Growing tomatoes is a right of passage for all gardeners, whether hobbyists or professionals. There’s just something special about nurturing these beautiful vegetables—and then enjoying the literal fruits of your labor by using them in all the amazing tomato recipes out there. If you’re growing your tomatoes in pots, or in your small home garden, chances are that you’ll be nurturing determinate tomatoes.
Read on to learn all there is to know about determinate tomatoes!
What are Determinate Tomatoes?
In the world of tomato gardening, there are determinate tomatoes, indeterminate tomatoes, and semi-determinate tomatoes, which are a cross of the first two.
The difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes lies in their genetics. Determinate tomatoes have a self-pruning gene, which makes their growing tips end in flower clusters, which is where the tomato fruit ultimately grows. The gene is called “self-pruning” because the flower cluster effectively halts further growth of foliage. Instead, the plant can then focus on the production of fruit.
Indeterminate tomatoes don’t have the self-pruning gene, and their growing tips end in leaves.
So what does this mean for the tomato plant? Determinate tomatoes are sometimes called bush tomatoes because the self-pruning gene makes them grow smaller, more compact, and bushier than indeterminate tomatoes, whose vines continue to grow throughout the growing season.
Determinate tomatoes can grow to about four feet or less. They’re called “determinate” because they will only grow to an average determined height! That means they’re great for growing in pots and will thrive in containers of at least five gallons. Because determinate tomatoes have strong stems and don’t grow too much, they usually don’t need too much support in the form of stakes or trellises.
On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes grow to an indeterminate size (up to 10 feet!) and their growth is more vine-like than bushy. For this reason, they need serious support in the form of heavy-duty cages and frames, especially if you decide to grow them upside down. Whatever you choose to do, it should keep the vines and fruit off the ground, where they attract pests, diseases, and moisture that leads to rot much more easily.
As for the growth of actual tomatoes, determinate tomatoes produce their fruit all at once, in a period of about two weeks. Indeterminate tomato plants instead produce and ripen less fruit continuously throughout the entire growing season, until it gets too cold. The first batch of indeterminate tomatoes usually ripens a little after the determinate tomatoes’ first and only batch, because indeterminate tomatoes spend more time growing before producing the fruit.
Benefits of Determinate Tomatoes
You might be asking yourself: why would I want all of my tomatoes all at once? There’s actually a very simple culinary reason that explains the benefits of growing determinate tomatoes.
Determinate tomatoes are a great option if you want to grow tomatoes to create tomato sauces, pastes, and juice, because you need all of your tomatoes at once. Harvesting some tomatoes, and then storing them to wait for the next batch of tomatoes in order to have enough for your pasta sauce is simply not sustainable. By the time your next tomatoes are ready to be harvested, the first batch may have already gone bad, or at the very least is just not fresh anymore.
As for indeterminate tomatoes, they’re a good option for those of you who consume tomatoes a few at a time, like in your salad or as garnishing.
Determinate Tomato Varieties
Let’s take a look at some determinate tomato varieties:
- Atlas Tomato: Atlas tomatoes are a great example of determinate beefsteak tomatoes. They’re easily grown both in containers and in the ground, and they only take 65 days from planting to yield ruby red tomatoes!
- Bush Beefsteak Tomato: Also known as an early grower, bush beefsteak tomatoes produce large and heavy tomatoes perfect to slice up and stick in a burger. They’re also a good option for people living in climates with a short growing season.
- Roma Tomato: Available both as determinate and indeterminate plants, Roma tomatoes are the go-to tomato choice for canned tomatoes and sauces because of their slim size and sturdy consistency. For this reason, they’re also known as plum tomatoes.
- Gold Nugget Tomato: With one of the shortest growing season of them all (56 days!), Gold Nugget tomatoes are small, round or slightly oval cherry-sized tomatoes with a shockingly yellow color. Their unique color doesn’t mean they’re not still great for salads and sauces, though!
- San Marzano Tomato: Though most San Marzano tomato varieties are indeterminate, there are some that are determinate, so always make sure to check the seed packet you’re buying first. San Marzano tomatoes are also of the cherry-tomato kind, but they grow long and oval. They are also notorious for being the best tomatoes for sauces and pastes!
How To Care for Determinate Tomato Varieties
Because determinate tomato varieties have different growing habits, there are slightly different caring guidelines that you should follow if you happen to grow these tomatoes in your garden.
If you choose to grow them in pots, you can start them indoors in seed trays until they germinate, then transfer the seedlings into a small pot, and then into a bigger one when they start to grow, and then eventually into a full-sized five-gallon bucket.
If you’re planning to grow your determinate tomatoes in pots, check out this post on The Best Method on How to Grow Tomatoes in Pots.
If you’re planting them outside, make sure to do so well after the last average frost date!
Though determinate tomatoes need less support than indeterminate tomatoes, it can be a good idea to use some stakes to help keep the plants upright once they start to grow their fruit, especially if the weight makes the plant lean sideways. Remember that just because the plants themselves are small, it doesn’t mean their fruit will be, and tomatoes get heavy!
Determinate tomatoes have the self-pruning gene, but you should still prune them manually to help direct their energy into growing fruit rather than extra leaves. Remove all suckers (the small stems that grow directly in between the main trunk and stems) by pinching them from the base, from the lowest growing one, to beneath the first tomato flower cluster. Never remove the ones from the top!
The rest of the care guidelines for determinate tomatoes are pretty much the same for all tomato varieties, whether determinate or indeterminate.
Tomatoes need a lot of light! Make sure they absorb six to eight hours of full sunlight every day.
Keep the soil moist but not too soggy: make sure there is really good drainage, whether in your pot, or in your garden soil! If you’re watering by hand, do so in the morning, and direct the water at the base of the plant rather than all over its leaves. This gives the tomato plant a chance to dry off before the chill of the night settles in.
Always choose to water less frequently and more deeply rather to encourage deep root growth.
Mulching is always a great idea! It helps do some weed control and protect the roots from extreme temperatures.
Remember that determinate tomatoes put out all their fruit all at once, in a period of about two weeks. Don’t know what to do with all these tomatoes? Check out the recipes below!
Recipes with Determinate Tomato Varieties
Now You Know What Determinate Tomatoes Are!
I hope now you feel empowered to decide how to identify, grow, care for, and cook with your own determinate tomatoes. Whether you like the shape of the plant better, or you want that all-at-once harvest, determinate tomatoes are a great and rewarding choice for gardeners. For more information on how to grow tomatoes, check out our complete guide.