Determinate Tomatoes vs Indeterminate Tomatoes

by Jack Grover
tomato tree
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Determinate and indeterminate tomatoes are two main types of tomato plant with distinct qualities.

Understanding the differences between these types is crucial for maximizing your tomato harvests.

Determinate tomatoes have a compact growth habit, reaching a height of about 4 feet. They don’t require much support and have a self-pruning gene that stops foliage growth once flower clusters bloom. It makes them perfect for canning, as they produce most of their fruit at the same time.

Indeterminate tomatoes can grow up to 12 feet tall. They continue to vine and produce fruit until frost kills them. They also ripen later in the season and provide small but frequent harvests throughout the growing season.

This article explores the growth habits, support needs, harvesting methods, suitability for containers, and cooking applications of determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.

Let’s get down to the details.

Key Takeaways

  • Determinate tomatoes have a compact growth habit and do not require pruning.
  • Indeterminate tomatoes have a longer growth habit and continue to produce tomatoes until frost kills them.
  • Determinate tomatoes are suitable for container gardening and smaller spaces, while indeterminate tomatoes are not.
  • Determinate tomatoes produce a large amount of fruit over a shorter time period, making them suitable for canning.

Growth Habits

green colored vegetable

Determinate tomatoes reach a mature height of approximately 4 feet. They set all their fruit at once and then stop growing. As a result, they ripen all their fruit in a short period of time.

Some recommended determinate varieties include Celebrity, San Marzano Nano, Marglobe, and Rutgers.

Conversely, indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow and set fruit throughout the growing season. They can reach heights of up to 12 feet or more. Because of that, they require large, sturdy stakes or cages for support.

These types of tomatoes ripen slower than determinate varieties but provide a season-long supply of fresh eating tomatoes. They are better suited for those who enjoy harvesting small amounts of ripe fruit consistently throughout the season.

By understanding these differences in growth habits, you can plan accordingly by providing proper support structures such as trellises or cages for indeterminate varieties.

You can also plan your planting schedule based on whether you want a bulk harvest from determinates or continuous harvests from indeterminates.

Support and Pruning

person pruning plant

To ensure your tomato plants thrive and produce an abundance of delicious fruit, it’s imperative to provide proper support and regularly prune them.


Determinate tomatoes, with their compact growth habit, can generally be grown without additional support. However, using trellises or cages is still recommended to help keep the plants upright and prevent branches from breaking under the weight of the fruit.

Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, require tall stakes or sturdy cages for support due to their longer growth habit and continuous fruit production.


Determinate tomatoes usually don’t require pruning throughout the season. Their self-pruning gene stops foliage growth once flower clusters bloom.

Indeterminate tomatoes benefit from regular pruning. Removing suckers (the small shoots that grow between the main stem and branches) improves airflow, promotes larger fruits, and makes harvesting easier.

Pruning Techniques

When pruning tomatoes, remove suckers while they are small before they become too large and sap energy from the plant. It’s also recommended to remove any leaves that touch or come close to touching the soil as this can reduce disease risk.

Thinning out excess foliage also helps, as it improves airflow around the plant.

Harvest and Production

person collecting vegetable

When it’s time to harvest your thriving tomato plants, you’ll be amazed at the abundance of juicy, ripe fruit that awaits you in your garden.

Determinate tomatoes produce a large crop all at once, making them ideal for canning and sauce-making. Conversely, indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow and set fruit throughout the entire growing season.

Some popular indeterminate varieties are Beefsteak, Big Boy, Sweet Million, Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Big Beef, and Sungold.

To help you understand the differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes in terms of harvest and production more clearly, here is a table:

Determinate TomatoesIndeterminate Tomatoes
Height Approximately 4 feetUp to 12 feet
Fruit ProductionSets all fruit at onceContinues to set fruit throughout the season
Ripening TimeShort period of time Slower ripening
Support RequiredMinimal support neededSturdy stakes or cages required

Suitability for Containers

green plants in  wooden Containers

The portability and compact growth habit of determinate tomato varieties make them a great choice for container gardening.

Here are three reasons why determinate tomatoes are suitable for growing in containers:

  1. Size: Determinate tomatoes reach a mature height of approximately 4 feet, making them more manageable in smaller spaces like containers. Their bushy shape allows them to fit comfortably without taking up too much room.
  1. Support: Compact growth habit varieties of determinate tomatoes can be grown without support structures like trellises or cages. This factor makes it easier to maintain and care for the plants in a limited space, as there’s no need to worry about providing additional support.
  1. Fruit production: Determinate tomatoes produce most of their fruit at the same time. Thanks to it, you can expect a large early crop followed by more throughout the season. This aspect makes them ideal for those who want to enjoy a bounty of ripe tomatoes all at once or use them for preserving, such as making sauces or canning.

Overall, if you have limited space but still want to grow delicious homegrown tomatoes, consider choosing determinate varieties for your container garden. Their compact size and abundant fruit production make them a practical and rewarding choice for any gardener.

Canning and Cooking

Canning and Cooking

Canning and cooking with tomatoes is a delicious way to savor the flavors of summer all year round.

When it comes to choosing which type of tomato is best for canning and cooking, determinate varieties are often the top choice. Their compact growth habit and ability to produce a large crop all at once make them ideal for making sauces and preserving in jars.

Indeterminate tomatoes are better suited for fresh eating and providing a season-long supply. While they may not be as convenient for canning due to their slower ripening time, indeterminate varieties like Beefsteak or Cherokee Purple offer juicy flavor that’s great for slicing into salads or sandwiches.


Now that you understand the differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, you can make informed decisions for your garden.

If you have limited space or want a one-time harvest for canning purposes, go with determinate tomatoes. They’re compact and easy to manage.

However, if you have ample space and want a continuous supply of fresh tomatoes throughout the season, indeterminate tomatoes are your best bet. Just remember to provide them with proper support and pruning as they grow tall.

Happy gardening!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some recommended varieties of determinate tomatoes?

Some recommended varieties of determinate tomatoes include Early Wonder, Gold Nugget Cherry, Lady Finger, Northern Delight, Burbank Slicing, and Cream Sausage. These varieties have a compact growth habit and produce a large amount of fruit over a shorter time period.

Can indeterminate tomatoes be grown in containers?

Yes, they can.

That being said, they require larger containers and sturdy support like stakes or cages due to their longer growth habit and potential height of up to 12 feet.

How tall can indeterminate tomatoes grow?

Indeterminate tomatoes can grow up to 12 feet in height, making them suitable for large gardens or vertical gardening. They require sturdy stakes or cages for support and continue to produce fruit throughout the growing season.

Are there any semi-determinate tomato varieties available?

Yes, there are! Semi-determinate types produce fruit longer than determinate ones but stay smaller than indeterminate plants. They are well-behaved and can be grown in containers.

Which types of tomatoes are best for making sauces?

For making sauces, the best types of tomatoes are determinate varieties, such as Celebrity, San Marzano Nano, Amish Paste, Marglobe, and Rutgers. They set all the fruit at once and ripen in a short period of time.

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