Indeterminate vs Determinate Tomatoes: The Differences Explained

Growing your own tomatoes can be very rewarding; watching flowers turn to fruit, waiting for them to ripen, before tucking into the fresh fruit.

Choosing which type to grow is confusing if you don't know the difference between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes.

Indeterminate vs Determinate Tomatoes Differences

The primary difference between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes is how they grow. The former produce on large, sprawling vines, the latter grow on more compact bushes.

Determinate tomatoes are typically small and earlier in the season. Indeterminate tomatoes fruit later but do so continually until the frost settles in.

There are several other considerations when choosing which type of tomato to grow:

  • Length of the growing season – determinate tomato season lasts around 2-months. Indeterminate tomatoes will fruit for twice as long in favorable conditions.
  • What do you need the tomatoes for: sandwiches and salads, or soups and sauces?
  • Available space; vine tomatoes need a lot of room to branch out and thrive; they keep growing through summer. Determinate tomatoes stop growing at around 4ft high, depending on the variety.

Indeterminate Tomatoes

indeterminate tomato example

When to Plant Indeterminate Tomatoes

Tomato sowing season is typically late March – Early April, providing the last winter frost has cleared. If you have bought young plants, harden them off before planting them. It is the process of gradually acclimatizing them to the outside conditions; it prevents wind, rain, or sun damage and promotes healthy growth.

If you are growing them in a greenhouse, consider planting them earlier, from late February into mid-March.

Indeterminate tomatoes need plenty of space in a garden bed, vegetable patch, or other large containers.

Indeterminate tomatoes thrive when grown upside-down. If planted in a hanging pot, the vine can trail naturally and turn to face the sun as it moves. It keeps the fruit from the ground and prevents root rot.

How Indeterminate Tomatoes Grow

Indeterminate tomatoes grow on vines that fruit throughout the season.

The vines grow rapidly and require stakes to grow upwards. Left unstaked vines spread along the ground, and any fruit they bear might rot.

indeterminate tomatoes

It is advisable to tie or use a support cage as the tomatoes set and grow; the vine may exceed 10ft. tall and become heavy when fully laden.

The fruit ripens later in the season than determinate tomatoes but provides a steady supply right until the frost attacks the vine.

Indeterminate tomatoes can be harvested deep into Fall and beyond.

Indeterminate Tomato Maintenance

The fruits set along the stems of the vine; take care to tie each branch carefully. Drooping branches allow the tomatoes to spoil on the ground, or worse still, snap that stem and prevent further growth.

Regular pruning of the stems promotes new growth deep into the season. Pinch back suckers to prevent the vine from becoming unmanageable; never do it beneath a blossom, it causes uneven growth and reduces the number of tomatoes available to harvest.

Water the plants regularly; keep the soil moist while avoiding over-watering.

Give the plants some food every 10-14 days; tomato feed is an inexpensive, liquid fertilizer.

As the first fruits form, change to potash food; packed with necessary nutrients for healthy, flavorsome tomato growth.

Indeterminate Tomato Varieties

Many types of cherry, grape, Heirloom, and beefsteak tomatoes are indeterminate; here are some of the most popular.

Better Boy- hybrid beefsteak tomatoes, ready to pick within 75-days of planting.

Big Beef – very similar to Better Boys, with a rich, meaty taste.

Celebrity – popular globe tomatoes that grow in abundance, ready to harvest after 70 days.

Juliet – elongated cherry tomatoes, small and sweet; they only take 60 days from sowing to harvest.

Sweet Millions – 1” fruits that grow abundantly in long clusters.

Sun Sugar – 1oz orange cherry tomatoes, ready to eat within 62 days.

Suggested Uses for Indeterminate Tomatoes

Because indeterminate tomatoes continue to produce fruit throughout the summer, they are ideal for topical use in salads, salsa, and sandwiches.

Pick just the amount you need, safe in the knowledge of new growth all summer long.

Determinate Tomatoes

determinate tomato example

When and How to Plant Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes are compact bushes and therefore thrive when planted in containers. As they grow, you can transplant them into the garden or leave them in the pot, providing it is generously sized.

As a rule of thumb, plant the tomatoes around 2-weeks after the suggested date of the last frost. They need at least 6-8 hours of sun daily to produce maximum fruit.

How Determinate Tomatoes Grow

The bush stops growing as the fruit sets on the highest bud; this is usually between 3 and 5ft tall. They rarely require cages, although some growers tie the main stem to a stake to add stability.

determinate tomatoes

Determinate plants fruit simultaneously and take around 2-weeks to ripen. It is time to harvest; leave it any longer, and the tomatoes will spoil.

When the bush is stripped bare, dig it up and add it to the compost pile. It won't bear any more fruit, free up the space to plant something new.

Determinate Tomatoes Maintenance

Determinate tomatoes require much less maintenance than indeterminates.

They don't need any pruning; just remove any suckers that grow between ground level and the first flower cluster.

Suckers are the small shoots that grow at 45° angles between stem and branch and unless pinched, will sap the plant of nutrients meant for the fruit.

Continue to remove suckers as and when they appear.

Water the plants generously, deep enough to encourage root growth. Reduce frequency as the plants grow; surround them with mulch to control moisture levels and weed attacks.

Determinate Varieties

Determinate tomatoes grow in many sizes and varieties, the most popular include;

Monica Roma – produces lots of meaty tasting 5-8oz tomatoes

Plum Regal – produces high yields of 4-6oz plum-shaped fruit

Sunrise Sauce – the ideal tomato for small spaces and pots; it grows to 30-36". Nice when eaten from the bush, flavors intensify when cooked.

Better Bush – Beautiful deep red tomatoes that grow in abundance. Stake this plant as each one produces 90-120 fruit, all that suit salads and sandwiches.

Little Big Cherry – Sweet and tasty cherry tomatoes that grow on 2-feet high vines. They take longer to ripen than many determinate varieties making them available well into Fall.

Suggested Uses for Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes are often thicker skinned and meatier.

Because they are harvested in bulk, they are ideal for batch cooking for canning, soups, and sauces.

Roasted determinate tomato varieties make excellent bases for many recipes, including tasty marinara sauce.

Semi-Indeterminate Tomatoes

To complicate matters there is a third variety of tomato that combines characteristics of both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes – semi-indeterminate.

Typically, they are vines that only grow to compact size yet yield fruit throughout the season. Varieties include;

Stupice – short vines that grow to 3.5-4ft, so ideal for containers.

Inca Jewels – heavy-yielding tomatoes that don't surpass 3ft tall, making them ideal for pots and patios. These plants need support cages.

Litt'l Bites Tiny Cherries – compact vines with stems that drape 8-10” over the container. Look spectacular in window boxes.

Final Thoughts

Choosing whether to grow indeterminate or determinate tomatoes is a tough decision. With enough time, space, and expertise, it is worthwhile growing varieties from both types.

That way, early-season production yields plenty of fruit for juices, canning, or sauces whilst the rest of the summer provides plenty of fruit for salads and sandwiches.

Too many tomatoes? Never a problem, just lots of happy friends, family, neighbors.

Annette Marsh
For the past twenty years, Annette has allocated much of her free time towards gardening and landscaping related tasks; Planting flowers and trees, weeding, pruning, mulching, mowing, constructing ponds and various other structures, as well as growing and maintaining a vegetable garden.

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