Determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes… what the heck is the difference? In this post, I’ll explain what those terms mean, and how to tell the difference between the two types of tomato plants. Then I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each, and show you how to decide which type to grow.
How can you tell the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes? This is a very common question that most new gardeners have when they first start growing vegetables.
The words may sound complicated, but don’t worry. Once you know the difference, you’ll easily be able to tell just by looking at the plants.
Below I’ll discuss determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes, and talk in depth about each type. I’ll also include the pros and cons, and help you decide which one is best for your needs.
Here’s what you’ll find in this guide…
- Determinate vs Indeterminate
- Determinate Tomatoes
- Indeterminate Tomatoes
- How To Decide Which Type To Grow
Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes
You may have heard the terms determinate and indeterminate in regards to tomatoes and wonder what they mean.
Well, don’t be intimidated. Those are just fancy words used to distinguish between the size and growth habits of the two types of tomato plants.
For me, it’s easy to remember determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes when I think of the meaning of the two words…
- The word determinate means having a determined or maximum size limit. Which makes me think of small, compact plants.
- The word indeterminate means there is no set limit, the size is undetermined. That makes me think of large, vining plants.
So let’s take those simple definitions and relate them to tomato plants…
What’s The Difference Between Indeterminate & Determinate Tomatoes?
The main differences between the two types of tomato plants are…
- Determinate tomatoes are small, bush plants that grow to a certain size. They produce their fruit all at once.
- Indeterminate tomatoes are large plants with long, pliable branches. They produce fruit throughout the growing season.
How To Tell Determinate From Indeterminate Tomatoes
When it comes to figuring out determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes, you can’t tell the difference just by look at the seeds or the seedlings. So it’s important to check the tag or seed packet before purchasing.
Once the plants mature, it’s easy to tell the difference based on the size of the plant, and the growth habit. Besides the obvious size difference of the two plants, there is one other distinguishing factor that you may be able to spot…
Indeterminate tomatoes will produce fruit all along the stems. While determinate plants will form their fruit on the ends of the branches.
Since you can’t tell the difference between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes just by looking at the seedlings or seeds, you must read the label to figure it out.
Determinate varieties are usually marketed as “bush”, “patio” or “container” plants since they grow very well in small spaces and pots. But of course you can grow them in your garden too.
What Does Determinate Tomato Mean?
As I mentioned above, determinate tomatoes will get to a certain size, and then stop growing. So these types of tomato plants don’t grow to be very tall.
These smaller, more compact forms can be planted in the garden, or grown in planters and containers. They perform very well in pots, which means you can grow them anywhere – like on a patio, deck, or balcony.
How Long Do Determinate Tomatoes Produce?
Determinate tomato plants will stop growing once they begin setting fruit. Then the tomatoes will usually ripen all at once. The tomatoes are usually smaller, and the plants aren’t as productive as indeterminate varieties.
Some gardeners see this as a disadvantage, especially those who want to enjoy fresh tomatoes all summer long. But determinate varieties also tend to have a shorter growing season, which means the tomatoes will ripen earlier.
So, be sure to buy a few different varieties that have various maturity dates, or stagger your plantings. That will help to ensure you have a longer harvest time.
How Big Do Determinate Tomatoes Get?
The full height of the plant depends on the variety you grow, but most determinate tomato plants will grow to be 2-4′ tall. Some semi-determinate varieties may grow slightly taller, but they will still keep their compact form.
Though they don’t grow as tall as indeterminate varieties, determinate tomatoes will still need some kind of support. Usually a tomato cage or plant stakes are sufficient to keep them from toppling over once they are heavy with fruit.
Determinate Tomato Varieties List
Though the majority of tomato plants are indeterminate, there are more determinate varieties to choose from these days than ever before. In fact, some common indeterminate varieties have even been bred to be determinate.
Indeterminate tomatoes aren’t always labeled as such, which can make it hard to figure out what you’re buying. But in my experience, any tomato plant that’s not labeled as a patio, bush, or container variety is likely indeterminate.
But you can’t alway make that assumption. So, if the label doesn’t specify, then it’s best to look up the specific variety before purchasing it so you know exactly what you’re getting.
What Does Indeterminate Mean In Tomatoes?
Indeterminate tomatoes don’t have a set size limit. They’ll keep growing until frost kills them. The plants get very tall, and have long, vining branches which can be trained to grow on a vertical support.
These plants can become huge monsters, and are best suited for growing in a large garden plot where they have plenty of space to branch out. In this case, you can prune the tomato plants heavily to help control their size.
How Long Do Indeterminate Tomatoes Produce?
Indeterminate tomatoes are heavy producers, and will yield much more fruit than determinate varieties. They usually do take longer to begin producing. But once they get started, they’ll continue going through frost.
The fruits are larger on most indeterminate varieties, but can be much slower to ripen. If you have a short growing season like I do, be sure to plant them as early as possible to give them plenty of time to mature.
How Big Do Indeterminate Tomatoes Get?
The full size of the plant will vary by type, but indeterminate tomatoes can reach staggering heights. It’s not uncommon to hear of plants reaching 12-15′ tall.
But most plants will only grow to be 6-8′ tall, with compact indeterminate varieties being the smallest.
The plants have long branches that require staking to keep them upright. They’re often referred to as vining plants, even though they aren’t actual vines.
List Of Indeterminate Tomatoes
When it comes to choosing indeterminate varieties, you’ll have tons of options. Like I mentioned above, most types of tomato plants are indeterminate. So, your biggest struggle will be deciding which variety you want to grow.
How To Decide Which Type Of Tomato Plant To Grow
Sometimes it can be hard to choose between determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes. They both have their pros and cons, so how do you figure it out? Here are a few factors to help you decide…
Choose determinate tomatoes if you…
- don’t have a large garden plot, and need to grow tomatoes in small spaces
- want to grow tomatoes in containers on your deck or patio
- need them to ripen all at once for canning or cooking
Choose indeterminate tomatoes if you…
- have large garden to fill
- want to grow them vertically
- prefer to harvest and enjoy your tomatoes all summer long
But you don’t have to chose one over the other, you can grow both! I personally like to grow a few varieties of both types of tomatoes every summer. That way, I can enjoy the benefits of each.
Now that you know the difference between determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes, you’ll be able to make an informed decision of which type to grow.
Just remember, if the plant doesn’t get much taller than 2-4′, then it’s a determinate variety. If it grows to be gigantic, and requires constant staking, then it’s definitely indeterminate.
More About Vegetable Gardening
Share your preference of determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes in the comments below.