There are two types of tomatoes when classified based on the growth of their plants. These are determinate and indeterminate.
Although these two types of tomato plants are differentiated mostly by their growth patterns, there are a few more differences between them. In this article, the differences between them are discussed.
- 1 What does determinate and indeterminate mean?
- 2 How to tell determinate from indeterminate tomatoes?
- 3 2. Indeterminate Tomatoes
- 4 Differences: Determinate vs Indeterminate
- 5 Which type of tomato should you plant?
- 6 Summary
What does determinate and indeterminate mean?
As mentioned already, tomatoes or tomato plants can be divided into determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.
According to Wikipedia, in general, determinate and indeterminate cultivars differ on the time that the plants develop, bloom, and bear fruits and flowers.
The term ‘determinate’ directly refers to the fact that a gardener can roughly determine the plant’s rate of growth, maximum length and height, and the time it takes for it to grow.
The term ‘indeterminate’ naturally refers to the opposite. Although there is a known range of parameters typical of an indeterminate tomato plant’s growth, it is still quite difficult to accurately predict the degree of their development.
There are actually other methods of classifying tomatoes.
Read more: Different types of tomatoes
How to tell determinate from indeterminate tomatoes?
It is actually relatively easy to tell the differences of determinate and indeterminate tomato plants just by their appearance. However, this is also only true when the plant is at least already somewhat developed. Here are some characteristics of determinate and indeterminate tomatoes to tell them apart.
1. Determinate Tomatoes
Determinate plants are quite easy to tell once they are grown because of their leaves. Unlike indeterminate tomatoes, determinate tomatoes have leaves that can grow into a bush.
The leaves of a determinate tomato can be tight and compact. Their flowers can grow facing outwards making the entirety of the plant actually look beautiful
You can expect determinate plants to not grow tall. They stay short and can reach up to a maximum size of about 4 feet.
It is worth noting that tomato plants are all vine plants. Meaning that, despite determinate plants growing into tight, bush-like structures, they still have vines albeit a lot shorter than their counterpart.
2. Indeterminate Tomatoes
While determinate tomatoes are easily described as bushes, indeterminate tomatoes plants are characterized by their overreaching vines. Although these vines are not solely exclusive to indeterminate plants, they are unique in that they grow way longer.
Indeterminate tomatoes are taller than four feet and can grow to a staggering 12 feet of height. However, indeterminate tomatoes that are 6 and 7 feet are actually quite common.
It is easy to identify indeterminate tomatoes just from their height alone. If that is not enough of a giveaway to you, then the long vines and leaves crawling along a tomato plant cage will most likely tip you of them already.
Differences: Determinate vs Indeterminate
As you may know already, both types of tomato plants are not solely differentiated by their appearances alone. In fact, you can even say that appearance is not the main indicator between them. After all, gardeners can still somewhat control the appearance of the plants which can be deceptive.
Here are some aspects of tomato plants where these two types actually contrast with each other.
1. Growth Period
As mentioned before, growth is probably the main aspect to consider when comparing determinate tomatoes to indeterminate tomatoes.
Determinate tomato plants can fully grow from its seed and have their fruits ripened in a matter of 3-4 weeks. If grown from a seedling instead, it may take as short as one week up to as long as three.
The generally accepted maximum time that a determinate tomato can grow is 45 days. Any longer than 45 days, then the tomato plant is most likely already classified as indeterminate.
Indeterminate tomato plants, on the other hand, can have their fruits ripen only after at least 45 days. If planted as seeds, it can take as long as around 90 days for them to be ready for harvest.
2. Harvest and Life Span
Closely associated with their growth is the tomato plants' life span.
Determinate tomato plants grow fast. However, they also die faster than their counterpart. The lifespan of a determinate plant consists of only one harvest. They grow from a seed, bear fruits and flowers, and then die afterward.
Indeterminate tomato plants do not die after just one harvest. This is their biggest advantage even though they grow slow. After the initial yield, they can continue living. In fact, if you plant them in spring, they will last long enough up to winter. You can harvest their fruits multiple times.
This refers to the things that may be necessary to support the tomato plants’ growth.
Determinate tomato plants require less support in the manner of staking or caging. Because they grow bushes more than vines, you will not need to put in much effort into making the perfect cage for them just to make sure they grow well.
However, this does not mean that staking is absolutely necessary. As mentioned before, tomato plants ultimately have vines whether they are determinate or indeterminate. Therefore, it is still necessary to make sure that these vines do not touch the ground.
Indeterminate tomato plants require more caging and support. Because of how long the vines can be, if not tended to properly, they will reach the ground and rot faster. Additionally, if liquid fertilizer is sprayed at the base of the plant, the vines are at risk of burning if left unattended.
Speaking of fertilizers, indeterminate tomato plants may need more nourishment than determinate plants due to their sheer size. Hence, you may apply fertilizers to further support their growth.
Read more: best fertilizer for tomatoes.
Which type of tomato should you plant?
There are factors to consider when choosing between determinate and indeterminate tomato plant types. Here is a short list of some of them.
Use – If you plan to continuously harvest, then indeterminate plants would be better for you. On the flip side, if you only need to use tomatoes for a certain period of time, like an event, you may want determinate tomatoes instead.
Space – As mentioned before, determinate tomatoes are compact. Depending on the variety, you can even grow them in containers. Meanwhile, indeterminate tomato plants are large and tall. You will need to set aside a specific space in advance to accommodate their growth.
Effort – Indeterminate tomato plants generally require more effort and care. In contrast, determinate plants are easier to handle. Therefore, if you have the time and sufficient interest, you can go for indeterminate plants. If not, go for determinate plants instead.
Although you can choose either type, it is actually recommended to just plant a few of both types. This is so that you can test what tomato plants can grow well in your area. If you are interested in planting tomatoes, you can check out the best heirloom tomato seeds to learn more.
You have finally learned about the differences between the determinate tomatoes and indeterminate tomatoes. It is actually rather easy to distinguish them from each other. However, choosing what type of tomato to plant may be a bit harder. Fortunately, with some research and experience, there is nothing that can’t be done.