Tiny tomatoes might be smaller in size but a sampling tells you that, homegrown ones, anyway, are plenty big on taste. Relatively simple to grow, they come in many varieties, shapes and hues, giving them plenty of punch in salads.

Experts prefer to say ‘mini’ rather than tiny. To be fair, these tomatoes vary quite a bit in size. When fully ripened however, all pack a lot of taste into a small package.

Taste, after all, is what we’re after in growing tomatoes. Regular ones certainly have it. Nothing quite compares to putting a nice thick slice of an conventional-size heirloom like Cherokee Purple or a hybrid like Celebrity in a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich for lunch. In a salad, however, or even as a bite-sized treat, the mini tomatoes can explode with memorable flavor.

Trend to small. Planting several varieties of mini tomatoes gives gardeners a chance to easily diversify their efforts. Minis feature a wide range of colors and shapes as well as sizes.

Mini tomatoes straight from the home garden make a colorful, tasty addition to any salad.

Mini tomatoes straight from the home garden make a colorful, tasty addition to any salad.

“There’s a lot of variety in color and shape. There are minis that are pink, dark purple, and brownish. There are reds and yellows. There’s almost every shape you can imagine. There are some mini plum tomatoes with dimples on the bottom. If you like diversity in the garden, there’s a lot of diversity with mini tomatoes,” says Natalie Bumgarner, residential and consumer horticulturist with the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Plant breeders must have enjoyed themselves coming up with this big genetic range from a single species. How do they do it?

“Breeders cross two plants to come up with something new and different. One trend now is smaller fruit on plants that don’t take up so much space. Container gardening with plants that can grow in a patio area has become hugely popular. For some years now, breeders have worked to come up with something special with cherry, grape, and other small tomatoes,” says Steve Winterfeldt, horticulturist with Park Seed Co., Hodges, South Carolina.

Mini tomatoes, like their larger brethren, can be both determinate and indeterminate. Many of the newer cherry types are determinate. This means the plants tend to spread, with more stem and fewer leaves than some others. That can increase management in order to get the best yields.

“In this case, you need a large cage or stakes or a twine system with stakes,” she says. “With stakes every couple of plants, a layer of twine every foot or so creates a sort of net to help hold the plants up if there’s a heavy fruit set,” Bumgarner says;

Mini tomatoes look cute as they ripen on the plant. But cute does not equal wimpy. Many come with built-in disease resistance. Caring for them is not that different from full-size tomatoes. All tomatoes require good management and attention to detail in order to maximize production, however.

“Like anything you do in the garden, you should start with a soil test. If moisture and environmental conditions are appropriate, they’ll take a lot of extra nutrients. Timing of fertilization is important with tomatoes. If you fertilize too early you may throw off the vegetation to fruit production. You want that ratio to be right,” Bumgarner says.

Tomatoes prefer fairly rich, organic well-drained slightly acidic soil. Soil, in fact, is the key.

“A lot of people, particularly with containers, buy a prepackaged mix of soil. But I personally think it’s better to make your own. You’ll be more environmentally friendly,” Winterfeldt says.

“I suggest using compost with maybe peat moss making up a portion of it. It will need sand or perlite for drainage. Composted manure in a bag can be purchased. It’s extremely rich black soil. Just be sure there’s good drainage in the pot.”

Soil makes or breaks gardens.

“Most gardens don’t have great soil. Here in the South we have a lot of clay, or sand in Florida and some areas. Most gardens would benefit by putting in peat moss and composted manure. They’d probably need it every year. It should go out in late winter or early spring, then be tilled in,” he says.

“The organic matter in that will help retain moisture and help hold nutrients and also provide a good ‘hold’ for roots. Tomatoes also need calcium to prevent blossom end rot. A lot of Southerners need to add lime if they want good tomatoes, so my advice for tomatoes is to apply lime. The timing of the lime application could be either spring or fall. Agricultural lime can take months to activate, so I like it to go on in fall or late winter.

Whether minis or beefsteak tomatoes, we’re blessed with a wide choice of varieties. “Gardeners can consider disease-resistant cultivars. Some have resistance to both soil-borne and leaf diseases. You can have more options or choices if you grow your own transplants, but local garden centers around the country are starting to have a greater variety
of cultivars,” Bumgarner says.

Natalie Bumgarner, University of Tennessee horticulturist, gets plants off to a good start in her on-campus greenhouse. She enjoys the genetic diversity available with mini tomatoes.

Natalie Bumgarner, University of Tennessee horticulturist, gets plants off to a good start in her on-campus greenhouse. She enjoys the genetic diversity available with mini tomatoes.

“There is a wide range of mini tomatoes available now. The cool thing about cherry tomatoes, let’s say, is we can get what we most like. If you like sweet or low acid tomatoes, you can get that. If you like the opposite, you can get that, too. My personal favorites are purple or black or chocolate cherry tomatoes that taste more like full-bodied bigger tomatoes.”

Developing even more choices continues to intrigue breeders at seed companies around the nation. They’re always looking for the next big thing in the gardening world. “We have very interesting varieties that continue to go on the market,” Winterfeldt says. “At our company, we now have Little Napolia, a Roma type, that’s good for containers. We have a Maskotka hybrid dwarf cherry that can produce huge yields and is crack resistant. There’s a Tumbling Tom mini cherry tomato with a very good patio version. It’ll drape over the sides of the pot.

Always searching. “Breeders keep trying to find something unique, something with disease resistance and good yields. People love tomatoes but every year that goes by, especially here in the South, diseases are on the increase. Breeders are constantly trying to catch up with diseases like early and late blight. It can be a good idea to spray a garden-safe fungicide at planting and then weekly through the season. Neem oil is a good alternative for diseases and insects, although there are plenty of chemical fungicides out there,” Winterfeldt says.

Adding fertilizer through the season can be a good idea. “Tomatoes are heavy feeders. There are a lot of tomato fertilizers out there. There’s now at least one good organic fertilizer available.”

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