Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes

Sow Many Plants

I see a lot of questions about determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. What is the difference between the two tomato types? Which type should you choose to grow in your garden? A lot of the times when you purchase tomatoes or tomato seeds they may not even show if they are a determinate or indeterminate variety. You may need to do some additional research to figure out if your tomato variety is determinate or indeterminate.
Fresh tomato on the vine.Photo byRobin Phelps

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Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomatoes are the most common class of tomatoes. These tomatoes have a longer growing season and will continue to grow upwards, grow outwards, and produce tomatoes until killed by frost or disease. These tomatoes grow much larger and will definitely need some kind of tall support system to be attached to. Some indeterminate tomatoes can exceed 10 feet tall if they are supported correctly through the growing season. The regular tomato cages that you typically find at big box stores can sometimes not be strong enough to support the size of indeterminate tomatoes.

Indeterminate tomatoes have a central main stem from which side shoots, or suckers, will grow outward at a 45-degree angle from the connection between the leaf stems and the main stem of the tomato plants. Each of these suckers, if not pruned, will act as its own main stem and produce its own side shoots. Flowering clusters will grow on the main stem and the side shoots, ensuring continual fruit production until the plant dies. Indeterminate tomatoes also have a high ratio of leaves to fruit which causes greater photosynthesis which can add greater flavor potential.

Some common indeterminate tomatoes are Cherokee Purple, Sun Gold, and Better Boy. I also grow Amish Paste tomatoes, San Marzano Lungo #2 and Large Cherry Red tomatoes and those are all indeterminate tomato plants and I need to support them really well because they will grow huge.

Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes are less common than indeterminate varieties. These tomatoes don't grow to be as tall and take on a little more bushy shape. This is due to a gene in the tomato that signals the end to vertical growth. They don't require as much support due to them not growing as tall. The flowers usually cluster at the end of the flowering branches and determinate tomatoes usually all ripen at the same time. If you are planning on canning your tomatoes sometimes it is easier to grow determinate tomatoes because they will likely all be ready at the same time. Due to the way the flowers grow on the end of the flowering branches you should limit your pruning of determinate tomatoes because you can greatly reduce your harvest if you prune too many of the fruit branches.

Determinate tomatoes are perfect for container gardening and can easily utilize the tomato cages you find at the store for support. Some common determinate tomatoes are Roma, Taxi, and Southern Night. Johnny's Select Seeds also has a chart showing some common determinate tomato varieties.

Which variety to grow?

So how do you decide what variety of tomato is right to grow in your garden. Really this depends on a few things. What would you like to do with the tomatoes? Are they going to be for fresh eating (slicing tomatoes for sandwiches, cherry tomatoes for salads)? Are you looking for tomatoes for canning (pasta sauce, salsa, bruschetta)? How much space do you have in your garden or are you growing out of containers? As you answer the questions on what you would like to use the tomatoes for, look at the descriptions of indeterminate and determinate tomatoes above and pick the type that is good for your answers. If you have the space try a few of each. See which works better for your space and gardening style.

Go out and grow great tomatoes!!

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I started my gardening journey in 2003 growing in containers on my apartment balcony and now grow on 3 acres. Over the last 20 years I have grown my love of gardening and preserving my harvest. I love teaching gardeners and preservers new skills.

Sykesville, MD

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