A Helpful Guide to Growing Cherokee Purple Tomatoes


sliced fresh Cherokee purple tomatoes on cutting board

One of the most popular of the non-traditional heirloom variety of tomatoes, the Cherokee Purple grows to both great height and gives fruit of large size. It’s very tasty with what’s usually described as a “tomato-ey” flavor and has a distinctive deep reddish-purple color. Cherokee Purples are some of the most eye-pleasing and distinctive of tomatoes in both appearance and taste.

Cherokee purple tomatoes on trellis

Best Soil for Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

As with all tomatoes, rich soil is a must. The soil should be airy, heavy with nutrients, and should be loose down to six or more inches to account for the deep roots that this tall plant will set. For best results soil should have a relatively high nitrogen content in the beginning (left to bleed off by harvest to encourage fruiting). The cherokee purple plant will thrive in a soil pH of 6 to 6.5.

photo by Gardening Channel reader Martina Kaiser

Proper Care of Cherokee Purple Tomato Plants

Start seeds at least 8 weeks before the last frost date. Cherokee Purples are relatively slow in gestation and will grow slowly (even in good potting soil) for the first three or four weeks after sprouting. The best way to start seedlings purchased from a greenhouse is to keep them indoors for a week or so for hardening. When small, Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes are very susceptible to climate issues (too much sun, cold, etc) and should be protected.

Plant them in the ground and be sure they receive direct sunlight and full sun. The soil should be rich and slightly acidic (see above) and plants will need at least three feet (36 inches) of space – 48 inches is recommended, however. They will grow to be close to 9 feet in height and have a good spread of branches.

Pinch off early side shoots from the main stem to encourage rooting and strong stem growth. Be sure cherokee tomatoes are watered regularly and that a side dressing of light fertilizer, compost or organic matter is added every 30-45 days. Use an evenly balanced fertilizer if your soil began with a high nitrogen content (as recommended).

Of course, tomato cages or hoops are required for these huge plants with their heavy fruits. Stakes can be used, but will not likely keep the large tomatoes on the vine once they near ripeness, so cages are preferred. Many have had good luck with tepee-style frames.

Growing Cherokee Purple Tomatoes
CC flickr photo courtesy of jenniferworthen

When to Harvest Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

For most growers, it will take at least 80 days to reach harvest, but as with many heirloom varieties of tomatoes, your Cherokee Purples are not likely to all ripen at once, but will often self-stagger the harvest over a week or two. Pick ripe tomatoes when they are large, and have a strong, deep purple hue amongst their red background. Their shoulders usually remain green, but the green shoulders may get lighter in color when ripe.

heirloom growing guide cherokee purple tomatoes

Saving Cherokee Purple Tomato Seeds

Seeds from Cherokees are easily dried and stored. Many tomato enthusiasts hollow out the tomatoes for the seeds and use the shells to bake as stuffed tomatoes. Clean and separate the seeds carefully, then dry slowly over time. Most well-dried heirloom seeds like the Cherokee Purple will keep for 2-3 years in a cool, dry place.

Cherokee Purple Tomato: Pests and Diseases

Cherokee Purples are generally resistant to Fusarium Wilt and Septoria, the most common of tomato diseases. If they are kept healthy, these heirlooms will resist nearly every disease and most pests as well. Their primary enemy in the United States is the mosaic virus, which cannot be cured once it sets in. If you suspect any of your plants have contracted this (it is usually carried by insects and marked by its curling of the leaves in a wilt-like fashion), you should remove the plants from your garden quickly and destroy them.

Keeping the tomatoes off the ground prevents most types of blight. Pests like birds and grasshoppers are not generally as drawn to Cherokee Purples due to their odd coloring, but leaf-eaters like caterpillars can ravage the plant.

How to Prepare Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Cherokee Purple tomatoes can be eaten in any of a thousand ways. For every gardener growing them, there are ten recipes for eating them.  They are great raw, dried, canned, or sauteed. Most people do not pickle or render them to paste as this eye-pleasing variety is best enjoyed through sight as well as taste.

Tips for Growing Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

This heirloom tomato variety can be eaten in any of a thousand ways. For every gardener growing these delicious tomatoes there are ten recipes for eating them. They are great raw, dried, canned, or sauteed. Most people do not pickle or render them to paste as this eye-pleasing variety is best enjoyed through sight as well as taste.

Want to learn more about growing Cherokee Purple Tomatoes?

Check out these helpful resources:
Cherokee Purple: The Story Behind One Of Our Favorite Tomatoes from NPR
The Purple Tomato FAQ from Oregon State University
University of Missouri – Growing Home Garden Tomatoes
University of Illinois – Tomatoes

harvested cherokee purple tomatoes with text overlay guide to growing cherokee purple tomatoes

The post A Helpful Guide to Growing Cherokee Purple Tomatoes appeared first on Gardening Channel.

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