What are Determinate & Indeterminate Tomatoes?

When most people think of tomatoes, they think of whether it is yellow, red, or green, and the variety such as Big Boy or Cherry Tomato.

No one wonders if the tomato is indeterminate or determinate.  This article will help you to understand the difference.

The Difference Between Determinate & Indeterminate Tomatoes

Both types of tomatoes can be pack with nutrition and flavor and they are fine to grow separately or together.  So what is the difference between them?  The difference is how you will use the tomato.  This is why it is smart to plant both types of tomatoes.  Tomatoes are classified by their growth habits.

Determinate Tomatoes

This is the type of tomato that will bloom, fruit, and matures the entire crop at a specific time and when they are done, they are done. For most varieties, this time frame is two to three weeks.  When planting determinate tomatoes, make sure that you use robust cages and stakes to support the heavy load of tomatoes.  Two samples of these tomatoes are the Celebrity Tomato and the Roma Tomato.

Benefits:  Because there are so many varieties, they are great for fresh eating.  They are also good to preserve or can.  Depending on how many you plant, the way they do everything at a specific time, they are great to use for large batches of tomato soup, salsa, or tomato sauce to preserve.  They can be planted at staggered times so you will have a huge harvest at different times of the season.

Indeterminate Tomatoes

This type of tomato will continue to grow, bloom, and produce tomatoes throughout the entire growing season until the first freeze or hard frost.  Two varieties of this type are the Brandywine and the San Marzanno Tomato

Benefits:  With these tomatoes constantly producing, it makes a great choice for your garden so you can have fresh tomatoes all summer.  They are also great for canning.  Since they do produce all summer, if you are canning or preserving them, you can do it in smaller batches.

  Cat’s Claw Plant Care and Growing Guide
green tomatoes

How to Tell the Difference

The main ways to tell the difference between a determinate and indeterminate tomato is by the form and duration of growth.  Which type would work best in your garden can be determined by how you want to use the tomatoes, the length of the growing season for your area, and the space you have for planting.  

Indeterminate Tomato:  This variety has a much longer stem growth that will continue to grow until the cold weather arrives.  They will require staking and tying to a structure.  This is to keep the tomatoes off the ground.  This type sets the fruit, or tomatoes, along the stem.  They will form flowers along the side of the shoots. This is the type of tomato in which one slice could span across your sandwich as some are that large. 

They will need a large place to spread out as they grow or a garden bed.  They can also be pruned to just a couple of stems.  To do this, remove all the suckers, which is a smallish shoot that grows out of the area where the plant meets a stem, up to the one that is just below the first cluster.  This will help to promote the formation of the stem along with fresh new flowers for better fruiting.

Determinate Tomato:  This variety is often grown without support or in a cage because it has a more compact shape.  They produce most of the tomatoes on the terminal end, which is the end or tip of the branching stem.  They stop their shoot production once flowers form on the ends.  This tomato will produce early-season tomatoes so they are usually set out earlier in the growing season.  The tomatoes are smaller so they can be grown in containers.  They will usually die by midsummer so you can use the space for other plants.  They can also be integrated into flower beds.

Which one to Choose?

If you have a large garden, want to have a heavy crop of tomatoes at certain times in the season, then you should look for determinate tomatoes.  To make sure that you are getting determinate tomatoes, look on the plant label for the abbreviation DET or determinate and the number of days it will take the plant to produce tomatoes.

  The Types of Prayer Plants: [Varieties Explained]

If you want to have tomatoes all season, the indeterminate tomato is what you want to plant.  Again, check the plant label for the abbreviations IND or indeterminate.  Since they grow all season with no predetermined time, you may only need a few plants but how many depends on the number of people who are going to eat tomatoes.

Examples of Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes

Determinate:  Cherry or Grape, Celebrity, Lady Finger, Roma, Scarlet Red, Tiny Tim

Indeterminate:  Better Boy, Early Girl, Big Beef, Big Boy, Juliet, Sun Sugar


Simply put, the difference between these two tomatoes is that the determinate tomato has a genetically programmed growing limit.  It also has a defined height along with setting the flowers and forming tomatoes all at the same time.  This is why determinate tomatoes are ideal for limited gardening space or container growing.  Over time, indeterminate tomatoes can become bulky shrubs if not taken care of and there is a long growing season.

Both varieties of tomatoes taste good and can be used for eating or canning.  You just have to decide if you want a bumper crop at one time or if you want them spread out over the season.  If you have any questions, talk to the people in a nursery about which one would best suit your needs and space.  If you are a first-time gardener, you can try two or three plants of each type and see which one works for you and your family along with the space you have.  One thing to consider is the size of the tomato that you want.  Determinate tomatoes are smaller than the indeterminate ones.

Also read: What is an Aroid?