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Dwarf Tomatoes Save Space

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

This year I am planting a dwarf, determinate tomato in my herb garden. It will take less space and produce as much fruit as I need. And, this makes more room for herbs!

Tomatoes are divided into two different types based on their growth habits: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate varieties set fruit at the ends of their branches on terminal buds. Once buds are set they stop growing in height, so these plants need little or no staking and generally have a short harvest period. Indeterminate varieties continue to grow and produce leaves and flowers until the first frost, and require staking and pruning.

I purchased a determinate 'Bush Goliath' tomato to grow in my herb garden this summer. According to the Bonnie Plants website, this small plant grows two to three foot tall, and "produces surprisingly large, 3 to 4 inch, sweet tomatoes on determinate vines consistently through summer and until frost." It is also resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematodes.

Disease resistance is important if you've had trouble with tomato diseases in the past. Look for label terms that indicate a plant's resistance to various diseases: A for alternaria disease resistance, F-fusarium, N-nematodes, T-tobacco mosaic virus, and V-verticillium. This does not mean they are immune to the disease, but rather that they are less likely to get that disease. Also, be sure to rotate your crop for better disease management.

Some of the extreme small types are determinate as well as dwarf, producing some truly tiny fruiting plants. I first worked with dwarf tomatoes as a graduate student at the University of Illinois. My plant physiology course used Micro-Tom tomatoes for a class project. My part was to measure how hydroponic salts impacted plant photosynthesis.

Last winter I grew tomatoes in my house using my Aerogarden. It is a hydroponic system with grow lights. The 'Mighty Mini' cherry tomato is considered by many to be the smallest tomato plant, growing only five to six inches tall. They are salad tomatoes, and my plants flowered and produced fruit for a few months. By the way, the trick to growing tomatoes indoors is good light and pollinating flowers by hand.

Dwarf tomatoes work well in containers, hanging baskets and garden or patio locations where space is limited. Because more people now live where traditional vegetable gardening is not possible, container and patio gardens have become more popular.

For more information on growing tomatoes and other vegetables go to the University of Illinois Extension "Watch Your Garden Grow" website at, or call the Master Gardener Helpline at (309) 685-3140 Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.