Indeterminate vs Determinate Tomatoes

Updated on April 23, 2016

Indeterminate & Determinate Tomatoes

When it comes to tomato talk, the terms indeterminate and determinate are used quite often. Now, these terms are no problem for experienced tomato producers who know what they're talking about, but to beginner and home gardeners, the words often fall on foreign ground. Of course not everyone is born with the knowledge of the differences between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes engraved in their brain, so that's where this guide comes into play. Throughout the following text, you'll find valuable information describing indeterminate vs determinate tomatoes, varieties that fall under each type and even a little on the basics to growing and pruning them.


Indeterminate Tomatoes

The majority of tomato varieties fall under this growth pattern. Indeterminate tomatoes are characterized by their ability to both continuously grow new vegetation and produce fruit throughout the season. They will grow until the first frost of autumn kills them. The vines of indeterminate tomatoes have no predetermined height or number of side shoots, so grown under optimal conditions, these tomato plants can get very large.

Pictured above are immature Brandywine Tomatoes. The thick and heavy growth of indeterminate tomatoes can be observed. Photo By : Nociveglia

Common Indeterminate Tomato Varieties

  • Brandywine
  • Purple Cherokee
  • Big Red
  • Bloody Butcher
  • Delicious Beefsteak
  • Cherry & Grape Varieties

Growing Indeterminate Tomatoes - Before you jump into gardening, you'll first want to learn how to grow indeterminate tomatoes properly.

  1. Space is going to be your biggest issue when growing indeterminate tomatoes. Since they never stop growing, the can develop quickly into large bushes. To prevent overgrowth and disease, indeterminate tomatoes must be grown staked, caged or up a trellis, and be planted two feet away from each other.
  2. Soil and moisture. Since indeterminate tomatoes are normally planted into the ground, it is crucial to plant tomatoes in a soil with high nutritional content and excellent drainage. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and love a well composted soil, but if there isn't enough drainage, root rot can occur.

Pruning Indeterminate Tomatoes

  1. The most important step in properly pruning indeterminate tomatoes is to cut off any growth or leaves that are touching the soil or do not receive any sunlight. Leaves that do not receive enough sunlight or are allowed to touch the soil are much more prone to the onset of disease and pests.
  2. Train indeterminate tomatoes. Okay, so you're not going to teach them to sit or roll over, but you can 'train' your indeterminate tomato vines to climb cages and trellises. Move the vines around to evenly distribute foliage and shape your tomatoes to fit your own aesthetic appeal. You'll be surprised at how many unique ways indeterminate tomatoes can grow!


Determinate Tomatoes

While the majority of commercially grown and sold tomatoes fall under this category, determinate tomato varieties are much less in number compared to indeterminate types. Determinate tomatoes are characterized by their predetermined growth pattern and cycle. During the early season, these tomatoes will quickly grow to a maximum height. Around mid-season, the determinate tomatoes will shift gears from foliage to fruit production. While blooming and growing tomatoes, these plants will not produce additional shoots or foliage. Their restricted growth pattern and large one-time harvests are appealing for container gardeners and those who wish to can the fruit.

Young determinate tomato plants staked and prepared to grow in containers. Photo By : Nociveglia. Please note that the photos in this hub belong to their respected owner and were made available for use through the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Common Varieties of Determinate Tomatoes

  • Ace
  • Campbell 33
  • Black Sea Man
  • Czech's Bush
  • French First Pick
  • Heinz 2274

Growing Determinate Tomatoes

  1. Generally, determinate tomatoes will grow to a smaller size than indeterminate varieties, so they can be planted with a foots' space between each plant. While determinate tomatoes will not grow up a trellis with great success, they will almost always need to be caged, as the fruits later in the season will greatly strain the plants with additional weight.
  2. The soil and moisture requirements for determinate tomatoes are the same as their indeterminate counterparts. Additionally, determinate tomatoes grown in containers will need to be fertilized often throughout the season to supplement for the loss of soil and root space.

Pruning Determinate Tomatoes

  1. Much like indeterminate tomatoes, determinate tomatoes will also easily fall victim to disease and pest outbreaks if their leaves are allowed to touch the ground. With determinate tomatoes, it is a generally accepted practice to cut off any branches lower than the first vine that produces blooms. This will eliminate the potentially disease causing "sucker" branches and also increase growth and fruit production at the tops of the plants.
  2. Once the "sucker" branches have been removed, there's no need to cut off any more branches. Doing so will actually eliminate potential fruits. To keep your determinate tomatoes healthy, surround them with a cage and equally distribute foliage and growing fruits throughout. The cage will keep the plants from collapsing under the weight of maturing fruits.


Final Word

Either way you go, tomatoes make for one of the greatest additions to any garden! There's nothing quite like the exquisite flavor of a homegrown tomato. Thank you for reading my article discussing the differences of indeterminate vs determinate tomatoes. If you plan to grow tomatoes this year, I'd be real interested in hearing what varieties are your favorite!

Questions & Answers


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      • phoenix2327 profile image

        Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 6 years ago from United Kingdom

        Honestly? Whatever types of tomatoes the fruit and veg store are selling. lol I don't know their actual names. I have had some good results with cherry tomatoes. I'd like to have a go at beefsteak tomatoes.

      • Joe Macho profile image

        Zach 6 years ago from Colorado

        What types do you grow phoenix?

      • phoenix2327 profile image

        Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 6 years ago from United Kingdom

        My favourites to plant. They never let me down.

        Voted useful and socially shared.