Satisfying to grow, beautiful to behold, and delicious to consume, growing tomatoes at home is a wonderfully rewarding experience. The first decision you’ll come upon when growing tomatoes is what kind of tomato to grow, exactly, and before you get into the details of specific varieties, you’ll want to consider determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes.
Read on to learn all about the differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes and decide for yourself which is best for your garden!
Determinate Vs Indeterminate Tomatoes
The truth is that most gardeners grow both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes—it’s just a matter of adjusting your care to whatever your plants’ needs are, and that comes with recognizing that there are some sizeable differences.
The difference comes down to genetics, which determines everything else. Essentially, determinate tomato plants have a “self-pruning” gene that indeterminate tomatoes do not. This self-pruning gene is the reason for the main differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.
The self-pruning gene causes determinate tomato plants to stop the growth of their shoots once blossoms form at their ends.
On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes, which lack the self-pruning gene, will simply flower blossoms along its shoots, and continue to grow throughout the appropriate season.
The shoot formation, caused by the genetic differences, has a huge impact on the differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes regarding shape.
It’s called “self-pruning” because that’s what determinate tomato plants do: the growth of flowers essentially takes care of any external pruning that would need to be done to keep it a specific size. In fact, determinate tomatoes are called determinate because they grow to a determined height and size of around three or four feet, and are often called bush tomatoes because their shape ends up looking quite bushy.
Indeterminate tomatoes are often referred to as “vining plants” because they are not self-pruning and will continue to grow their vines to an indeterminate length, essentially until cold weather signals to the tomato that the growing season is done. That means that if it wasn’t for staking and man-made supports, indeterminate tomatoes would grow into a mess of vines all over the ground: up to 20 feet long!
As you might imagine, the genetic difference also means that the fruit production of determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes is much different.
Determinate tomato plants ripen early, and produce all of their fruit for the season at once, which tends to grow at the end of its shoots.
On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes produce less fruit more often, throughout the entire growing period, much like how their vines continue to lengthen until it gets cold.
Determinate Tomato Varieties
Just to give you an idea of the kinds of determinate tomatoes out there, they include but of course aren’t limited to: Ace 55, Amelia, Amish Paste, Better Bush, Goldie, Gold Nugget, and Celebrity (this last tomato is sometimes labeled semi-determinate).
Indeterminate Tomato Varieties
And now here’s some indeterminate tomato varieties you might recognize: Arkansas Traveler, Aussie, Beefmaster, Better Boy, Picardy, Black Cherry, and Brandywine.
What are Semi-Determinate Tomatoes?
As you might imagine, semi-determinate tomatoes are tomato varieties with characteristics that place them somewhat in the center of the determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes spectrum. Most tomatoes are indeterminate, but some of these varieties, like the Early Girl, ripen earlier and stop growing earlier, which sometimes puts them in the semi-determinate tomatoes bucket.
Caring for Determinate Vs Indeterminate Tomatoes
Because of the differences between determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes, the care you give them will also vary from variety to variety. The basic guidelines remain the same, but the biggest divergences are in regards to the support system the plants need.
- Because determinate tomatoes are smaller plants, they are easy to grow both in-ground and in containers. Adult plants will require a container of at least five gallons.
- While it is possible to grow a determinate tomato plant without any kind of support, small cages or staking are still recommended to help the plant stand straight when it starts to bear heavy fruit, especially if the fruit makes it lean all to one side.
- You don’t need to prune or remove suckers, because the self-pruning gene takes care of that for you.
- Prepare to harvest all of your tomatoes at once!
- Read more about determinate tomatoes and how to care for them and more.
- Indeterminate tomatoes are a little trickier than determinate tomatoes, mostly because their growing habits are more unruly, and harder to control.
- While it’s not impossible to grow determinate tomatoes in containers, you’d have to go for a very large flower bed.
- Indeterminate tomatoes need heavy-duty support systems. That means stakes or big cages. If you’re using stakes, use soft or elastic ties to fix the plant to the stake, without tightening it too much.
- Some gardeners choose to support their determinate tomato varieties by hanging them upside down and letting them grow into hanging vines. This eliminates the need for upright support like stakes or cages, but you need to make sure that the plant is hanging on a very strong hook and hanger, especially during the harvest season. These plants get heavy!
- Pruning and removing suckers is advised to help focus on growing and producing fruit. Never pinch a sucker out from directly below a blossom, because this could cause damage to the growth of your plant and the fruit production.
- Be ready for tomatoes to ripen early, and for a steady supply of juicy fruit throughout the entire season!
- Learn more about how to care for indeterminate tomatoes and more.
Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes: Which to Choose?
As mentioned earlier, many gardeners choose to grow both determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties. That way they have cohesive, plentiful harvests for their sauce recipes, as well as a more regular stream of tomatoes to cut up in their salads or stick onto their burgers.
In the determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes conversation, we should first acknowledge that each variety has its pros and cons. The ultimate decision should be made based on how much room you have, and how you plan on using the tomatoes. Here’s what you should consider, in more detail:
- Where do you want to grow your tomatoes? If you have a big garden and want to plant them in-ground, then this doesn’t really help narrow down your options. But if you already know that you want a potted plant for your deck or patio, then it’s a clear indication that you should go for the determinate variety.
- What do you want to do with your tomatoes? If your favorite recipes call for pounds and pounds of tomatoes, then you’re going to want a determinate variety for your garden, which produces a high yield all at once. With indeterminate plants, you’ll have to harvest the first round of tomatoes and store them until the next batch, and by then the first ones you picked won’t be fresh anymore. Alternatively, you could also stagger indeterminate plants so that one of the plants is always producing tomatoes, but that obviously involves extra steps you might not want to commit to.
- Where do you live? If your geographical location already imposes a short growing season, then that’s another reason to choose a determinate plant. If, however, your harvesting season is long and warm, then you’re no longer restricted in the determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes choice based on climate!
Now You Know the Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes!
I hope this post has inspired you to take the determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes conversation in your own hands, and that you now feel inspired to choose the one that is best for you. Remember to consider your gardening space, tomato needs, and geographical location.
Excited for more tomato content? Then visit our tomato page for growing tips, comprehensive guides, and tasty recipes!
- About the Author
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Margherita Bassi is a freelance writer, journalist, and editor. She grew up between the US and Europe, and nurtured her love for nature and the outdoors in both countries.
In the US, she went on dozens of RV trips with her family, scouted out the best restaurants in every city she visited, and learned how to grow herbs and veggies of all kinds by watching her mother.
In Europe, she experimented with gardening in small spaces, like the small balcony of her apartment in France. With an MA in International New Media Journalism, Margherita is also a skilled researcher in a wide range of topics, and has extensive experience interviewing both individuals and experts.