Dr Holly’s Grow Your Own Food Series:   Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes

Last Update: May 8, 2021 at 12:28 pm


DATE:  May 5, 2021


Dr Holly’s Grow Your Own Food Series:


Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes


So far this year we have covered:

  • Layering different manures for the best soils
  • What to start inside versus direct sowing
  • What plants prevent what pathogens
  • Kitchen formulas for pathogens
  • Protecting your fruit trees
  • Plant Phenology – natures way of telling you when to plant what
  • Companion growing, intensity growing, and sequential growing
  • Growing mushrooms

So now we should have seen for most climates your perennial herbs popping up; we should have planted all of our cold weather vegetables like lettuce, kale, arugula, onions, cabbage, broccoli, beets, carrots and garlic from the fall should be doing well.

As the weather warms up we can start transplanting or planting your bought tomatoes. Remember tomatoes don’t like their leaves wet – pretty finicky – but they do like lots of water.

Make a framework for your tomatoes and other vine type vegetables like pole beans.  To give an example, my boxes for tomatoes and pole beans are 2’x6’. There is a 2×6 frame with 2’ support bars at either bottom and 3, 6’ bars across the top. Each 6’ stretch has 6 holes on either side with nylon cord hanging from each hole to allow the indeterminate tomatoes and pole beans to climb up.  

For the tomato boxes, I put a 4’x12’ piece of transparent plastic across the top of the tomato frame. There are 2, 4’ bars placed at right angles to and on top of the frame but under the plastic to keep the plastic out at the sides. This is a simple way to protect tomato plants from the wet of the dew and or rain. Then just water the soil, not the leaves and wholla – you will have a bountiful supply of tomatoes. 

Your pole beans don’t need this protection. Actually, nothing else in the garden needs the protection that I can think of. 

Now this may bring up a question for you – what is the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes? And do I really need to know? Well I would suggest that it is to your benefit to know as you will keep healthier and more productive plants if you do.

Determinate aka bush tomatoes have a specific lifespan, they are smaller and bushier; although they can be several feet high and wide; but they can still be grown in containers – great for balconies; they ripen fruit all at once and then die. If you can tomatoes, you can get a large crop and do all your canning at once. 

Your part in the process is DON’T prune the suckers. This will decrease the amount of fruit production. However, don’t throw them away. Put them into a jar with water and allow them to root and when you plant these guys, you have new tomato plants that do produce. If you want the roots to grow faster use a little rooting hormone, but I don’t. They always seem to grow well on their own.

The other type is the indeterminate tomatoes which become massive vines and therefore more appropriate for the gardens. They will continue to grow until the frost kills them. At the end of the season you can actually bring them into the garage; hang them upside down; and they will continue to produce and ripen – amazing. Some will even make a comeback next year – working on a few varieties. Technically, tomatoes are considered tender perennials although usually grown as an annual. 

They are native to South America and once planted in warm tropical habitats, they can last for years. Having said that, I have a friend who has a wonderful tomato plant – has to be an indeterminate but she has no idea what variety – that has been coming back for years and we live outside of Vancouver, BC – not what you would expect…so we are experimenting to see what we can do to recreate this process. 

These plants love to produce suckers which produce suckers which produce suckers, and you get fruit on all of them. These are the ones that most people prune as pruning tends to produce more fruit and in larger sizes as the plant is putting more effort into the fruit than into the suckers.  It also allows the air to get through to all of the leaves and allows you to keep an eye for pests and pathogens. 

So the basic differences are: indeterminates grow more like a vine than a bush and indeterminates require a lot of support and pruning but produce a lot more for longer periods; determinates can grow in containers but you want the garden for the indeterminates; determinates if you want to do all your canning at once; indeterminates if you want tomatoes throughout the season. So you can see why, if you are lucky enough to have a yard, you want both kinds of tomatoes.

Having said all that – yes there are varieties that are semi-determinate. But there are no apparent clear cut definitions as to which fall into which category…smaller indeterminates or larger determinates…?? Not only that you can also get dwarf tomatoes since about 2006. These are smaller plants that are great for the decks and even indoors, but they do not like heat and humidity.

If you come across the terms like heirlooms – those are the ones that have been cultivated for generations but are usually specific to a given region. German Johnson, Marglobe, Cherokee Purple and Homestead are a few examples for the more humid climates whereas Diener, Heidi, Maja and large German Cherry are great for the northwest. Each region will have it’s own heirlooms. So make sure you check what is best for your region.

Hybrids on the other hand, are better at resisting disease and pathogens and include Celebrity, Better Boy and Early Girl – of which I have all of them. Apparently if you have limited space, you can grow Bush Celebrity, Better Bush and Bush Early Girl in containers – great for decks.

For lists of different types of tomatoes: