Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes (Explained)

As you may be aware, there are literally hundreds of different tomato varieties. But did you know that these can be grouped into two major growth variants – determinate and indeterminate? So, what actually is the difference between the two?

Determinate tomatoes are bush varieties that only grow to a certain height (4 feet or less) before they start sending out side shoots. Indeterminate tomatoes are vining and will grow as tall as you let them (usually 6 feet or more).

There are some other differences between both types that we’ll explain a little further.

What’s the Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes?

Determinate tomatoes are also commonly referred to as bush tomatoes. They’ll only reach a height of around 4 feet (120 cm), and then the upward growth will stop, and the plant will start growing side shoots.

You’ll find that determinate tomatoes will be early-ripening, and their flavor is not as rich as indeterminate tomato varieties. Each plant will continue to crop for about 4 or 5 weeks, but you should get an abundant harvest.

On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes produce an ever-growing vine that can reach a height of 6 feet (240 cm) or even taller. The indeterminate tomato varieties generally are very flavorsome, and the plants will continue to crop throughout the growing season until the first frost arrives.

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each growth type.

Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes are ideal for people who have limited space as these make great container plants. They can easily be grown in cages and require minimal staking.

Determinate tomatoes are also ideal if you’re after an early-season crop and want a lot of tomatoes that you can use for canning or making tomato sauce or paste. This is because the entire crop will ripen at the same time.

Another advantage of growing determinate tomatoes is that you don’t have to prune them heavily. In fact, too much pruning can have the negative effect of reducing the crop.

Because of their compact growth habit, you can plant them closer together if growing outdoors. Individual plants need only have a spacing of around 2 feet (60 cm).

You’ll also find that there are varieties available that are either early season or main season. If you plant some of each, you’ll be able to stagger your harvest. Early season varieties can reach maturity in 45 to 60 days. On the other hand, main season varieties can take around 70 to 80 days to reach maturity.

The major disadvantage of growing determinate tomatoes is that they are not as flavorsome as indeterminate ones. Plus, you’ll have a large crop that will ripen all at once.

You’ll also find that most of the determinate tomatoes are hybrids. While this can be quite a good thing, it does mean that you won’t be able to collect the seeds for next season’s crop, and it’s unlikely that these will self-seed the following year.

Advantages of Growing Determinate TomatoesDisadvantages of Growing Determinate Tomatoes
– Compact and ideal for containers or small gardens
– Great for a large early-season crop
– Less heavy-duty staking required
– Minimal pruning required
– Not as flavorsome as indeterminate varieties
– All the fruit ripens at the same time
– Most are hybrids, so no viable seed harvesting.

Indeterminate Tomatoes

Because indeterminate tomatoes are such prolific growers, you’ll need to allow them plenty of space to grow. Their long vines will just continue to grow upwards and will require some imaginative staking in order to keep the fruit off the ground.

However, these plants will continue to set fruit throughout the growing season, so you’ll get a continuous harvest. The fruits are full of flavor and come in varieties that are ideal for salads or sandwiches, from big beefsteak ones to small and sweet cherry tomatoes.

Many of the indeterminate varieties available are heirlooms that have been grown for centuries. This means that you can collect the seeds and grow them again the following season. You might also find that some of them will self-seed the following year, and you’ll have tomatoes coming up even though you hadn’t planted them in that spot.

The major disadvantages to growing indeterminate tomatoes are that they require a lot of space, adequate staking, and regular, fairly heavy pruning. When staking, you need to understand that the plants will get quite heavy when they’re full of fruit. For this reason, you need strong stakes that can support the weight of the plant.

And, you need to ensure that your stakes are tall enough to support all that growth. However, if you want to limit any more growth once the plants reach the top of your stakes, you can pinch off the growing tip of the leader. Bear in mind, though, that you’ll get lots of side-shoots that will need to be either pinched out or kept under control.

Indeterminate tomatoes are far more labor-intensive than determinate varieties. However, the quality of the fruits makes it worth it as long as you have the time. It’s necessary to prune out the side shoots on a regular basis so that the plant puts its energy into producing fruit rather than more growth. If you fail to prune your plants, you’re likely to only get small tomatoes.

Advantages of Growing Indeterminate TomatoesDisadvantages of Growing Indeterminate Tomatoes
– A long cropping period for a continuous harvest
– Lots of flavorsome fruits that are great for salads and sandwiches
– Heirloom varieties can be harvested for seeds, and some will even self-seed the following year.
– Aggressive growers that will need heavy-duty staking and plenty of room.
– Constant pruning is necessary to move the plant’s energy into fruit production rather than stem and leaf growth

Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of growing either determinate or indeterminate tomatoes, let’s take a look at just a small sample of the varieties that you can grow and which category they fall into.

List of Tomatoes (Determinate vs. Indeterminate)

Tomato VarietyIndeterminateDays To Maturity
Abe LincolnIndeterminate75
AbigailIndeterminate75
Aladin’s LampIndeterminate80
AlicanteIndeterminate70
Amish PasteIndeterminate85
Anna RussianIndeterminate65
Arkansas TravelerIndeterminate75
AtlasDeterminate65
Aunt Gertie’s GoldIndeterminate75
Aunt SophiesIndeterminate90
AzoychkaIndeterminate70
BasingaIndeterminate80
Better BoyIndeterminate75
Big BeefIndeterminate73
Big BoyIndeterminate78
Big LeagueDeterminate47
Black CherryIndeterminate68
Bush BeefsteakDeterminate62
Cal AceDeterminate75
Caro RichDeterminate80
Cherry BombIndeterminate64
GalahadDeterminate69
Gold NuggetDeterminate54
Golden SunrayIndeterminate75
GrandaddyDeterminate72
Grape TomatoIndeterminate60
HillbillyIndeterminate85
Indigo AppleIndeterminate75
Isis CandyIndeterminate65
JasperIndeterminate60
JulietIndeterminate60
Large Barred BoarDeterminate65
Lemon BoyIndeterminate75
Mortgage LifterIndeterminate85
New Big DwarfDeterminate60
New YorkerDeterminate63
Owen’s PurpleIndeterminate75
Pink OxheartIndeterminate85
Purple Bumble BeeIndeterminate68
RapunzelIndeterminate70
Rosella PurpleIndeterminate78
San MarzanoIndeterminate85
Summer PickDeterminate75
Sun GoldIndeterminate60
Sunshine BlueIndeterminate72
TalladegaDeterminate67
TycoonDeterminate80
ValleycatDeterminate70
Washington CherryDeterminate60
White CherryIndeterminate75
Yellow BellIndeterminate60

Should you Grow Determinate or Indeterminate Tomatoes?

The best answer to this question is to grow one or more of each if you have the available space. This way, you’ll get a delicious harvest of juicy red tomatoes right throughout the growing season.

Here are some tips to help you decide which type of tomatoes you should grow:

  • Determinate tomatoes are excellent for gardeners with limited space. They’re ideal for growing in a container with a tomato cage. In fact, some determinate tomatoes are commonly referred to as patio tomatoes or dwarf tomatoes.
  • Indeterminate tomatoes should be grown in the ground in a sunny spot. They also need to be given a strong support that they can be trained up. A strong trellis is ideal or tall stakes will also work. In saying this, indeterminate tomatoes can be grown in a large pot or grow bag as long as you have a strong and well-secured trellis to support their growth.

Both types are grown in a similar way, and neither is all that hard to grow. However, there are a few different maintenance requirements that you need to be aware of.

Tips for Growing Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes are ideal for growing in small spaces and even in containers. Although these types of tomatoes require a little less maintenance than indeterminate varieties, they do require a little regular pruning and some staking.

Regular Pruning

Follow these tips for some regular pruning of determinate tomatoes:

  • Do not prune out sucker shoots, as this will reduce your possible yields.
  • Prune only low leafy branches from the plants in order to increase airflow and to avoid diseases from entering any branches that are touching the ground.
  • Periodically remove some of the excessive leaf growth from the center of the plant to both increase airflow and to expose the ripening fruit to the sun.

Proper Staking

Even though determinate tomatoes won’t grow too tall, they still need adequate support, especially when they’re heavy with fruit. Follow these tips:

  • Tomato cages are ideal for determinate tomatoes because they provide support right around the plant.
  • Alternatively, you can use stakes around the plant and supplement this with horizontal wire or garden twine to encase the entire plant.

Be Prepared for a Bumper Harvest

As determinate tomatoes will ripen all at once, you need to be prepared for a bumper crop. This is perfect if you want to make tomato sauce. Alternatively, you can freeze any excess fruit or even dehydrate them and make tomato powder to use throughout the year.

Tips for Growing Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomatoes are a little more labor-intensive, however, they do give you the benefit of a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. Here are some of the major tasks that you should consider when growing these varieties.

Frequent Pruning

Due to their vigorous growth habit, indeterminate tomatoes need frequent pruning if you want to have a good crop of juicy, ripe tomatoes to harvest. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Remove sucker shoots as soon as you see them. Sucker shoots are new shoots that will appear along the main stem at the axis of each leaf. If allowed to grow, these shoots will grow into an additional vine that will not only take the energy away from the main stem but will also require additional staking and may reduce your yields. These sucker shoots will grow quickly, so you need to be quite vigilant in removing them. When they’re young, you can just pinch them off and discard them.
  • Prune off any major leaves near the base of the plant, especially those that are touching the ground.

Providing Strong Support

One of the best ways to provide a strong support for indeterminate tomatoes is by using a tall trellis. This gives the growing vine something to climb up. You want to ensure that the trellis is tall enough as the vine continues to grow. You’ll also need to attach the growing stem to the trellis using garden twine as it grows upwards.

Harvest Continuously

There’s nothing better than picking a nice ripe tomato for your lunchtime sandwich. Remember, though, that it’s important that you pick all your ripe tomatoes as soon as you see them. If you leave them on the vine for too long, they may end up cracking and become spoiled.

Regular harvesting also ensures that your plants will continue to produce more and more fruit. This is just nature’s way of ensuring the continuation of the plant.

Whether you decide to grow determinate or indeterminate tomatoes, if you follow our tips, you’re sure to have a bountiful harvest that you can enjoy all summer long.