Determinate VS Indeterminate Tomatoes-Which one should you grow?

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Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a common staple in vegetable gardens. When home gardeners are planning their gardens and trying to pick tomato seeds or plants, they might be confused when they see the words “determinate” or “indeterminate” on the packet or tag. These two words may lead to a lot more questions.

One of the first likely will be, what is the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes?

Tomatoes are first classified either as determinate or indeterminate. This describes how they grow.

Tomato plants that are called determinate grow to be smaller and more compact, stopping when they reach a certain height, then flowering and setting the fruit in a short period of time.

On the other hand indeterminate tomato plants grow continuously as long as they can.

Not only does the plant itself keep growing, but they have blossoms, and set fruit until the plant is killed either by weather, such as a frost, or by the hand of the gardener.

Indeterminate tomatoes usually mature later than their determinate counter parts, but they produce far more fruit.

Understanding the differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes will help you select what will work best in your garden, based on the room you have and also what you want to do with your harvest.

Continue reading as we dive even deeper into the differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.

What Is The Difference Between A Determinate And Indeterminate Tomato Plant?

When you are planning out your garden for the year, you might be overwhelmed by the seemingly endless varieties of tomatoes available.

Seed catalogues and local greenhouses are full of different kinds of tomatoes for you to try. So it might feel impossible to decide which you want to try.

One factor many gardeners use to decide is to look at whether a tomato is determinate or indeterminate. But many gardeners will ask what does that mean? Or what is the difference?

Tomatoes are grouped in two different categories, either determinate and indeterminate, depending on how their growth habits.  

Determinate tomato plants grow to be more of a bush shape than those that are classified as indeterminate. They will first grow vertically and then growth will fill in on the sides of the plant, bushing out.

Because of this outward growth, they don’t get as tall as indeterminate plants. They are much more compact and usually more manageable than indeterminate plants.

Another way to distinguish determinant plants from indeterminate ones is how they blossom and bear fruit.

With determinate tomato plants, the plant will flower and set fruit for a small window of time, usually about four or five weeks. Once this is window is done, the plant will not produce any more fruit.

This is nice for people who process and can tomatoes, because you will be able to work with a large amount of fruit at once, rather than getting a few ripe tomatoes here and there throughout the summer.

Unlike determinate tomatoes, indeterminate tomato plants will continue to grow throughout the season. Along with the plant growing, they will produce blossoms and bear fruit until they are killed in the first frost.

Because they keep growing, they will get very large, sometimes over six feet tall, and require much more room than those labeled determinate. With this growth, it is very important to stake them and gardeners will need to tie stems to a trellis or cage by hand to keep them off the ground.

The way they grow is really in the name and that will help you remember how to keep the two categories separate.

Determinate plants have more of a set time frame. It’s like they have their minds made up what they are going to do, how they will grow and when they will blossom and have fruit.

Indeterminate are not so rigid in their growth, doing what they want to do and growing until an exterior influence, in this case frost, tells them to stop. Their flowering and fruit setting window is not determined by the plant.

They just keep going as long as they can.

Seed catalog descriptions or the tags inserted in the plant at a nursery or greenhouse will tell you if the tomato is determinate or indeterminate, making choosing which you want even easier.

Pros Of Determinate ( Bush )Tomatoes:

  • Usually Mature Earlier Than Indeterminate Varieties. This means you don’t have to wait so long for the plant to produce fruit or for the fruit to ripen.
  • Plants Blossom And Set Fruit Over Small Period. If all the fruit is coming in around the same time, it will be easier to process because you have more tomatoes to work with at one time. Most canning recipes using tomatoes require a lot of fruit, so having the bulk of it ripening at the same time means you have enough to work with.  
  • Minimal Pruning Required. With some tomato varieties, pruning helps the plant produce more fruit, but determinate tomatoes don’t require you to really worry about this.
  • Compact Growth. Because these determinate tomatoes don’t grow as tall or as large, they don’t take up as much room in your garden.

    They also are better suited for container planting, which is especially great if you live in a place where you can’t put plants directly in the ground. This compact growth means they are easier to maintain and control throughout the growing season.
  • Fruit Matures In A Short Period Of Time. This is definitely a pro if you are thinking about canning your tomatoes, preserving them for use in the winter. Several pounds of tomatoes are usually required for canning recipes and having a large amount of fruit ripen at once means you don’t have to wait until you have enough. The fresher the fruit the better and safer the end product when it comes to canning.

Cons of Determinate Tomatoes

  • Short Window Of Fruit Production. If you are looking for a plant that bears fruit throughout the growing season, determinate won’t be what you want. They only produce fruit for a small period, and once they are done, they are done.

Pros Of Indeterminate Tomatoes

  • Grow Well On A Trellis. While these plants can’t wrap themselves on a trellis, and require gardeners to tie them, they will grow quite successfully on the trellis once they have some guidance. This keeps them off the ground and reduces disease transmission.
  • Produce Fruit For A Longer Period. Unlike determinate tomatoes, indeterminate plants will produce fruit continuously until a frost kills the plant.

Cons Of Indeterminate Tomatoes

  • They Keep Growing. As long as you water and fertilize these tomatoes, they will continue to grow, meaning they often need a lot of space and can sometimes get out of control if not well maintained.
  • Requires Strong Staking. Because these plants get so large, they also get heavy. You will need strong stakes to keep the the plant off the ground. Many tomato cages sold in garden stores don’t cut it for indeterminate plants. They are often too short and too flimsy to hold up against these plants.
  • Often Takes Longer To Mature. While these plants continually produce fruit, they often don’t mature as early as the determinate counterparts, meaning it will take a bit longer to get that regular supply of fruit.

Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes

Do You Prune Determinate Tomatoes?

Determinate tomatoes don’t usually require a lot of pruning, many times, none at all. But sometimes there are occasions when pruning can be done on determinate tomatoes and is actually beneficial.

This is because they are bushy, forming a dense canopy that may not allow light and air to reach parts of the plant.

If you do decide to prune your determinate tomato, first focus on the suckers coming from the main stem. Suckers just zap energy and don’t produce any fruit. Eliminating them will allow the plant to put more energy into fruit production.

Using hand clippers remove shoots appearing below the lowermost group of blossoms. Above this first cluster of blossoms, the branches will all produce fruit.

Pruning is also a good idea for lower stems that may reach down and come in contact with the soil. This helps reduce the possibility of diseases in the soil infecting the plant.

List Of Indeterminate Tomatoes

If indeterminate tomatoes work best in your garden, we have compiled a list that might fit your needs.

Cherry Type:

  • Sungold
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry
  • Sweet 100

Grape Type:

  • Red Grape
  • Juliet

Beefsteak Varieties 

  • Big Boy
  • Early Girl
  • Big Beef
  • Jet Star
  • Better Boy
  • Fantastic

Heirloom Varieties

  • Brandywine
  • Black Krim
  • Cherokee Purple
  • Green Zebra

List Of Determinate Tomatoes

Here is a list of some determinate tomatoes you can try in your garden.


  • Rutgers
  • Celebrity
  • Mountain Fresh
  • Florida 47
  • Orange Blossom

Plum Varieties 

  • Roma
  • Plum Dandy
  • San Marzano
  • Amish Paste


Tomatoes are a great addition to any garden. Not only are they relatively easy to grow, and don’t require a lot of specialized care, they offer a tasty treat to eat fresh or use in cooking. If you are thinking of adding tomatoes to your garden, or are new to gardening, understanding first what determinate and indeterminate tomatoes are and how they differ, will only help.

Knowing the differences and how to identify the growing habits of these two types of tomatoes is so important as you plan the spacing in your garden. Additionally, knowing the type helps you plan the supplies, like stakes and cages, you will need for the growing season.