Tomatoes are, far and wide, the most popular vegetable of home gardeners. There have never been more varieties on the market — some boasting unique colors and flavor profiles — but the cherry tomato (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme) is a reliable go-to for any garden, large or small.
The defining characteristic of a cherry tomato is its size. This aptly named plant produces tomatoes that are about an inch in diameter. Cherry tomatoes can be either perfectly round or oblong.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the cherry tomato growth stages. You’ll also learn some helpful tricks for growing your own this season!
Conditions for Growing Cherry Tomatoes
I find cherry tomatoes to be some of the easiest to grow (and that’s saying a lot since tomatoes are already relatively low-maintenance!). Not only do cherry tomatoes mature faster than their larger counterparts, but they also tend to be prolific bloomers.
These differences aside, you can treat cherry tomatoes like any other garden tomatoes. They need full sun and good air circulation to thrive. Many tomato plants will overwinter in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 or warmer. In cooler climates, they are sturdy annuals.
Note that cherry tomato plants are not necessarily small, contrasting to the fruit. Most cultivars are 4 to 8 feet tall at maturity and require cages or stakes for support. With that said, cherry tomatoes do pretty well in containers.
Cherry Tomato Growth Rate
These fast-growing veggies are usually ready to harvest just 50 to 65 days after planting. Cherry tomato plants can easily grow a foot or more per month.
Cherry tomatoes may be determinate (bush) or indeterminate (vining) types. Most cherry tomatoes are considered indeterminate.
Determinate tomatoes reach a certain height and stop growing, typically producing all their fruit at once. Indeterminate tomatoes will keep growing until exposed to frost and may have a continuous harvest throughout the season.
Growth Stages of Cherry Tomato
Cherry tomatoes are an excellent option for gardeners with short growing seasons, says the University of Florida. As you’ll see in the sections below, these tomatoes can mature and set fruit in just a couple of months.
1. Seed Germination
Cherry tomatoes are quickly grown from seed in the spring. Seeds germinate best when the soil temperature is between 70 and 80°F. If you live in a cooler climate, you should plan to start seeds indoors.
The soil also needs to be slightly damp for germination to occur. Plant seeds can absorb quite a bit of water through their outer shells. Once a tomato seed takes in enough water from its environment, rapid cell division starts germination.
Each tomato seed contains an embryo that will eventually become a young plant. Critical parts of the source include the radicle and cotyledons. These structures will develop into the tomato seedling’s primary root and first two leaves.
If the growing conditions are right, cherry tomato seeds usually sprout in 6 to 8 days.
As home gardeners, we typically aren’t privy to the seed germination process. For us, the first sign that growth has started is the emergence of a young seedling from the soil.
When a cherry tomato plant breaks through the soil, it has two primitive leaves. These are the cotyledons which I mentioned in the last section. Cotyledons don’t look like the adult leaves of the plant (this is true for pretty much all plant seedlings, not just cherry tomatoes). However, they are critical to keeping the seedling alive until its first mature leaves form!
Cherry tomatoes develop their first true leaves about 14 days after germination. Unlike the cotyledons, these leaves will be 100% capable of photosynthesis. By looking at the shape, you can quickly tell the difference between a cotyledon and a genuine leaf. Cotyledons have smooth edges, while mature leaves are lobed.
Your cherry tomato seedling’s root system will also expand during this stage. The roots are still fragile and delicate, so be careful when transporting or transplanting your seedlings.
3. Vegetative Growth
After the seedling phase comes the vegetative growth stage; this period is about getting bigger, producing new leaves, and expanding the root system even further. Healthy, unimpeded vegetative growth is a must for good fruit development in the near future.
This stage lasts about 20 to 30 days for determinate tomatoes and ends around when the plant starts to flower. For indeterminate varieties, this stage never really ends. The plant will continue developing new growth until it’s killed off by frost – at which point, leaves may turn black.
Most cherry tomatoes begin flowering about 30 days after sprouting. Indeterminate varieties often start flowering a few days after determinate types.
You’ll first notice clusters of small buds at the ends of the plant’s stems. These buds will soon open up to reveal yellow flowers.
Tomato flowers are fairly delicate and can be damaged by the environment. Both high and low temperatures during this stage can impact flower development and, in turn, harvest quality.
Cherry tomatoes are self-pollinating, so you only need one healthy plant to produce fruit. With that said, growing several plants can increase the rate of pollination. It’s also a nice way to thank the insect pollinators in and around your garden.
Each flower will stay open for 3 to 5 days, waiting for pollination. The flower will wilt after that time (or within 24 hours of pollination). If the flower was successfully pollinated, you’ll see signs of fruit development in just 7 to 10 days.
6. Fruit Development
Here’s where cherry tomatoes outpace their larger counterparts! A cherry tomato can ripen just 25 to 35 days after flowering. This is about twice as fast as most other varieties of tomatoes out there.
Your cherry tomatoes will be small and green at first. Over time, the fruit will grow and start to change color. This is a process called color break, according to Texas A&M University.
Cherry tomatoes are borne in clusters, and the fruit at the top of each cluster tends to ripen first. (This results in an attractive gradient pattern when ripening is underway.)
When to Pick Cherry Tomatoes
Color is the best indicator of ripeness in cherry tomatoes. While most varieties produce bright red fruit, remember that some speciality tomatoes will be purple, orange, or yellow at maturity. Ripe cherry tomatoes will also come off the stem with little effort.
You want to watch your cherry tomatoes closely when they begin to ripen. Tomatoes will continue ripening for a period off the vine. Leaving the tomatoes on the plant for too long can result in cracked or damaged fruit.
According to North Carolina State University, cracking can also occur when there are rapid changes to the soil moisture (such as heavy rainfall). So I recommend harvesting cherry tomatoes a little early if there’s rain on the horizon.
If you enjoyed this article, here’s a link to Peanut Plant Growth Stages that you may also enjoy.
Should you prune cherry tomatoes?
Pruning and training cherry tomatoes, particularly indeterminate or vining varieties, is a great way to increase the season’s yield. Removing weak side shoots or ‘suckers’ will encourage your tomato plants to focus all of their energy on the strongest growth.
- University of Florida Growing cherry tomatoes
- Texas A&M University Picking tomatoes at color break.
- North Carolina State University: What causes tomatoes to crack?
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.