Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes: How to Tell Differences + Types

Tomato plants are categorized into two main groups which are determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes, also referred as bush tomato plants, are bred with the focus of stopping their growth at about 3 or 4 feet of height. Indeterminate tomato plants (vining or cordon tomatoes) can grow as much as they like to about 20 feet or even more.

Besides this primary difference, the two tomato plant categories differ in the way they ripen, when they are harvested, what they can be used for, and other aspects. The breeds may also differ among these tomato plants.

Below, I’ve covered the main differences between these tomato plants to help you decide which one is the better of the two.

What are determinate tomatoes?

Determinate tomatoes are the kind bred to only grow to about 3 or 4 feet of height. After the growth phase, they will simply bear fruits with very little to no height increase. The completion of the upward growth phase is marked by the blossoming of the plant’s flowers.

This type of tomato plant is also marked by its fruits ripening all at once. It’s thus one of the best when it comes to growing tomatoes for canning purposes. Owing to its diminutive size, a determinate tomato plant is the best for indoor or small-space growth.

What are indeterminate tomatoes?

The indeterminate type of tomato plants will grow throughout their life and can grow to anything from 6 to 20 feet high. They also keep producing tomatoes throughout the growing season and only stop during the winter.

They make the best tomatoes for salads or slicing as you’ll have less of them at a time compared to their determinate counterparts. While they can be used for canning as well, the fact that the tomatoes on a single plant don’t ripen at the same time means you’ll need several plants to have enough for canning.

Note: There are also semi-determinate tomatoes in between these two types. These borrow the traits of each type such as having large determinate plants or small indeterminate plants.

Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes: Differences

The main differences between these tomato categories are as follows:

1. Height

The most evident difference between determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes is the height they grow to when fully grown. While the determinate ones are limited to about 4 feet of height; the indeterminate ones will grow to more than 6 feet and may grow up to 20 feet in the right conditions.

2. Growth Cycle

The determinate ones will grow and stop with the blossoming of the flowers. On the other hand, the indeterminate ones will grow all year long and will only stop when attacked by pathogens or frost.

3. Fruit Production

The next difference between them is their fruit production cycle. The determinate ones produce tomatoes at once on the plant and these ripen all at the same time. The indeterminate ones, on the other hand, produce fruits all year round with the fruits ripening in different stages.

4. Type of Fruits Produced

Determinate tomatoes will produce a lot of tomatoes which ripen at the same time. For this reason, you’ll have enough for canning from a single harvest. The indeterminate ones will produce tomato fruits at different times and the fruits will mature and ripen at different times as well. They’re thus best suited to salads and other uses which don’t require a large amount at once.

5. Flowering Cycle

If you find it hard distinguishing the two breeds in a given garden, you can easily look at the flowers and where they occur. While the determinate kind will stop the production of shoots once the flowers form on their ends, the determinate type will form flowers along the sides of the shoots. They’ll still continue growing until the weather becomes unfavorable to them.

With each type of tomato plant, you’ll always need to learn the proper care practices.

Which tomatoes are better to grow?

In determining which ones are better, you’ll have to consider the fact that they offer different advantages and disadvantages. The choice is thus subjective and not a one-fits-all answer. It depends on the following aspects:

1. The Amount of Space Available

If you’re limited on space such as a small garden limited by both width and height, you’re better off going for the determinate kind given their shorter nature compared to the indeterminate ones. The good news is that you can plant tomatoes upside down as hanging vines hence space may not be so much of an issue.

If, on the other hand, you have some more space and aren’t limited especially on the vertical side, you can have both types growing by each other or just one as you prefer.

2. The Use You Have for the Tomatoes

If you’re aiming to have large amounts of tomatoes on a periodic basis, the determinate type will be a better fit for you. This is because they bear fruits that ripen all at once (in about a fortnight) and thus have a single harvest. On the other hand, if you need fewer fruits but on a consistent basis, you can go for the indeterminate ones.

3. How Soon You Want the Tomatoes

Indeterminate varieties take a while growing before they start bearing fruit. As such, if you’re in a hurry to get tomatoes in your garden in a specific season, go for the determinate varieties as they quickly reach their height then start bearing fruits.

4. Caring for the Tomatoes

Between the two varieties, you’ll need less care for the determinate ones as they don’t need much pruning or staking. These practices (pruning and staking) are a must for the indeterminate tomatoes. In fact, pruning determinate tomatoes only reduces their harvest. On the other hand, pruning indeterminate tomatoes increases their yield.

5. Lifespan

While the determinate tomatoes die off after producing tomatoes, the indeterminate type will continue growing until they’re killed off by frost or disease. If there’s nothing to kill them, they’ll grow until they die a natural death.

As seen here, the choice is yours to make on what you want and your specific circumstances.

Types of Determinate Tomatoes

The tomato categories that fall into the determinate and indeterminate type are as follows:

Under this category, you have these varieties:

  • San Marzano
  • Amish Paste
  • Marglobe
  • Celebrity
  • Rutgers
  • Better Bush
  • Patio

Many more varieties exist although these are the major ones.

Types of Indeterminate Tomatoes

The indeterminate varieties include the following:

  • Big Boy
  • Beefsteak
  • Brandywine
  • Sweet Million
  • Sungold
  • Celebrity
  • Early Girl
  • Goldie
  • Cherry
  • Early some heirloom

Their traits are generally the same and it’ll depend on the kind that grows well in your area.

Verdict: Determinate vs indeterminate tomato plants – which one is better? In my opinion, however, it’s all up to your choice to pick the one you prefer over the other. This depends on the space you have, the season, and other aspects.