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Determinate Tomatoes vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes

If you have never heard of the terms determinate or indeterminate tomato types, you are not alone. Many gardeners grow plenty of tomatoes successfully without pruning or knowing the difference between the two types. These terms overwhelmingly refer to the plant’s growth habit.

These classifications basically mean whether the plant is bush or vining and its impact on harvest time, and the need for structural support and pruning. Determinate plants are more compact, and indeterminate varieties tend to grow much longer than those of their counterparts.

Let’s explore some of the differences between determinate tomatoes vs. indeterminate tomatoes so that you can make an informed purchase, provide the proper care for and get the most yields from your treasured tomato plants.

Container vegetables gardening. Vegetable garden on a terrace. Red, orange, yellow, black tomatoes growing in container

Indeterminate Tomatoes

What are indeterminate tomatoes? Indeterminate tomatoes are those that continue to vine and form their flowers along the sides of their shoots and continue to grow and produce tomatoes until their first frost kills them. This variety of tomatoes can attain heights between six to twelve feet and needs the support of tall tomato trellises and cages.

Pruning Indeterminate Tomatoes

These vining indeterminate tomatoes can greatly benefit from the pruning of its tomato suckers. Pinching back some of the suckers on indeterminate tomatoes can do wonders for foiling unruly growth.  What is a tomato sucker? Tomato suckers are small stalks that tomato plants develop in the space between the stem and a leaf branch called the axil. They grow on both varieties of tomatoes: determinate plants (bush) and indeterminate plants (vining).

Traditionally, gardeners will prune tomato suckers off indeterminate tomato plants because they continue to produce leaves throughout the entirety of the growing season. Tomato suckers pull energy from the plant to grow its stalks and leaves, rather than using its energy to blossom and produce fruit.

There are several advantages to pruning your indeterminate tomato plants:

  • Improved airflow
  • Larger fruits
  • Easier harvesting
  • Earlier ripening

Trellising or Caging Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomatoes are the best candidates for in-ground or raised bed planting. Indeterminate varieties do best when supported by tall, sturdy stakes or caging to support their lofty and frequently heavy vines.

These tomato varieties can also be grown upside-down as a hanging vine. This removes the necessity for support, keeps treasured fruits off the ground, and allows the tomato plant access to plenty of airflow and sunlight.

Harvesting Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomatoes continue to set and ripen fruit throughout the growing season until frost kills the plants. This continuous fruiting will yield a slow and steady supply of tomatoes, rather than one immense harvest. They tend to start ripening a little later in the growing season than determinate varieties because they first spend a relative amount of their time climbing to great heights before setting fruits.

Raw Organic Red and Brown Heirloom Tomatoes

Recommended Indeterminate Tomato Varieties

You’ve probably been growing indeterminate tomatoes, and you may not have even known it! Most tomato varieties are indeterminate. Try some of these tried and true indeterminate varieties of tomato plants and enjoy bountiful yields of delicious, juicy fruits.

  • ‘Beefsteak’
  • ‘Big Boy’
  • ‘Sweet Million’
  • ‘Green Zebra’
  • ‘Cherokee Purple’
  • ‘San Marzano’
  • ‘Big Beef’
  • ‘Sungold’

Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes have a tendency to be more of a bush variety. They grow into compact plants that attain an average height of three to five feet and develop their fruits on the ends of their branches.  Their shoot production ceases once flowers develop on their branch ends.

If you have limited space in your garden bed or would simply prefer to grow smaller, more manageable plants and get your tomatoes over a shorter time period, then determinate tomato plants are just right for you.

Pruning Determinate Tomato Plants

Pruning determinate tomato plants and removing suckers is generally not needed because they are rather self-contained plants.

Trellising or Caging Determinate Tomatoes

In spite of their compact size, caging or trellising determinate tomatoes is still recommended to protect the main stem from bending. Their branches and stems will be supporting a heavy load once all the fruits are set and start to fill out and ripen. Without staking, the weight of the fruit and nature’s elements can put a strain on the plant, causing the plant to topple over.

Person placing tomatoes into wooden basket

Harvesting Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes produce large amounts of fruits at one time over a period of three to four weeks.  They are ideal for those who use tomatoes for canning, freezing, making sauces, and other recipes that require large quantities of tomatoes at one time.

Recommended Varieties

Determinate tomato plants make excellent container or patio plants due to their compact growing habit.  They make excellent container or patio plants due to their compact growing habit.

  • ‘Early Wonder’
  • ‘Gold Nugget Cherry’
  • ‘Lady Finger’
  • ‘Lunchbox’
  • ‘Northern Delight’
  • ‘Burbank Slicing’
  • ‘Cream Sausage’

Tomato Types: Indeterminate Tomatoes Vs Determinate Tomatoes

In this video Brijette Romstedt, from San Diego Seed Company, explains the difference between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes and shares some of her favorite tomato varieties to grow.

Whether your garden is big or small, make the most of your space with these tips and watch the full Tomato Types: Indeterminate Tomatoes Vs Determinate Tomatoes video on the Kellogg Garden Youtube Channel.


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