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Cherokee Purple Tomato Info – How To Grow A Cherokee Purple Tomato Plant

Cherokee Purple Tomato Info – How To Grow A Cherokee Purple Tomato Plant


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes are rather odd-looking tomatoes with a flattened, globe-like shape and pinkish red skin with hints of green and purple. The flesh is a rich red color and the flavor is delicious– both sweet and tart. Interested in growing Cherokee Purple tomatoes? Read on to learn more.

Cherokee Purple Tomato Info

Cherokee Purple tomato plants are heirloom plants, which means they have been around for several generations. Unlike hybrid varieties, heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated so the seeds will produce tomatoes nearly identical to their parents.

These tomatoes originated in Tennessee. According to plant lore, Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes may have been passed down from the Cherokee tribe.

How to Grow a Cherokee Purple Tomato

Cherokee Purple tomato plants are indeterminate, which means the plants will continue to grow and produce tomatoes until the first frost in autumn. Like most tomatoes, Cherokee Purple tomatoes grow in nearly any climate that provides plenty of sunlight and three to four months of warm, dry weather. Soil should be rich and well drained.

Dig in a generous amount of compost or well-rotted manure before planting. Planting is also the time to use a slow-release fertilizer. Thereafter, feed the plants once every month throughout the growing season.

Allow 18 to 36 inches (45-90 cm.) between each tomato plant. If necessary, protect young Cherokee Purple tomato plants with a frost blanket if nights are chilly. You should also stake the tomato plants or provide some type of sturdy support.

Water the tomato plants whenever the top 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) of soil feels dry to the touch. Never allow the soil to become either too soggy or too dry. Uneven moisture levels can cause cracked fruit or blossom end rot. A thin layer of mulch will help keep the soil evenly moist and cool.

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I can see the development has slowed a lot due to the change of season here in Va. Some of the tomatoes on both plants started changing color from full green a week ago. I'm mostly concerned with the Cherokee Purple. It is not following what I see in pictures. My instincts told me to pull the few small ones now. The colors on them range from a dark green at the tops to a sort of dark brown/green/red over the rest. I think they need to rest on the counter for several day to ripen more.

If you could post a pic of a Cherokee that is on the plant ripe to pick would be a big help. I'll try to post a pic of the ones I pulled next to a standard red tomato for reference.

But I can tell you that if you grow enough tomatoes, you can tell by the feel without ever seeing the color. Squeeze gently. A green tomatoe will be hard as a rock, a ripe tomato will have a little give, an overripe tomato will be soft.

You can ripen tomatoes on the counter but they have to be almost ripe for this to work. Hope this helps.

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming. "WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org


Tomatoes can be such tricky little devils, especially the heirloom types!

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming. "WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org

TigerZero said: All my past tomato growing experience have been with tomatoes like the Celebrity or Bestboy variety. This year is my first attempt at the Cherokee Purple variety. I bought a greenhouse produced plant of the Cherokee. I had read it had a long maturing rate and wanted them mature around late July.. But disaster struck. Something nibbled the top leaves and blossoms off. I did have one from that plant already developing and picked it in mid July. The same disaster hit the Celebrity next to it. Nibbled. I took measures to protect the plants, They both recovered spectacularly. But. It's mid September and they are a lot of tomatoes still green.

I can see the development has slowed a lot due to the change of season here in Va. Some of the tomatoes on both plants started changing color from full green a week ago. I'm mostly concerned with the Cherokee Purple. It is not following what I see in pictures. My instincts told me to pull the few small ones now. The colors on them range from a dark green at the tops to a sort of dark brown/green/red over the rest. I think they need to rest on the counter for several day to ripen more.

If you could post a pic of a Cherokee that is on the plant ripe to pick would be a big help. I'll try to post a pic of the ones I pulled next to a standard red tomato for reference.

I've been growing Cherokee Purple for years and consider it the best-tasting tomato ever. But it is tricky.

The one on the left looks wonderful but might ripen more a couple days on the kitchen counter out of direct sunlight.

The one on the bottom looks most common with the surface scar and is probably ripe. I just cut the scars off.

The "feel" is odd with Cherokee Purple. When they feel ripe compared to other heirloom tomatoes, they are slightly past their prime.

I drove myself nuts the first few years waiting too long to see the tops turn "purple" and the "feel" right. The name fools you. They are ripe when the tops look deep green and the bottoms are purplish.

It does take some experience with those, but when you learn to pick them at the right time, O. M. G!


Cherokee Purple Tomato History

The discovery, or should I say rediscovery, of Cherokee Purple is all due to a retired chemist from Raleigh, N.C., one Craig LeHoullier. He has one of the largest personal tomato collections in the country and has built a reputation as a tomato aficionado. Along with likeminded tomato connoisseurs, LeHoullier undertook a mission to revive heirloom tomatoes.

In 1990, some tomato seeds were sent to LeHoullier. They came from John Green of Tennessee who said he received them from a woman who had gotten them from her neighbors. The neighbors told her that this cultivar of tomato had been in the family for generations and that the seeds were originally given to them by the Cherokee Indians.

After he grew them and loved them, LeHoullier sent some seeds along to friends at some seed companies. They loved them as well, and now growing Cherokee Purple tomatoes in your own garden is possible for everyone.


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Type Some flowers and vegetables fall into subcategories that may define how they grow (such as pole or bush), what they are used for (such as slicing tomatoes or shelling peas), flower type, or other designations that will help you select the type of a class of plant that you are looking for.

Fruit Bearing This refers to the relative season when the plant produces fruit, or if it bears continuously or just once

Days To Maturity The average number of days from when the plant is actively growing in the garden to the expected time of harvest.

Fruit Weight The average weight of the fruit produced by this product.

Sun The amount of sunlight this product needs daily in order to perform well in the garden. Full sun means 6 hours of direct sun per day partial sun means 2-4 hours of direct sun per day shade means little or no direct sun.

Spread The width of the plant at maturity.

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How to Sow and Plant

  • Sow tomato seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost in spring using a seed starting kit
  • Sow seeds ¼ inch deep in seed-starting formula
  • Keep the soil moist at 75 degrees F
  • Seedlings emerge in 7-14 days
  • As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
  • Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
  • If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 3 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots
  • Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.

Planting in the Garden:

  • Select a location in full sun with good rich moist organic soil. Make sure you did not grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or potatoes in the bed the previous year to avoid disease problems.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
  • Tomatoes should be set 30-48 inches apart in a row with the rows spaced 3-4 feet apart. It can be tempting to space tomatoes more closely at planting time, but if you plant too closely you will increase the chance of disease, and decrease yields.
  • Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
  • Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root development.
  • Tomatoes can be planted deeply, with the stem buried to the first set of leaves. The more deeply they are planted the more roots will form, providing the plant with additional support and better ability to take up nutrients. Some gardeners plant tomatoes by digging a horizontal trench and laying the plant in the trench with the top 2-4 inches of the plant pointing upward.
  • Fill the planting hole with soil to the top and press soil down firmly with your hand leaving a slight depression around the plant to hold water.
  • Use the plant tag as a location marker. This is particularly important if you are trying different varieties. It is very difficult to tell which variety is which from the foliage.
  • Water thoroughly, so that a puddle forms in the saucer you have created. This settles the plants in, drives out air pockets and results in good root-to-soil contact.
  • Place your plant support at this time. You can try tomato cages or staking. Unsupported plants will sprawl on the ground, require no pruning, and will probably produce a larger yield of smaller fruit than will staked plants. For larger, cleaner, more perfect fruits, support plants as they grow. Growing on stakes: Place strong stakes in the ground and set plants about 6 inches from the stakes. Growing in cages: Place a cage around a single plant let the vines grow and enlarge within the cage, no pruning will be necessary


Ratings & Reviews

5 reviews

My Favorite Tomato

Although it takes all season for the fruit-it's worth the wait. I find it doesn't do as well in pots as being in the ground. I do not get a lot of fruits per plant, so having enough in the ground is key. I also find this one to be more prone to splitting as well as blight than some of the other varieties I have tried in the past, but well worth the fight as it is the best steak style tomato I have ever tasted. Who needs ketchup when you have Cherokee Purple! A definite must have if you like tomato with your grilled meats. And yes-it is as sweet as they say. YUM!

Best slicing tomato available.

I grew these last season and they are simply amazing. They do split easily so try to water them every other day and not every day. They have the most intense tomato flavor I've ever experienced and they are huge. One slice will cover your sandwich.

Amazing flavor and easy to grow

These tomatoes have done excellent here in Oklahoma City, zone 7a. The fluctuating weather has not stopped them. I am growing all my tomatoes in a fair amount of shade to try and get the indeterminate varieties to go the distance in the heat and get as much ripening on the vine as I can since we are above 75 degrees by 9am most days. It has really paid off and the Cherokees have been particularly happy. As soon as the color starts to change, I harvest the fruits and ripen indoors, and it takes them about 48 to 72 hours to have beautiful purple bottoms. The flavor is really excellent and they are just so juicy. An amazing tomato.

Cherokee Purple

Ordered 250 Cherokee Purple seeds. Started indoor and made beautiful plants and were full of fruits in no time. Excellent choice

This is the best tomato I have ever tasted!

This is the first time I have grown tomatoes from seed. I got a late start, planting them on the windowsill. But once they germinated, they grew rapidly. I planted most in the garden and one in a pot. Although the potted tomato plant did not do well, the garden-planted tomatoes have been exceptional. This is the best tomato I have ever tasted! Its indeterminate nature makes it challenging to support, but well worth the effort. I cannot say enough about this spectacular variety. I have little experience with vegetable growing, but this single tomato has converted me into a vegetable gardener! (I should also add, my garden gets a lot of shade but this variety is doing well in spite of the shade.)