By Michelle Fabio
You may have heard these terms thrown around at your local seed store, in catalogs, or even at tomato exhibitions–but what do they mean?
Indeterminate tomatoes are the traditional, large, homegrown variety, and will grow and produce fruit until the first frost.
They can grow up to 12 feet tall, although the average is around 6 feet, and they will bloom and bear fruit throughout the season.
These tomatoes are typically called “vining,” and they require substantial staking or caging as well as regular pruning.
Most beefsteaks, heirlooms, and cherry varieties are indeterminate.
Determinate tomatoes are much smaller and often called “bush” because of their compact height–somewhere around 3 to 4 feet. Once the fruit sets, all ripen at about the same pace, within a 1 to 2 week span, and then the plant yellows and production drops off.
Because these are smaller plants, you won’t need to stake, cage, or prune as much if at all, and indeed, these are great for container gardens.
Typical determinate tomatoes are Rutgers, Roma, Marglobe, Pik-Red, and SuperBush.
There are also some tomatoes classified as semi-determinate, which, as you might guess, have features somewhere between indeterminate and determinate; they grow to between 3 and 5 feet tall and often require some support like staking or caging. They also may produce throughout the season, so these do require some pruning.
Some examples of semi-determinates are Celebrity and Mountain Pride.
Interestingly, until the early 20th century, all tomatoes were of the indeterminate variety until someone noticed a compact, determinate type growing in a field–a natural, fortunate mutation that has allowed all of us to try our hands at growing tomatoes even if we don’t have the space for a full vine.