When shopping for tomato plants, it’s important to know the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. Knowing the difference will help you determine how to properly care for the tomato plant throughout the season because each has different care needs.
Determinate tomatoes, sometimes called patio, bush, or dwarf tomatoes, have a set number of fruit that they will produce. This type of tomato will not redirect energy from pruning to fruit production like indeterminate ones. For determinate varieties, you should never prune branches with blossoms, as those are tomatoes you will be losing. The fruit ripen within about 2 weeks of one another, all ripening together. Once they have produced their set number of fruits, production on these tomatoes stops, so you won’t get tomatoes all summer long. But if you need a bunch of tomatoes all at once or have a small growing space, determinate tomatoes may be best for you.
Determinate tomatoes grow more in a bush rather than a vine; they get about 3-4 ft tall. There is no crazy-staking involved, but I would recommend still putting a tomato cage around them just to keep them tidy. A lot of people choose these because they want a smaller plant that doesn’t require pruning or they don’t have the space for huge, clambering tomatoes.
Varieties that are determinate:
- La Roma
- Super Bush
Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to produce tomatoes until frost kills the plant. It is recommended that you prune the branches of these to force the plant into making more tomatoes rather than sending that energy into vegetative growth. Because they don’t have a set-number of fruits, the fruit yield is higher than that of determinate types. Most heirlooms are indeterminate, and taste-testers agree that indeterminate plants oftentimes taste better than determinate ones. They will give you a steady harvest until frost kills them. A lot of the time they put on fruit later in the season than determinate ones due to the fact that they’re expending their energy early in the season to growing tall.
These grow as a vine and typically will need some kind of staking/trellising to prevent them from flopping over when they get tall and heavy. They can grow to over 12 feet in height, so ample space is required. If left unstaked, they will grow along the ground where foliage may stay too damp, and disease and pests will be more likely.
Varieties that are indeterminate:
- Better Boy
- Lemon Boy
- Cherokee Purple
- Early Girl
- Golden Jubilee
- Mortgage Lifter
- Sweet 100
- Yellow Pear
Other terms you might see on the tag of a tomato plant.
When picking out your starter tomato plants, you might see determinate or indeterminate written on the tag. You might also see one of the following letters or all of them on the tag – VFFNTA. Each of these letters refers to something that the plant is resistant to. These tomato plants are usually bred to have certain advantages. I have broken down what each letter means below.
V = a plant that is resistant to verticillum wilt
F and FF = If you see an F (sometimes deonted by FF), this means that the plant that is resistant to fusarium wilt.
N = a plant that is resistant to nematodes
T = a plant that is resistant to tobacco mosaic virus
A = a plant that is resistant to alternaria leaf spot.
3 thoughts on “Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes”
I really enjoy your articles. I have tomatoes in the ground now, which were purchased at Jack Frost and they already have tomatoes and blossoms! Good information about taking care of them. Do you think fertilizer should be used on tomatoe plants?
Thank you! I’m glad your tomatoes are doing well! Yes, I do think fertilizer should be used on tomato plants. I would use a starter fertilizer when first planting them to help the roots establish well in their new home. Then about half-way through the growing season, I would come back and side dress the plants with a plant food (tomato-tone from Espoma is great, but just about any all-purpose fertilizer will do).