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Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes
It’s mind-boggling to think that there are over 7,500 varieties of tomatoes out there, but don’t let that choice paralyze you! You really can’t go wrong with a homegrown tomato of any kind, and the most important trait to notice when picking out seeds is whether they are determinate vs. indeterminate tomatoes.
I had no idea there was any significant difference in tomatoes (other than variety) when I started growing them. If this is new to you, prepare to be amazed by your next season of growing tomatoes. Once you know how to handle and what to expect from both types, you will be that much more successful in getting the most fruit out of your plants.
Determinate tomatoes are known as bush tomatoes, and indeterminate tomatoes are known as vining tomatoes. Their growth habits follow those patterns:
Determinate tomatoes grow similarly to a bush in that the plants fill out widely with branches and leaves.
Indeterminate tomatoes want to trail like a vine, with the flower clusters forming off of the central stem(s).
Determinate tomatoes grow to a set height of around 2-5 ft and cease their growth when flowers develop on the top bud. They’re your more compact variety- making them great for container planting.
Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow to an average height of 8-10 ft as long as they are happy and healthy.
Determinate tomatoes produce all of their fruit in a 1-2 month window, so the harvesting is more condensed. They produce fruit at the end of their branches, and the clusters are often dense. Many people consider determinate varieties ideal for canning because you’ll be harvesting your wealth of tomatoes closer together which is better for bulk preservation.
Indeterminate tomatoes will produce throughout the summer, setting fruit gradually until they encounter disease or cold weather.
Another type of tomato you might come across is semi-determinate. It shares some characteristics of both indeterminate and determinate varieties. It will produce fruit throughout the season, but it will not grow as tall or be as productive at the end of the season as indeterminate varieties.
Trellising- I think this is one of the most fun parts about growing indeterminate tomatoes. Of course you can just let your tomato vines trail through your garden, but they are much more likely to encounter disease problems without some support to keep them off the soil. There are so many DIY options for trellising tomatoes, but my favorites involve tall structures where you can grow tomatoes up vertical strings. These tomato clips come in handy for us in many of our garden trellis systems.
Pruning- To foster the most productive tomato plant, it’s best to prune your tomato to 1-3 main stems. It will continue to grow what are called suckers (most often in the crotches of the main stem and leaf) which you can either leave to become a main stem or pinch off when they’re young.
Once you’ve established your 1-3 main stems, being vigilant about pruning suckers will keep your plant from spreading its energy too thinly. Encouraging the plant to focus more on ripening fruit and less on foliage growth will give you the best yield. Continual pruning of bottom leaves is also a way to keep your plant healthy. The bottom leaves will be the ones to die off first.
I keep these pruners close by when walking around the garden.
Trellising- The trellising for determinate tomatoes is more of a caged support. Some of the small, cheap cages at garden stores might do the trick, but I’d recommend something sturdy for how heavy the plant will get with all of those tomatoes on it. You can even place a few posts (metal or wooden) around your plant and use wire or thick string as a DIY cage.
Pruning- The only pruning you’ll want to do on determinate tomatoes is on the bottom couple of sets of leaves. Removing the leaves close to the ground will help keep the plant healthy by promoting better airflow and preventing soil-borne diseases from accessing the plant’s leaves.
Consider asking yourself these questions…
Are you looking to make fresh meals and salads? To harvest a few tomatoes off of every plant continuously throughout summer?
Are you interested in growing Cherry tomatoes or Beefsteak tomatoes?
Do you have a larger space (either horizontal or vertical) to grow tomatoes?
Consider asking yourself these questions…
Are you looking to can or preserve your tomatoes? Maybe make some large-batch salsas or sauces?
Are you interested in growing Roma tomatoes?
Are you limited on space? Need to grow in bags? Want to plant a second and possibly third crop after the tomato plant is done producing?
You can quickly become overwhelmed by the lists of available tomatoes from online seed sources. And trying out new varieties is part of the joy of growing tomatoes. But, if you’re looking for some tried and true varieties to either get you started or reel you back in from the whirlpool of choice……
Ace 55 (determinate)
Better Boy (indeterminate)
Big Beef (indeterminate)
Bush Early Girl (determinate)
Cherokee Purple (indeterminate)
Early Girl (indeterminate)
San Marzano (semi-determinate)