The terms determinate and indeterminate refer to a plant’s growth habit and are used in reference to tomatoes. You may have to choose between these two types when buying seeds for establishing your tomato plants.
So, what’s the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes?
Determinate tomatoes reach a maximum height of 4 feet while indeterminate tomatoes grow up to 20 feet tall. Indeterminate tomatoes continue vining and producing flowers and fruit even after their first blooms while determinate stop growing after flowering and producing fruit.
What are determinate tomatoes?
Determinate tomatoes have a predetermined genetic quality that makes them grow to a specific size, set fruit that will ripen within a short period, and then decline.
Determinate tomatoes exhibit the following characteristics:
- They grow to about 4 feet tall.
- They bear fruit within 4-5 weeks.
- Do not need to be pruned heavily.
- Fruits ripen at once.
- They have a “bush” habit of growing.
After the growth phase, determinate tomatoes bear fruits with very little to no height increase. Since the fruits ripen at once, determinate tomatoes are great for canning. They are also great for growing in pots due to their diminutive size.
What are indeterminate tomatoes?
Indeterminate tomatoes have a continuous growth habit until they reach a maximum height of about 20 feet. They’re often called vining tomatoes because they continue to produce flowers and fruit throughout their growing season and stop in winter.
Here are the main characteristics of indeterminate tomatoes:
- They grow between 6 and 20 feet tall.
- They require pruning to remove suckers.
- Indeterminate tomatoes require staking for support.
Owing to their growing and fruiting characteristics, indeterminate tomatoes are great for salads. They can be used for canning, but since they don’t ripen simultaneously, you may need several of them to produce enough fruit for canning.
Note: There are also semi-determinate tomatoes in between these two types. These borrow the traits from both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.
Determinate and indeterminate tomatoes differ mainly in how they grow, produce fruits, and ripen.
Here’s how you can tell determinate tomatoes from indeterminate tomatoes:
|Determinate tomatoes||Indeterminate tomatoes|
|They’re shorter – 4 ft. tall.||They’re taller – up to 20 ft. tall.|
|Stop growing after the first blooms and fruit.||Grow progressively even after the first flowers and fruit.|
|They yield all fruit at once.||They yield fruit progressively.|
|They’re referred to as bush tomatoes.||They’re referred to as vining tomatoes.|
|Do not require staking.||Require staking.|
Determinate tomatoes are limited to about 4 feet in height, while indeterminate tomatoes are taller, achieving a height between 6 and 20 feet depending on the growing conditions.
2. Growth cycle
Determinate tomatoes stop growing when they start to blossom, while indeterminate tomatoes continue growing and producing flowers and fruit until they’re killed by frost.
3. Fruit production
Determinate tomatoes produce tomatoes at once, and all of them ripen at the same time. On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes produce fruit throughout their growing cycle from the time they reach maturity. These fruits ripen at different times.
4. Suitable uses
A single harvest from determinate tomatoes is suitable for canning, which is not true for indeterminate tomatoes because they yield fruit that ripens at different times. Such are best suited for salads.
5. Flowering cycle
While the determinate tomatoes stop producing new shoots once the flowers form on their ends, determinate tomatoes form flowers along the sides of the shoots and continue growing until the weather becomes unfavorable to them.
Which tomatoes are better to grow?
Both types of tomatoes are suited to different conditions. Here’s a guide to help you choose the type of tomatoes to grow:
- Space: Determinate tomatoes require little space compared to indeterminate ones. Choose determinate tomatoes in pots or even upside down if you have little space.
- Uses: Choose determinate tomatoes if you want to harvest fruit in plenty for canning or mass use. Indeterminate tomatoes are great for daily use in salads and cooking.
- Time to maturity: Determinate tomatoes mature and bear fruit faster than indeterminate ones.
- Care and attention: Determinate tomatoes require less care and attention as they don’t need much pruning or staking as indeterminate ones do.
4. Caring for the Tomatoes
Remember, pruning determinate tomatoes reduces their yield, while pruning indeterminate tomatoes increases their yield.
Types of Determinate Tomatoes
- San Marzano
- Amish Paste
- Better Bush
Types of indeterminate tomatoes
The indeterminate varieties include the following:
- Big Boy
- Sweet Million
- Early Girl
- Early some heirloom
Tomato plants are categorized into two main groups, which are determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes, also referred to as bush tomatoes, are bred with the focus of stopping their growth at about 3 or 4 feet of height. Indeterminate tomato plants (vining or cordon tomatoes) continue to grow to about 20 feet or even more.