I grew up in my grandparents’ garden, and I quickly became acquainted with the long, gangly tomato vines that seem to sprawl everywhere. The tomato vines were never pretty, but the fruits always were. Even looking at them would make my mouth water with the thought of a fresh tomato sandwich or a handful of cherry tomatoes to snack on.
Until recently I didn’t have the slightest idea that micro dwarf tomatoes even existed. Who knew that there are tomatoes, no bigger than a houseplant, that produce delicious cherry tomatoes?
Micro dwarf tomatoes are the world’s tiniest tomato plants. Only growing a foot tall – often even less – micro dwarfs produce beautiful and delicious cherry tomatoes that are perfect for salads or fresh snacking. Choose between yellow and red varieties for a homegrown tomato to fit every porch and palette.
Read on to learn more about micro dwarf tomatoes, where they came from, and the nine favorite varieties among micro dwarf growers.
What are micro dwarf tomatoes?
Micro dwarf tomatoes, also called micro or mini tomatoes, are diminutive tomato plants that bear edible fruit. These compact vines only grow 12 inches high at most and are the perfect candidates for container gardening or ornamental gardens.
You might be familiar with dwarf tomatoes already – these small tomato vines usually only reach between two and four feet in height – still considerably smaller than regular tomatoes! Micro dwarfs are a subset of dwarf tomatoes, with an even more miniature stature and growth habit. It’s not just the vines that are smaller, too – micro dwarf tomatoes have tiny foliage and produce minuscule fruits that are just as delicious as they are adorable.
The dwarf gene
Even though micro dwarf tomatoes really don’t grow more than a foot tall, they aren’t quite determinate. Micro dwarfs are more like indeterminate vines in their growth pattern, but micro dwarfs grow so slowly that they don’t get very big before their life cycle is complete.
Breeders have found that micro dwarf tomatoes are neither indeterminate nor determinate, but something in between. The Yakima area Master Gardeners describe micro dwarfs’ growth habit this way:
They are not determinate bush-type tomatoes. They have the dominant gene for an indeterminate growth pattern paired with a very rare gene for dwarfism, where the distance between each vine or leaf is only an inch or two apart. This creates a very compact plant with stocky, sturdy stems and vines.¹
Micro dwarf tomatoes are an anomaly, for sure, and their timing to the garden scene is impeccable. In a time when more and more people with less and less space are taking up an interest in gardening, micro tomatoes are the perfect solution to homegrown tomatoes in a container garden.
How to care for micro dwarf tomatoes?
Micro dwarf tomatoes, while visibly and genetically different from the average tomato, still have many of the same needs. If anything, micro dwarfs are easier to care for than standard tomatoes–they take up less space, soil, and water than full-size plants, while still supplying home gardeners with a generous harvest of fresh fruit.
Growing micro dwarfs in containers
Finally – a tomato variety where space isn’t an issue. Even if all you have is a one-gallon pot, you can still grow healthy micro dwarf tomatoes. Locate your container or raised bed in a location that gets full sun, or between six and eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Micro dwarf tomatoes can survive in partial shade, but locate them in full sun for the best-tasting tomatoes.
One-gallon pots are all you need to grow micro dwarf tomatoes–each seedling only needs four to six inches of soil depth to thrive. Alternatively, you can plant up to five seedlings in one five-gallon pot to conserve soil and water while maximizing your harvest.
You can get by without staking most micro dwarf tomato plants, but there are a few varieties with larger fruits that could use the extra support, like Florida Petite.
Start with fertile soil
Tomatoes, even micro dwarf varieties, are heavy feeders, so amend your soil or growing medium with compost and a balanced fertilizer to ensure that your tiny tomatoes will have all the nutrients they need to produce delicious fruit.
Incorporate a slow-release fertilizer into your potting soil when you transplant your micro dwarfs into their permanent homes. Alternatively, you can apply a water-soluble fertilizer every two to three weeks for consistent nutrition all season long.
Water deeply and infrequently
Water always has an effect on tomato fruit but this is even more so the case with micro dwarf tomatoes. Give the plant adequate water, but avoid overwatering micro dwarf varieties – especially when the plants are fruiting – as this will dilute the taste of the fruit.
Apply water directly to the roots – try not to wet any foliage in the process, as this increases the chance for disease and pest pressure. Water your tomato plants until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot, and then leave the pot alone for several days. Allowing the soil to dry out between waterings encourages roots to stretch, strengthening the root system and better anchoring a top-heavy plant in its pot.
Remember – large pots hold water longer than small pots do, and pots that get more direct sun will also dry out faster than pots that see some shade. It’s good practice, whatever you grow in your garden, to check your plants daily to monitor water needs and any potential pest or disease damage.
Hand pollinate for delicious fruit
While tomatoes are self-pollinating plants that contain both male and female parts, it doesn’t hurt to give them an extra hand with the pollination process. Hand pollination is essential with indoor-grown tomatoes, as the crop won’t be exposed to natural pollinators like insects or the wind.
Hand pollinate your micro dwarf tomatoes by gently flicking the flowers or by running an oscillating fan to simulate a gentle wind. You can also use a vibrating toothbrush or a cotton swab to transfer pollen from the flower’s anthers to the stigma. Repeat this process daily for a few days until the flowers start to die back, signaling that the plant is moving towards fruit production.
Growing micro dwarfs indoors
Many gardeners grow micro dwarf tomatoes outside, but just as many growers have an indoor setup so they can enjoy fresh tomatoes year-round. If you decide to grow micro dwarfs inside, in any season, make sure that you have a quality grow light.
Many indoor growers opt for LED lights as they use significantly less energy than other bulbs and don’t radiate heat. An affordable but high-quality grow light like the TSL 2000W light from Mars Hydro is an excellent choice for everything from seed starting to growing vegetables indoors.
Remember to include a fan in your setup as well – stagnant air is sure to cause problems for seedlings in the form of fungal diseases and pests. Tomatoes will appreciate the better ventilation provided by an oscillating fan, and the slight stress will make for stronger plants.
9 favorite micro dwarf varieties (and where to buy seed)
There is no shortage of micro dwarf tomato varieties available, but what follows is a carefully cursed list of the best cultivars, perfect for beginning gardeners and experienced green thumbs alike. This list pays special attention to taste so that even the most skeptical foodie could be convinced to get behind the micro dwarf tomato revolution.
1. Halms Gelbe
A German cultivar that’s known for its quick germination and hardiness. Plants grow between six and ten inches tall, producing fruit in 50-60 days. The yellow-orange cherry tomatoes are acidic but sweet. Grow outside for the sweetest fruit and most abundant harvest.
A Russian heirloom, this tangy red cherry matures in 75 days. This dependable and prolific midseason variety has a smaller stature than most micro dwarfs, growing between six and ten inches tall. The orange fruit is slightly sweet and mildly acidic.
A Bolivian variety that is prized for its tiny yellow cherries that are bursting with sweet and tangy flavor. A productive early-season plant, Jochalos sets clusters of between five and seven tomatoes in 55 days. One of the smaller micro dwarfs, Jochalos only reaches between four and eight inches tall when fully mature.
4. Pinnochio Orange
Another Russian cultivar, Pinnochio Orange bears clusters of round orange cherries with a mild, sweet flavor and tender flesh. This early season variety has a bushy growth habit, maturing in as little as 50 days. A heavy producer known to tolerate heat with grace, expect multiple harvests from this workhorse.
A commercial Netherlands cultivar and mid-season variety, Minibel has been known to grow a little taller than a foot, sometimes even touching 18 inches. Minibel is a dainty–but not delicate–tomato vine with her slender stems and smaller leaves. The plump red cherries have a slightly acidic, but very sweet, flavor. A vigorous grower, Minibel has a hardy resistance to disease compared to other micro dwarfs.
6. Birdie Rouge
Another Netherlands cultivar and early-maturing variety, Birdie Rogue is a productive plant that produces abundant yields of sweet red cherries with tender flesh. Birdie Rogue is known to have a higher tolerance for heat than other micro dwarfs and is a great candidate for growing outside.
A Checkoslavakian variety, Aztek produces tiny, one-ounce yellow cherry fruits that are pointed on one end. The height of the plant varies slightly depending on the size of the pot, ranging from six inches to twelve inches depending on container size. Aztek is a dependable mid-season variety that takes between 65 and 70 days to mature.
8. Florida Petite
A cultivar originating from the University of Florida’s Tomato Breeding Program, Florida Petite produces the largest tomatoes of any micro dwarf variety, with some the larger fruits weighing 1.5 ounces.
A true micro dwarf, often only growing four inches tall, this cultivar is definitely the baby of the bunch and should be spoiled accordingly. A sweet variety that produces heart-shaped red cherries, Baby is a productive plant for such a small stature.
There are a few niche seed companies, like Heritage Seed Market, that offer the most extensive collection of classic and rare micro dwarf tomato varieties. Other better-known seed companies, including Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, carry a small selection of micro dwarf tomato seeds as well.
If you’re new to micro dwarf tomatoes, this list should be enough to get you started growing the best varieties. As you get more familiar with micro dwarfs, expand your tomato trials to include some of the lesser-known varieties. You might discover a brand new gem that belongs on this list!
Who knew that you could reap all the rewards of garden-fresh tomatoes without the struggle of unwieldy tomato vines? Consider growing micro dwarf tomatoes this season for year-round harvests of garden-fresh cherry tomatoes. Impress your family and surprise your friends with these low-maintenance, miniature tomato plants that are as beautiful as they are tasty. Growing your own food in a small garden has never been easier (or more delicious).
¹ Master Gardeners of Yakima County, “Master Gardeners: Here’s a little info on dwarf tomatoes, the new kid on the block.” Yakima Herald-Republic, Yakima Herald-Republic.