It seems like every year, I hear two complaints from people who grow tomatoes in their home garden. One is something like, “All my tomatoes are ripening all at once and I have nowhere to put them all.” The other complaint is, “I wanted to can tomatoes this year, but I’m only getting a couple of ripe tomatoes per day off my plants.” These two situations are usually caused by the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.
Determinate tomatoes are those that have fruits that become ripe all at once, usually within a week or two. If people want to can tomatoes, ketchup, salsa, tomato sauce, or the like, and they only have space for a few tomato plants, determinate tomatoes are the best ones for them to grow.
Determinate tomatoes are also known as bush tomatoes because the plants usually grow to around four feet and tend to be bushy in growth pattern.
With indeterminate tomatoes, the plants continue to produce fruits from partway through the growing season until the end of the season. At any given time, there are usually fewer tomatoes that are ripe. However, through the growing season, they usually produce as many, if not more tomatoes than determinate tomatoes do.
It isn’t at all uncommon to find ripe tomatoes, unripe tomatoes, and blossoms on the same indeterminate tomato at the same time. This can be seen in the image of an indeterminate tomato above.
Indeterminate tomatoes are also called vine tomatoes because they usually grow to about six or eight feet, sometimes more, depending on conditions.
Some commonly grown varieties of determinate tomatoes include Celebrity and Roma. These tomatoes usually grow pretty well in large containers.
Some common indeterminate tomatoes include Early Girl, Big Boy, Beef Master, most heirloom tomatoes, and nearly all cherry tomatoes. Because of the plant size, indeterminate tomatoes usually aren’t grown in containers. The exceptions are with some varieties of cherry tomatoes, such as tumbling toms, which are great in containers.
If you don’t want all your tomatoes ripening all at once, such as if you are using them as slicing tomatoes, in salads, and so forth, indeterminate tomatoes are probably best for you.
Since I usually grow a bunch of tomatoes every year, I normally plant a few determinate tomatoes and about three times as many indeterminate ones. It should be remembered that since tomato plants set fruit when overnight temperatures are in a fairly narrow range that if you live in an area that is prone to getting very hot in a hurry, you might do best with determinate tomatoes since you might not have a prolonged period of proper temperatures (60-72 F) for setting tomato fruits.
Before tomatoes are even planted, a first important step is to decide if you want determinate or indeterminate tomatoes. This part of the planning can mean the difference between a satisfying crop of tomatoes and one that doesn’t match your expectations.