Determinate vs. indeterminate tomatoes may confuse beginner gardeners. That’s why they often ask, “Should I grow determinate or indeterminate tomatoes?”
So, this is very important to choose the right tomato varieties before you start gardening.
Determinate tomatoes are bushy-type plants that grow to a certain point and set flowers and fruits all at once. Then they start ripening and harvested within 1 or 2 weeks and die.
Indeterminate tomatoes are vine-type plants that grow throughout the season and continue setting flowers and fruits until the frost kills them.
Different factors matter behind choosing determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties. Here I discuss the most common factors to help you pick up suitable tomatoes for your garden.
1: Your Purpose of Use
Your necessity is the main indicator of picking up the right tomato varieties. Based on your purpose, you may select determinate or indeterminate tomato varieties.
If you want to can, freeze, paste, pickle, sauce, jam, or preserve tomatoes for future use, then you need to grow determinate tomatoes. For making these recipes, you need a large number of fruits at a time, and determinate tomatoes can fulfill your need.
On the other side, if you want to make salads, sandwiches, cooking, grill, roast, snack, skewers, bake, or fry throughout the growing season, then you need indeterminate tomatoes. You can also make these recipes using determinate tomatoes but for a very short time, around 2-3 weeks only.
Besides, commercial growers mostly prefer determinate tomatoes for a large and quick harvest. Then again, home gardeners prefer both varieties according to their needs.
2: Length of Season
The length of the season is another important factor in determining the tomato varieties. Determinate tomatoes comparatively need a shorter growing season to harvest. However, check the maturity date of your determinate tomatoes and count the total frost-free days you have in your local area. Then start growing your selected tomato variety.
On the other side, indeterminate tomatoes continue growing and producing fruits until the frost kills them. So, they need a longer growing season.
3: Hardiness Zone
Your plant hardiness zone map helps you to determine the right tomato varieties. Different growing zones have different lengths of seasons.
If your local area has a shorter growing season, then you need to pick determinate tomatoes. As well, if you have a longer growing season than you can pick both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes as you prefer.
Determinate tomatoes that can grow in small spaces like a balcony, patio, and even your windowsill. Besides, they are also suitable for container gardening. So, if you have space limitations or intend to grow tomatoes in pots, then you should pick determinate tomatoes.
Then again, if you have enough space in your backyard, you can pick any of the tomato varieties for your garden, considering the other factors.
Pruning is the tricky part of growing tomatoes. Proper pruning can bring you a great harvest on the other side; uneven pruning can reduce your production.
Usually, determinate tomatoes don’t need any pruning at all. But mild pruning of lower older leaves, dry leaves, or any diseased leaves of plants can perform better.
Typically, indeterminate tomatoes need regular pruning for better production. They need pruning in different stages of plant growth. You should prune the plant suckers, lower leaves, yellow leaves, diseased leaves, overdensity of leaves, topping, or root pruning for a better harvest.
6: Staking or Caging
Determinate tomatoes are bushier in type. The average height of determinate tomato plants is around 2-4 feet. So, plant support like staking or caging is not essential for them.
But once the tomato plants are full of fruits at once, then a simple stake can help stand them up. This also saves your fruits from touching the ground.
Another side, indeterminate tomatoes are vine-type and sprawling when growing taller. The average growth of indeterminate tomato plants is around 5-9 feet or more. So, staking, caging, or trellising must need for them to confirm better harvest.
7: Harvesting and Ripening Tomatoes
Harvesting and ripening determinate tomatoes are much easier than indeterminate tomatoes. They ripen within a short time on the vine, and you can pick them up all at once with no hassle.
On the other side, ripening indeterminate tomatoes are a little bit challenging. You need to continue picking them all through the season.
Besides, you may find some green fruits on the vine during the season’s end. In that case, you have to pick them fast unless the frost spoils your last batch of harvest. After that, you need to apply different methods to ripen them indoors.
Both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes need frequent deep watering throughout the growing season. Try to water your plants in the morning, and never water the plants’ leaves. The best way to water tomatoes is at the base of the plants.
Once all the determinate tomatoes become mature green or break the stage of ripening tomatoes, then stop watering. It helps them to ripen earlier.
When it comes to indeterminate tomatoes, stop watering 4 weeks before the expected first frost to ripen them faster.
Fertilizing your tomatoes also follows the watering. When your determinate tomatoes reach their maturity level, stop and fertilize them.
Then again, stop fertilizing your indeterminate tomatoes one month before the first frost giving them one last feed of compost tea or fish emulsion.
10: Time and Labor
Finally, you need less time and labor to grow determinate tomatoes comparatively indeterminate tomatoes.
So, based on the above considerations, you may pick the right tomato varieties for your garden.
How to Tell My Tomatoes Are Determinate or Indeterminate?
There are several ways to tell whether your tomatoes are determinate or indeterminate before and after planting them. Such as:
Plant Tags or Seed Packets
This is the first and easy way to confirm your tomato varieties before you plant them.
When you get tomato seeds from the gardening store, it is mostly mentioned on the seed packets about the growth type. Then again, if you buy seedlings from your local nursery, you can also notice in the plant tags to confirm the growth type.
Besides, if you collect seeds or seedlings from your friends or neighbors, ask them about the tomato’s growth habits and other information such as color, average weight, maturity date, and heirloom or hybrid varieties.
Tomato Plants Height
Usually, determinate tomato plants don’t grow taller than 2-4 feet at all. After they reach a certain length, they stop growing and concentrate on setting flowers and fruits.
Then again, indeterminate tomatoes can grow up from 5-9 feet tall or more if they get extended warm days and plant support.
Tomato Flowers and Fruits Setting
Determinate tomatoes setting flowers and holding fruits at the ends of the branches all at once. Besides, they completely ripen fruits and die within 2-3 weeks once they start maturing.
On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes continue making fruits until the frost kills them. They hold fruits all along the stems.
Leaves are getting close together on determinate tomato plants and give them a bushy appearance.
Then again, comparatively longer branches forming on plants with spacing between leaves are a sign of indeterminate tomatoes.
Determinate Tomatoes: Pros and Cons
- Suitable for small spaces and containers.
- Easy to manage tomato plants for being a smaller size.
- Less susceptible to late-season diseases.
- Best for preserving tomatoes for later use.
- Finish the season earlier so you can use the place for other purposes.
- Small harvest per plant.
- Difficult to preserve a huge harvest at a time.
- Plants die once harvested, so your space will remain unused if you don’t plant something.
- Overall, less production per square foot.
Indeterminate Tomatoes: Pros and Cons
- Getting fresh tomatoes throughout the season.
- Produce enough tomatoes per plant.
- A longer growing season produces more fruits.
- Control fruit size from smaller to bigger following different pruning methods.
- Need more attention to maintain the tomato plants for a better harvest.
- Not suitable for the short growing season.
- Get smaller size tomatoes if not pruning.
- Difficult to grow in containers and small spaces.