Gardeners looking for more compact, productive tomato plants shouldn’t overlook dwarf tomatoes. Dwarf tomato plants offer a wide variety of unique flavors, shapes, and sizes of tomatoes, sometimes performing better than conventional determinate tomatoes of the same size. Read more to know all about dwarf tomatoes, how to grow them, and where to find seeds.
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What Are Dwarf Tomatoes?
Dwarf tomatoes are tomato plants that grow much shorter than most tomato varieties. They are not true determinate tomatoes, but they grow to approximately the same size as determinate varieties. Another unique feature of dwarf tomatoes is that the leaves are generally darker green, thicker, and have a more wrinkled or crumpled texture, described as “rugose” foliage. The leaf shape may vary, but most commonly are potato-shaped, however some dwarf tomato varieties have tomato-shaped rugose leaves.
Other than their overall growth habit and their unique leaves, dwarf tomatoes can produce various kinds of tomatoes, from cherries to pastes to oxhearts to beefsteaks, in a wide variety of colors. Another benefit of dwarf tomatoes is that most varieties are open-pollinated or heirloom, meaning you can save the seeds of your favorite tomato varieties and replant them year after year.
How Tall Do Dwarf Tomatoes Grow?
Despite the name, dwarf tomatoes are not all like those cute 6-inch tomato plants you see on social media. In fact, most dwarf tomato varieties actually can reach several feet tall, on average 2-4 feet. There are also microdwarf cherry tomato varieties that rarely reach 2 feet tall, and can even grow to a full mature size under 12 inches.
Examples of dwarf tomato plant sizes:
- Rosella Purple – up to 4 feet tall
- Dwarf Mr. Snow – up to 4 feet tall
- Dwarf Awesome – up to 3 feet tall
- Dwarf Mary’s Cherry – up to 2.5 feet tall
- Minibel (cherry) – up to 12 inches tall
- Orange Hat (cherry) – up to 9 inches tall
Can Dwarf Tomatoes Grow Large Tomatoes?
Dwarf tomatoes can and do grow medium and large tomatoes, with some varieties reaching nearly 16 oz. Many dwarf tomato varieties produce tomatoes in the 4 to 12 oz range.
Most people are familiar with the microdwarf tomato varieties that produce cherry tomatoes, like Micro Tom, Tiny Tim, Minibel, or Orange Hat. But the “dwarfness” of a dwarf tomato has nothing to do with the fruit, only the growth habit of the plant. Rosella Purple, Dwarf Awesome, Dwarf Stone, Sweet Scarlet, and Dwarf Mr. Snow are examples of dwarf tomatoes that produce regular-sized tomatoes.
How Long Do Dwarf Tomatoes Take to Grow?
Most dwarf tomato varieties range from early season to mid season, with microdwarf cherry varieties reaching maturity 50 to 65 days from transplanting, and many regular-sized slicing varieties being ready to harvest in 60 to 80 days.
There are not that many late season dwarf tomato varieties, with few large varieties taking longer than 80 days.
Do Dwarf Tomatoes Need Support?
Dwarf tomatoes usually do not need support, but some larger-fruited varieties with heavy yields may need a stake (3 to 5 feet long) for extra support to keep them from falling over, similar to determinate tomatoes.
Alternatively, you can use a tomato cage, but if you have available stakes, that is more than enough for dwarf tomato plants. Small microdwarf tomatoes that are tipping over can be propped up with a small stake or even a stick. If grown in a container, you can let your microdwarfs hang off the side of the pot.
Growing Dwarf Tomatoes in Containers
Container size requirements vary for different dwarf tomato varieties, but for dwarf tomatoes that produce regular-sized tomatoes, use at least a 5-gallon pot. Microdwarfs (like Minibel and Orange Hat) can thrive in a 1-gallon pot or even smaller.
Most gardeners who grow dwarf tomatoes grow them in pots, as dwarf tomatoes readily grow in containers. Many dwarf tomatoes grow anywhere from 2 to 4 feet tall, so they reach the same size as some determinate varieties and can use the same size of container (minimum 5 gallons). Microdwarf tomatoes will grow from 6 to 20 inches, so they can be planted in even smaller pots.
Alternatively, if you’re growing microdwarf tomatoes, you can plant multiple plants in the same pot. For example, instead of planting a Minibel (which usually reaches about 1 foot tall) in a 1-gallon container, you can plant three or four of them in a 5-gallon container.
Are Dwarf Tomatoes Determinate?
Dwarf tomatoes are in a category of their own, different from determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. According to Dwarf Tomato Project co-founder Craig LeHoullier, their growth habit is actually more like an indeterminate tomato that grows short and stocky, slowly growing taller.
The result is that the plant stays relatively short with large clusters of tomatoes close together, like a determinate tomato. But if you have a long growing season, a dwarf tomato plant will keep growing, producing more flushes of tomatoes, like an indeterminate tomato.
Do You Need to Prune Dwarf Tomatoes?
Dwarf tomatoes require minimal pruning. Because dwarf tomatoes have a slow growth habit, prune them like you would determinate tomatoes, removing the bottom leaves touching the soil as the plant grows taller.
Dwarf tomatoes will produce suckers, but because the overall size of a dwarf tomato plant is relatively small, you do not need to remove suckers to keep your plant under control.
Where to Buy Dwarf Tomato Seeds
Some dwarf varieties are available in popular seed vendors, but since dwarf tomatoes are still relatively obscure, the selection is small in most places. However, there are some seed vendors who are partners with the Dwarf Tomato Project and therefore have a large selection of dwarf tomato seeds. You can find seed company partners here at the Dwarf Tomato Project website.
A short list of reputable seed companies where you can find a large selection of dwarf tomato seeds:
Note that most dwarf tomatoes are also open pollinated or heirloom, so you can save the seeds to replant year after year.
What Are the Best Dwarf Tomatoes?
There are too many varieties to choose from, but several dwarf tomatoes keep coming up as highly recommended for both productivity and flavor. Below are examples of some of the best tasting dwarf tomatoes.
- Rosella Purple (purple; medium to large fruit)
- Dwarf Mr. Snow (pale yellow; medium to large)
- Dwarf Stone (red; medium-sized)
- Dwarf Champion (pink; medium-sized)
- Sweet Scarlet (red; medium-sized)
- Dwarf Wild Fred (purple; medium to large)
- Golden Dwarf Champion (lemon yellow; medium-sized)
- Dwarf Emerald Giant (green; medium to large)
- Better Bush (red; medium-sized; F1 hybrid)
- Dwarf Blazing Beauty (orange; medium to large)
- Kangaroo Paw (red, yellow, or green; small)
- Dwarf Mary’s Cherry (purple; large cherry)
- Minibel (red; small cherry)
- Orange Hat (orange; small cherry)
All tomatoes listed above are open pollinated unless otherwise specified.