The Pros and Cons of Growing Dwarf Tomatoes

What are dwarf tomatoes?

Dwarf tomatoes produce regular size tomatoes from plants smaller in size to accommodate smaller spaces. Ideal for pots and containers and those small areas. 

Dwarf tomatoes have been the talk of the town. A few years ago, grafted tomatoes were the talk and many people rushed out, bought and planted grafted tomatoes. A grafted tomato would have your favorite variety grafted to the rootstock of a disease resistant tomato. We were told your grafted tomato would be very disease resistant and loaded with tomatoes. We don’t see grafted tomatoes anymore.  

For those with interest, visit the Dwarf Tomato project website.

Live plant Dwarf tomatoes are still difficult to find.  Seeds you can buy at the website above.

I found some at Roger’s Gardens annual tomato plant sale in Newport Beach, and with the help of Tomatomania boss Scott Daigre picked out six dwarf varieties. 

Four Dwarfs (from left): Adelaide Festival, Hannah’s Prize, Awesome, and Saucy Mary
  • Adelaide Festival Dwarf – Hybrid–Grows to about 3’. Small-medium size tomatoes.
  • Hannah’s Prize – Dwarf  – Heirloom–Grows to about 3’   medium size tomatoes. Good flavor
  • Awesome – Dwarf  – Heirloom–Grows to about 5’     6-10 oz. size tomatoes. OK flavor
  • Saucy Mary – Dwarf  – Heirloom–Grows to about 2’  For the size lots of 3-4oz pear-shape tomatoes
  Tasmanian Chocolate Dwarf
Dwarf Cyril’s Choice
  • Tasmanian Chocolate Dwarf – Hybrid/Open-pollinated – Grows 5’ – small-medium size tomatoes
  • Dwarf Cyril’s Choice – Heirloom–Grows to 5’ Lots of golf-ball size tomatoes—a little bland.

All grew similar to a thick compact determinate bush type of tomato. Almost all were very susceptible to catching some form of “Powdery Mildew” so be prepared to use “Sulfur Dust.” Once applied, the sulfur dust stopped the spread on the powdery mildew almost immediately. Of the six dwarf plants, one was less than 2 feet tall and others reached over 5 feet tall and 3 foot in diameter. With the exception of one having very bland flavor, most vine ripened tastes and flavors were OK and skins not too tough and for the size plant, plenty of tomatoes.    

Results?  So what are the results?  Will Dwarf tomatoes take off in popularity or go the way of grafted tomatoes?  Let’s just say many of us experience growing Dwarf size tomato plants each year without even trying. It’s just how the plants turn out-they just don’t get very big and tall.  Hahahaha.   

I doubt there will be a Dwarf tomato craze.  Why?   Just like with grafted tomatoes, none of the big growers and suppliers of live tomato plants are supplying these new live Dwarf varieties to nurseries and big box stores. I purchased the live plants at Tomatomania.  You will most likely need to grow from seed.  And the seeds may be difficult to find.  For me—growing an extra 6 weeks or so from seed is a hassle.  I like planting live plants.  It’s like you want a baby in diapers or a toddler?  Hahaha.

If you have a 3 foot wide space with 2-4 feet space above— to fit a Dwarf, you probably have another couple of feet above for a plant 6 feet tall. So might as well stick to your tried and proven old reliable great tasting heirloom and hybrid readily available as live plants everywhere.   

If you are limited on space and grow in containers, my suggestion is to choose and plant popular thin skinned flavorful tomatoes that don’t grow tall and out of control. No need to start from seed.  Live starter varieties include Champion, Lemon Boy, San Diego red, Black Krim heirloom, Cherokee Purple, varieties of Brandywine heirlooms, etc. 

Most determinate (grow like a bush) tomato plants should work well in smaller spaces.    

And remember, small containers produce small root systems which in turn produce small tops including popular indeterminate types (grow like vines).

I suggest using 20 gallon size containers and if your tomato plant gets too big for the space, prune it to the size that suits you.  It’s ok to top and thin out excess vines.  Fruit trees grow to 20-30-feet tall and more but when pruned to lower heights, have plenty of fruit on an 8 foot tree.  You can do the same with tomatoes.

So, the future of Dwarf tomatoes?  I doubt growers will supply live Dwarf starter plants and doubt many people will rush out to purchase seeds.  Grow some for fun. Always try something new each year.

You are welcome to share this information with others—family, friends and clubs, etc.

Sharing tips helps us be better growers.

Dave Freed / the Tomato Guy

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