How to Tell if Tomato Plants are Determinate or Indeterminate?

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how to tell if tomato plants are determinate or indeterminate

For most people, tomatoes are a one-season crop that needs to be replaced every year. However, if you can control the environment in which you grow tomatoes, you will find out that some will keep producing multiple crops. Tomatoes are grouped into determinate or indeterminate categories, so let’s find out what these terms mean.

How to tell if tomato plants are determinate or indeterminate: Determinate tomato plants produce all their fruit at once. The plants are smaller in size and have a bushier appearance. Indeterminate tomato plants will produce a continual harvest so that you have small amounts of tomatoes ready at one time, but the plant won’t stop producing until there is a frost. Indeterminate tomato plants are larger and grow like vines so you need more space and support for them.

What is a determinate tomato?

A determinate tomato has an endpoint. This means that after the fruit starts to grow, the plant will stop growing, regardless of whether temperatures drop or not.

The result is that you only have one yield of tomatoes that are often ripe all at the same time. The plant will not grow any more tomatoes, no matter what the weather and temperature conditions are.

What is an indeterminate tomato?

An indeterminate tomato plant will keep producing tomatoes. Once the first few tomatoes grow and are then harvested, the plant will continue to produce more fruit.

While frost will still kill indeterminate tomato plants, if the plant is not exposed to cold temperatures, it can continue to produce tomatoes for a few years.

What’s the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes?

The main difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants is that you only get one harvest from determinate plants. After the tomatoes ripen, the plant will no longer produce any more fruit.

On the other hand, indeterminate tomato plants can continue to grow fruit. In fact, as long as you provide enough continual nutrients to your indeterminate tomato plant, you can expect to harvest fruit from it for a few years.

Both determinate and indeterminate tomato plants, however, will be killed when exposed to frost. As soon as the temperatures start to drop, whether there is still fruit on the plant or not, the plants will die and you will need to replace them when the weather starts to warm up again.

Advantages and disadvantages of determinate tomato

advantages and disadvantages of determinate tomato

Ripen early

If you can’t wait for tomato season or have a shorter growing window, then determinate tomatoes are an excellent option. They ripen a bit earlier than indeterminate varieties, so there is less risk of losing them due to an early frost. Expect them to be ready by July.

Smaller harvest

Yes, it is great to have a bunch of tomatoes but if you don’t eat a lot of tomatoes or don’t want to continually figure out what to do with them, then it’s nice to have them done at once. You can enjoy the summer bounty but then move on to other fruits and vegetables.

More garden space

If you are someone who likes to rotate plants but has limited garden space, then you don’t want to have part of your garden taken up with one crop. With determinate tomato plants, you can grow them, harvest them, and then quickly dig them up.

Then, you can get fall and winter crops into that same space and a lot easier as they will be done growing earlier than indeterminate varieties.

Perfect for containers

Most determinate varieties of tomatoes are small and bushy. They are perfect for containers as all you need is a simple wire cage for support, and some don’t even need this.

Those that are short on gardening space, or those who want a handy tomato plant on their balcony, will appreciate the small growing space of determinate tomatoes.

Ripe all at once

One of the biggest disadvantages of determinate tomato plants is that all of the tomatoes are ripe at around the same time. This means that if you happen to be on vacation at a certain part in late summer, you can miss the harvest altogether.

Furthermore, you need to do something will all those tomatoes. Canning and freezing are the two best options but these take time. If you’re busy, you might not be able to preserve your tomatoes for a later date, which means a lot of waste.

Finally, it’s nice if you can trade produce with friends and neighbors but if they are also growing determined tomatoes, then they will have a surplus. Again, this can lead to a waste of tomatoes, which is unfortunate after putting in all the hard work of growing them.

Advantages and disadvantages of indeterminate tomato

Continual harvest

Those that love adding a tomato to a sandwich or in a salad will appreciate having the ability to go out in the garden and pick a freshly ripened tomato. As soon as you pick that tomato, the plant will start to produce more fruit, which means you can have a fresh supply of tomatoes for months.

More space

This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on your garden space. Indeterminate varieties can grow to be quite large, so they need plenty of space.

In particular, they need vertical space as the fruit can easily rot if the vines grow on the ground. Therefore, you will need to create a trellis system for the tomato plants to grow upward.

If you have this space, then indeterminate varieties are great. If you don’t have that space, or you don’t have the physical ability to create such a trellis, then indeterminate tomatoes can be too much upkeep.

Later harvest

While you don’t have to wait until late fall, you will have to wait until later summer to pick your indeterminate tomatoes.

While you might be fine with the wait, if you live in a continental climate that has shorter summers and the possibility of early frosts, then you might not get much of a harvest.

Indeterminate tomatoes will keep growing, but only until the temperatures dip below freezing. Then they will die.

A later harvest is not ideal if you live in an area that could have September or October frosts.

More upkeep

Unlike determinate varieties, indeterminate tomatoes need more upkeep. These plants will keep growing so you should remove any suckers except for the one below a flower cluster.

Pruning in this manner will create a better stem and will promote the growth of new flowers, which will turn into more tomatoes.

Again, this factor might not be a deal-breaker if you are an avid gardener who likes to continually improve what they are growing. However, if you are new to gardening or are simply too busy to be out in your garden every day, then the constant pruning and upkeep might be too much.

Types of determinate tomatoes

Andes

Native to France, this variety of determinate tomatoes has a thin, pointed shape to their ends. While they aren’t the best when eaten raw, they are perfect for sauces.

Bush Early Girl

Ready early in the season, this is a great variety if you have a short growing season. They grow easily on a bush and are about 4 inches in diameter.

Early Wonder

Those that have a small growing space or who want to fill their containers with tomatoes will appreciate this variety. They are small in size and perfect for salads.

Health Kick

While all tomatoes are rich in antioxidants, these are even more so. They do need quite a bit of sun but will produce fruit until the first frost hits.

Roma

A favorite determinate variety, this is the perfect tomato if you want to make a rich spaghetti sauce. The tomatoes are medium in size and weigh between 2 and 3 ounces.

Tiny Tim

Another early producer, this variety only takes 45 days to fully mature. They are perfect for container gardening.

Types of indeterminate tomatoes

types of determinate tomatoes

Big Beef

Those that love a large tomato on a sandwich or burger will enjoy this indeterminate variety. The tomatoes can easily grow to be 10 or 12 ounces in size.

Big Daddy

Another great tomato to slice, this variety can weigh up to 15 ounces per tomato. They have a very long harvest.

Black Cherry

A bit smaller in size, these tomatoes take about 75 days to become mature. They are fairly easy to grow and have a dark purple, almost black sheen to them.

Beefsteak

Most people will be familiar with this indeterminate variety as they are readily available at grocery stores. If you grow them in your garden, watch out as they can be a few pounds in weight.

Cherry Buzz

Even though a lot of indeterminate tomatoes are on the larger size, there are plenty that is bite-size. This variety is quite tiny and weighs less than an ounce, making them perfect for eating as a snack or in a salad.

Golden Sweet

Named after their appearance, this variety has a subtle yellow-orange color. They are a great accent for salads.

Pink Wonder

Outside, these tomatoes have a bright red color but inside is a gorgeous pink flesh. They are quite large and will grow to be about 14 ounces in weight, making them perfect for sandwiches.

How To identify determinate and indeterminate tomatoes?

Plant form

From a distance, you will be able to see the different shapes that each type of tomato plant forms.

Determinate plants will be smaller and more compact. In contrast, indeterminate plants will grow longer and taller. They will often have long stems.

Structure support

Determinate tomato plants are smaller and bushier, so they don’t need as much support. While you still might want to add a cage around them, just in case, most plants will be fine, even with heavier fruit on their stems.

Indeterminate tomato plants can grow to be quite large. You will definitely need support from them.

Sometimes, indeterminate tomato plants can grow like vines. In this case, a simple cage won’t do.

Instead, you will need proper stakes and even a series of braces and strings in order to give the tomato plants something to grow onto. You can even help train them so they grow vertically in order to keep the fruit off the ground and thus will be less susceptible to insects and rot.

Stems

The fruit on determinate tomato plants will grow on the terminal end of the plant. You won’t see multiple tomatoes growing off of one branch.

In contrast, indeterminate tomatoes grow more stems, each of them leading to a tomato. The result will be a row of tomatoes from the main branch.

What should you grow in a greenhouse?

There are many advantages to growing plants in a greenhouse and among them is that you can control the temperature. Instead of having cold winters that naturally kill plants, you can alter the temperature in a greenhouse to stay above freezing.

You can plant both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes in a greenhouse as both will appreciate the consistent temperature and exposure to light. However, if you want to take full advantage of the greenhouse, and if you simply love tomatoes, then it is best if you plant indeterminate tomato plants.

You will be able to have up to three years’ worth of growth and tomatoes with your indeterminate plant. It will need plenty of nutrients during this period, as tomatoes are heavy feeders.

Just keep providing your indeterminate tomato plant with fresh nutrients, such as phosphorus and potassium, and your plant will continue to produce fruit. There’s no need to dig up plants and add new ones each spring.

Conclusion

While beginner gardeners may be content with planting whatever type of tomato seeds they come across, more advanced people will want to take the time to understand their plants.

Determinate tomato varieties produce fruit all at once and then stop. In contrast, indeterminate tomato varieties will produce a continual harvest and won’t stop until there is a frost.

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