Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes: How To Distinguish A Determinate From An Indeterminate Tomato

Tomato Plant With Green And Red Tomatoes
indeterminate determinate tomatoes
(Image credit: akit)

There is nothing quite like a homegrown, juicy, sweet ripe tomato. Tomatoes are classified by their growth habit and fall into the categories of determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties. Once you know the characteristics, it's easy to tell which tomatoes are determinate and which are indeterminate. 

Duration and form of growth are the main ways to tell the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. Which type you choose will depend upon the use, available space, and the length of your growing season.

How to Distinguish a Determinate from an Indeterminate Tomato

There are so many varieties of tomato, and the choices can be overwhelming. One of the first things to consider is the length of your growing season.

  • Determinate tomato varieties tend to ripen early.
  • Indeterminate tomato varieties will have a longer growth period and can produce fruit until frost arrives.

The selection of tomato will also depend upon the use you have for the fruit. If you will be canning, a determinate type, which ripens all around the same time, is useful. If you want fruit throughout the growing season, then an indeterminate tomato is best.

Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes

The form the tomato plant takes is a big clue as to which tomato variety you grow. A comparison of determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes shows one is a vine and one is bushy. The determinate tomato plant is often grown in a cage or even without support, as it has a more compact shape. 

The determinate tomato varieties also produce most of their fruit on the terminal end. The indeterminate tomato varieties have much longer stem growth, which continues to grow until cold weather arrives. They require staking and tying onto a structure to keep the fruit off the ground. This type sets fruit along the stem.

How to Distinguish a Determinate from an Indeterminate Tomato

To learn how to distinguish a determinate from an indeterminate tomato, check the shoot formation.

  • The determinate forms stop their shoot production once flowers form on the ends.
  • Indeterminate tomato varieties will form flowers along the sides of the shoots, but they continue to grow until weather conditions are no longer favorable.

This is the main difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. The formation of new leaves at branch areas is a characteristic of both types of plants and doesn't help in distinguishing the forms. Just to confuse things a bit, there are also tomato forms that are semi-determinate and fall between the two main varieties in growth habit.

Differences in Care

Determinate tomato varieties produce the early season fruits and are generally set out earlier in the season. Determinate tomatoes are usually smaller and can be grown in containers. The indeterminate tomato varieties span the sandwich and out of your hand types of fruit. Indeterminate types usually need a garden bed or larger space to spread out. 

In addition, indeterminate plants can be pruned to just a couple of stems. Remove all the suckers up to the one just below the first flower cluster. This will promote the formation of the stem and flush new flower buds for better fruiting.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.