Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes: What Are They?

Person Holding Tomatoes

Do you want to grow your own tomatoes and the terms ‘determinate’ and ‘indeterminate’ have been mentioned? Just what do they mean and which tomato variety should you grow in your garden at home? Let’s find out.

The terms determinate and indeterminate are used to describe the growth habits and the size of tomato plants. Determinate tomato plants are smaller, compact bushes which fruit all at once. Indeterminate tomato plants are taller vines that will continue to grow and fruit throughout the growing season.

Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomato plants are smaller plants, often referred to as a bush, which will grow to a certain height, set fruit and then ripen all at once.

The determinate tomato bush grows to 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 meters) tall. A compact size compared to the indeterminate tomato.

Once the determinate tomato bush produces fruit, they will ripen together over a very short period of time, usually within a 2 week period.

Determinate tomato plants are often marketed as “container”, “bush” or “patio”. Because of their smaller size, they do very well in pots and small spaces, as well as in the garden.

Determinate tomato plants still require a tomato cage or staking as their fruit becomes heavy and needs supporting.

Once the plant has finished the first flush of fruit, it will rapidly deteriorate. You can succession plant, which means to plant more, for further tomato harvests.

Why You Should Grow Determinate Tomatoes

You should grow determinate tomatoes if you would like a large harvest of tomatoes all at once. For example, if you want tomatoes for preserving by canning, cooking, making your own tomato paste, passata or any other form of tomato-based sauce, and you require a large harvest of tomatoes to be ready at the same time.

You might also like to grow determinate tomatoes if space is limited, for example, you are growing in pots on a balcony or patio, due to their more compact size.

In climates with a short growing season, determinate tomatoes are a good option as most are early harvesting, so there is still time to grow tomatoes before the cold sets in.

As many determinate tomato varieties are early ripening, you can have tomatoes on the table earlier than you might have with indeterminate. Though there are also some indeterminate varieties that are early ripening.

Popular Determinate Tomato Varieties

Here are some popular determinate tomato varieties:

Most Roma varieties including Italian Roma

Amish Paste

Celebrity

Early Girl Bush

Glacier Bush

Marglobe

San Marzano

Super Bush

Red Pride

Rouge De Marmande

Rutgers

Indeterminate Tomatoes

Tomatoes growing on an indeterminate tomato vine.

Indeterminate tomatoes are known as the vine tomato (even though both are technically a vine). This is because the plant will continue to grow in height throughout the growing season. They will also set fruit and ripen over a prolonged time throughout the growing season.

The size of indeterminate tomato plants is usually 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 meters) but they can get much taller. Indeterminate tomato plants can be pruned to manage their size if required.

Tomatoes on indeterminate plants will continue to produce throughout the season and give a bigger yield as compared to determinate varieties.

Indeterminate tomato plants require a tomato cage or staking. They can also be trained onto a trellis, which is a great option to help keep all the many branches and their fruit supported.

You can purchase tomato cages here.

Why You Should Grow Indeterminate Tomatoes

If you would like to harvest tomatoes throughout the growing season, adding them to salads or picking them fresh to put on a sandwich, then indeterminate tomatoes are for you.

Popular Indeterminate Tomato Varieties

Here are some popular indeterminate tomato varieties:

Most heirloom varieties

Most cherry tomatoes including Tommy Toe

Beefsteak

Big Boy

Brandywine

Cherokee Purple

Early Girl

Green Zebra

Red Cherry

Sungold

Sweet Million

How To Tell Determinate And Indeterminate Tomato Plants Apart

You can’t tell determinate and indeterminate tomato apart just by looking at the seed or the seedling of the plant, however, apart from their size at full height, once the fruit sets, you can differentiate the two tomato varieties.

Fruit sets at the end of the determinate tomato plant branches. While on an indeterminate plant, the fruit sets along the main stem and along the branches.

Conclusion

Both the determinate and indeterminate tomato plants have their positives and negatives. Which variety you grow will depend on whether you would prefer a tomato harvest all at once or throughout the season as well as the length of your growing season and the space you have available. You may even decide to grow both!

As with any food gardening, it’s important to experiment and find out what you enjoy growing and more importantly, what you and your family enjoy eating. Because no matter which variety you choose, growing your own tomatoes at home will be rewarding.

Determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes

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Determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes what do they mean
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