the sunlight is the most intense (often in the afternoon) it is advisable to protect the plant from too much exposure to direct sunlight.

Pollination: Gently shake the yellow tomato plant flowers in the middle of the day to help with pollination.

Fertilizer and nutrients: Feed your tomatoes a small amount of fertilizer regularly instead of infrequent larger doses. We mix a small dose of water soluble fertilizer into our watering can and feed our plants once a week. 

Pests and problems: Growing tomatoes you quickly learn that they are susceptible to a large number of pests and diseases including aphids, flea beetles, leaf miners, spider mites, stink bugs and fruit worms. 

Mulching can help prevent the spread of soil based diseases
Ripe tomatoes in mulched containers

Here prevention and early detection are keys to keeping your plants healthy. 

Do not place your plants too close together as good air circulation helps prevent pests and diseases. Here pruning from below can help if plants grow too dense.

Also, bottom water your tomatoes when possible. But if you top water, never wet the leaves as damp leaves can attract fungus and leaf diseases.

Use a mulch like straw or hay to create a separation between plant and soil. Mulching is an effective way to prevent soil based diseases to spread to your tomato plants.

Harvesting cherry tomatoes

Harvesting cherry tomatoes on October 4, 2021
Fresh tomatoes harvested October 5, 2021

Harvest your cherry tomatoes continuously as they change from green to red, yellow, black, orange or whatever the color of your chosen variety.

During the height of summer, we enjoy a healthy harvest of homegrown tomatoes at least once a day. Be patient and wait for that full deep color before you pick your tomatoes. The tomatoes will come off easily when they are ready to be harvested.

We always start a second or even third batch of tomato plants in late spring.

In our growing zone 7, these plants give us fresh tomatoes to harvest in October and some years even as late as the month of November.

Seed planted cherry tomatoes growing in containers at home
Growing cherry tomatoes in pots, containers, and grow bags.
Useful resources:

Clemson Cooperative Extension

University of Florida

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.