Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomato: Which is Better?


If you’ve decided to start a vegetable garden, one of the most recommended plants to try first is the tomato plant. But, with so many varieties to grow, it can be hard to know where to start. So which type of tomato is better?

Determinate tomatoes will grow to a set height, produce all their fruit, and then die. This is good for you if you don’t have much space and want a lot of tomatoes quickly. Indeterminate tomato plants need more space but will supply tomatoes to you over the whole growing season.

If you’re confused about what tomato seeds to buy, read on as we’ll run you through the main differences between tomatoes as well as the pros and cons of the various types.

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Photo of a bunch of different tomato types ranging in color from purple, yellow, green, and orange
Photo by Canduscamera

What are Indeterminate Tomatoes?

Indeterminate tomato plants will continue to grow with no set limit on height. This also has the result that you’ll see tomatoes all along the branches during the maturation season.

Indeterminate tomatoes are the traditional or original tomato plant breeds. They grow as vines like all tomato plants, with typically three flower clusters at every second leaf.

As indeterminate tomato plant breeds will have no set limit on vertical growth, they’ll require very tall supports or trellis. Some tomato plants can quickly grow to 5 feet (1.5 m) or 15 feet (4.5 m).

You’ll likely need a much bigger trellis to deal with an indeterminate tomato plant. The BLIKA 72 Inches Tomato Cages on Amazon.com allows you to use several 15-inch (0.38 m) tiers to create a 6 feet (1.82 m) tall support system.

As an indeterminate tomato plant variety will continue to grow, you’ll need to pay more attention to pruning and maintenance. This not only helps your tomato plant live longer but also encourages good-sized tomatoes.

An indeterminate plant will flower and produce fruit over an entire season, making them ideal for use in individual meals like pizzas or as a garnish.

While the term tomato vine is used about indeterminate tomatoes, technically, they’re not the same vines as you may be familiar with, like Star Jasmine or Hydrangeas.

What are Determinate Tomatoes?

Determinate varieties are so-called because they reach a certain determined height. Once the plant reaches that height, it’ll stop getting bigger, it will produce all the tomatoes in one growth cycle, and then die.

The whole life cycle of the plant continues, with the fruit maturing fully in about 50 days.

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

Determinate tomato plants will tend to have their fruit appearing at the branch tips.

As the fruit tends to all come simultaneously, this makes determinate plants great for specific purposes.

If you have a tomato garden and wish to make large batches of sauces or otherwise store the tomatoes, having a determinate tomato plant allows you to harvest all at once.

Even though determinate plants grow to a certain height, you might still need to add a cage or support structure of some kind.

Amazon stock a range of plant support cages that will be great for a tomato plant. The ZJIA 3 Pack Plant Support Cage on will allow your tomatoes to grow in an efficient and healthy pattern. Climbing plants like tomatoes will take to a plant support cage without much fuss.

The ZJIA plant support cages are made from steel with a plastic coating, making them rust-proof and featuring handy spikes on the feet to enable them to be inserted easily into a garden bed or other growing area. Coming in at 18 inches (0.45 m) high, these are an excellent choice for your determinate tomato plants.

Semi-Determinate Tomatoes

There is a third recognized category known as semi-determinate tomatoes, which is a mixture of both varieties. Semi-determinate plants won’t have the ongoing seasonal growth of an indeterminate plant and so tend to be more compact.

However, they’re usually bigger than determinate plants. Semi-determinate types will produce fruit throughout the season.

Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomatoes

 Indeterminate TomatoesDeterminate Tomatoes
Type of PlantFlowers on a tomato vineFlowers on a Bush
SizeSix feet (1.8 meters) to 15 feet (4.5 meters)Two feet (0.6 meters) to four feet (1.2 meters)
Average Ripening Time75 days50 days
Type of HarvestContinuous outputOne harvest over a week
ProfileTall and wideSmall and compact

Examples of Indeterminate Tomatoes

There are many different varieties of indeterminate tomatoes. Tomatoes can be grouped by their ripening period, taste, color, size, and other factors. We’ll look at some types, including Early Girl, Fourth of July, Sun Gold, and Stupice.

We’ll look at some examples of indeterminate tomato plants by considering:

  • Early producers
  • Beefsteak tomatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes

Early Producers

Early producers or early ripening tomatoes tend to mature quickly and produce mature fruit significantly quicker than the average. While you’re looking at an average of 70 days for the average ripening time, an early producer may ripen sometime between 50 to 68 days.

  • Early Girl: An indeterminate tomato plant breed that will typically ripen its first tomato after about 60 days. With an average size and shape, Early Girls are known for their juiciness.
  • Fourth of July: One of the quickest indeterminate tomato plant breeds, it reaches maturity in 49 days on average. With an average mature height of 55 inches (4.5 meters), you can put these in garden beds or on a lattice with no issues.
  • Sun Gold: Has a vibrant, orange hue which is instantly recognizable as a cherry tomato color. With an average maturity period of 57 days, it’s still an early producer type, with a tendency to produce very sweet tomatoes over the whole growing season.
  • Stupice: Has an average ripening period of 63 days and produces a deep red tomato with a slightly oval appearance like Roma tomatoes. Known as potato leaf tomatoes, these indeterminate tomatoes lack lobes and notches seen on regular leaf tomatoes. Stupice tomatoes are known for their ability to grow in cooler temperatures.

Beefsteak Tomatoes

Beefsteak tomatoes can come in red or green and are among the most common tomato types found in supermarkets. They are round, meaty, and come with lots of tomato juice.

Unlike other tomato types, red Beefsteak tomatoes have a mild flavor, making them ideal for adding to dishes without creating an extremely tangy or strong dominating tomato taste.

Green beefsteak tomatoes are tangy and generally not used unless expressly called for in a recipe. Typical uses include flavor enhancement for salsas, dips, sauces, and even in baking.

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are distinctive in their appearance, looking more like red grapes than tomatoes. They are small and round, with a very sweet flavor.

As an indeterminate variety, your cherry tomato plants can quickly grow up to 10 feet tall (3 m) and will continually produce more fruit.

Husky cherry tomatoes have notably shorter vines with the fruits tending to grow in clusters. They are great for small gardens and first-time tomato growers, reaching maturity in 65 days.

Black cherry tomatoes have a unique dark purple skin with a dusty appearance. Often described as having a complex flavor, black cherry tomatoes can take up to 75 days to fully ripen, and the plant will flower throughout the season.

Photo of tomatoes ripening on the vine
When tomatoes ripen they start green in color then become yellowish orange and finish as ripe red. Photo by Elena Butinova

Examples of Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes are distinguished by their speedy growth, rapid ripening, and subsequent death. The plants also tend to be much smaller and grow tomatoes only on the tips of their branches.

Tomato plants you notice growing out of pot plants or without the need for trellises are likely going to be determinate tomatoes. We’ll look at Glaciers, Monica’s, and Plum Regal as examples.

Glacier

The glacier tomato, as can probably be gleaned from the name, does very well with colder weather.

Great for cocktails, these tomatoes come in at about two ounces (60 grams) on average. Known as having a slightly acidic taste blended with a sugary palette, glacier tomatoes tend to ripen first in a tomato field.

Monica

Monica tomatoes often come in the Roma variety, having an extra-long tomato body. Monica tomatoes have great longevity as they are slow to ripen, taking 74 days to fully mature.

Monica tomato plants are high-yield plants, perfect for canning or harvesting without season-long growing and maintenance hassles.

Plum Regal

The plum regal tomato is famous for its rich, robust flavor and excellent for tomato paste.

The plum regal is a popular choice among gardeners as it has excellent blight resistance and generally good disease resistance. This leads to consistent, high yields from the plant year after year, making it a perfect choice for someone keen to have a high production vegetable garden.

How Big do Indeterminate Tomato Plants Get?

Indeterminate tomato plants will grow much more significantly than their determinate counterparts. It’s not unusual for well-supported tomato vines to grow to over 15 feet (4.5 m). They experience constant growth throughout the growing season.

You need to do some constant pruning, soil management, and other gardening techniques to get the average tomato vine to be that big, requiring some support.

For most determinate tomato plants, you can expect the average height to be between 6 feet (1.8 meters) to 8 feet (2.4 meters).

How Big do Determinate Tomatoes Get?

Determinate tomatoes are tiny plants that grow as a bush. You can expect most determinate varieties to grow to two feet (0.6 meters) at the lower end and a maximum of four feet (1.2 meters) tall.

Most determinate tomatoes can be grown in pots and small garden beds, making them ideal for small spaces. Determinate tomatoes are also great indoor plants, as they won’t grow to hit the ceiling, nor will they need constant pruning, which can be messy.

When is it Better to Grow Indeterminate Tomatoes?

Indeterminate tomato varieties will continually grow throughout a season, and the fruit will ripen throughout the growing season. Generally, they will keep growing until they’re killed by frost.

As you move into fall, lower temperatures will be the main barriers to tomato production. High summer temperatures will also likely have adverse effects on the tomato’s growth.

This means you should seed your tomato plants in February or March, ready to plant them in the spring if you live in the Northern Hemisphere.

When is it Better to Grow Determinate Tomatoes?

As determinate tomatoes will begin to bear tomatoes earlier, you can wait until spring has started before planting them to avoid planting too early. As a determinate tomato plant will need to be harvested in a week, plan the ripening date carefully.

Unlike indeterminate tomatoes, cold won’t likely kill a determinate tomato bush. Instead, once a determinate tomato plant has flowered and produced all its tomatoes, it will die.

This means you can wait until later in spring to start planting, if you have about 50 days or so until the weather cools down. Certain varieties will flower and then have fully ripened fruit within the same week.

One of the most common reasons to grow determinate tomatoes is to make a big batch of canned tomato paste or sauce. That’s because you’ll get all your produce at almost the same time, which makes planning much easier.

If this is your goal, save enough free space in your calendar to coincide with the ripening period, so that you have enough time for the laborious task of scanning all the tomatoes and harvesting them before they start to rot.

Closing Thoughts

Now that we’ve had a look at the differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, you can decide which is better for your needs.

If you’re looking to get many tomatoes for a purpose such as making large amounts of tomato sauce and pastes, a determinate tomato bush would be best.

On the other hand, to have a season-long tomato plant producing a steady stream of tomatoes and have the space for it, going for an indeterminate tomato plant would be best.

Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

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