How to Tell if Tomato Plants are Determinate or Indeterminate


Tomato plants generally fall into two categories, the determinate and the indeterminate one. Knowing which category your tomato plant belongs to is some important information to have. I have keenly researched this, and we’ll be sharing all the information you need to have here.

Observing its size and growth habits is the secret to knowing whether a tomato plant is determinate or indeterminate. In deriving the difference between these two, we might want to have some little background information on the grammatical meaning of the two words.

The word determinate implies something that has a determined or maximum size limit. On the other hand, the word indeterminate refers to something with no set limit to its size. Having gotten this understanding, you can easily relate it to your tomato plant and get a rough picture of whether it is determinate or indeterminate.

To further help you with your analysis, I wish to share some remarkable differences between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants. Determine tomato plants have a small stature and grow up to a certain limited size. They have the nature of producing their fruit in one go. Indeterminate tomato plants are large with long pliable branches and often produce fruits throughout their growing season.

There is a possibility for you to know whether your tomato plant is determinate or indeterminate if you had the chance to examine the seeds before planting. Reading the available label will help you know for sure. If your tomato plant is already mature, you can tell its category by looking at the size and how it is growing.

For instance, you will notice that an indeterminate plant has produced tomatoes all along the stems. You will observe a totally different thing with a determinate one because the tomatoes will be seen at the end of the branches.

Continue reading this blog post for more insights on the distinctions between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants.

How to Tell a Tomato Plant is Determinate

There are several ways for you to determine whether your tomato plant is determinate or indeterminate. They include the following:

Checking the growth habit

Determinate tomato plants will grow up to a certain size and then halt their growth. When they get to 2-4″ tall, their growth ceases. When you begin to spot flowers blossoming at its branches, the tomato plant has achieved its full height. For a gardener with a small space, this is an ideal version to go for. It can quickly be grown in a pot and placed in a balcony, deck, or patio.

The nature of the tomato fruit

You can tell your tomato plant is determinate by simply looking at the tomatoes. They are often ripe all at once, the product is a bit minimal, and the fruit is much smaller. Their main advantage is that they have a short growing season.

The leaves of the plant

Determinate tomato plants will have leaves close together on the stem. This makes the plant appear to have a compact and bushy nature.

Where the fruit appears

The tomato fruits on a determinate tomato plant will appear at the end of the branches. Therefore, looking at the position of the fruit is an easy way for you to know that your tomato plant is a determinant.

Examine the label

Before you plant your tomato plant, take some time to read the label. There is a clear indication on the label that will help you figure out if your tomato plant is determinate or not.

How to Tell Your Tomato Plant is Indeterminate

In most cases, there is no label on indeterminate tomato plants. Not to worry though, here are unique characteristics that can help you figure out that your tomato plant is indeterminate:

Continuous growth

Indeterminate tomato plants lack a set growth limit. They’ll continue growing until winter sets in, and they can no longer withstand the cold. The plant can become so tall and have long branches. Depending on the variety, the plant can grow up to 12-15″ tall. At some point, you may need to provide caging or staking for support purposes. For this reason, they prefer to be grown in gardens with ample space.

Fruit production

Indeterminate tomato plants are heavy producers. They will produce more tomato yield than their counterparts. They often take a more extended period before they can start producing fruits. Still, once they get started, they’ll keep at it until the frost interferes. Their tomatoes are more giant in size and will take a longer time before they ripen.

The position of the fruits

Indeterminate tomato plants will produce flowers along with the shoots and therefore have their tomatoes positioned all along the stem. Because they have many large fruits, each has to find a place on the plant!

Steps to Determine if a Tomato Plant is Determinate or Indeterminate

Having understood the different characteristics of determinate and indeterminate tomato plants, here are some steps you can follow to check for this:

Check the height of the plant

Watch your tomato growing for a while, then check its height. If it is short, probably less than four feet tall, it’s a determinate one. For instance, if it’s more than eight feet tall, it is an indeterminate tomato plant.

Check the flowers and fruit production

If your tomato plants flowers all at once and produces tomatoes at practically the same time that ripe all at once then stops producing, it is a determinate one. It is indeterminate if it takes a long time to produce but continues with production afterward with ripe fruits at a slow rate.

Check the leaves of the plant

If you notice that your plant’s leaves are close together, giving it a bushy appearance, it is a determinate tomato plant. If the leaves are spaced and resemble something like vines, your tomato plant is indeterminate.

If you see your tomato leaves curl, don’t worry about it. I wrote an article about why tomato leaves curl and how you prevent it. You can read it here.

Refer to the plant tag or the seed packet

Often, there will be an indication on the tag or seed packet on whether your tomato plant is determinate or indeterminate. Be keen to observe this before planting.

Examples of Determinate and Indeterminate Tomato Plants

You can easily judge if the tomato plant is determined or indeterminate by referring to the lists I am sharing with you.

See the following table capturing determinate and indeterminate tomato plants varieties. Each of these is varieties that are commonly available to gardeners.

Determinate TomatoesIndeterminateTomatoes
CelebrityBeefsteak
Better BushAlicante
MarglobeAmarillo
RutgersAussie
Tumbling TomsBetter Boy
Plum CrimsonBig Daddy
Principe BorgheseBlack Cherry
Red RobinBolsena
RomaBrandywine
Scarlet RedCherry Roma
Shady LadyDutchman
TribecaGiant Tree
Zebra CherryHusky Gold
Heritage
Italian Heirloom

The Suitability of the Determinate and Indeterminate Tomato Plants

Determinate and indeterminate tomato plants have their own pros and cons. I wish to share some advice that will help you decide when choosing which one to plant.

Go for the determinate tomato plants when:

You have a small garden

Because of their small nature, they are the ideal types you can grow if your garden is limited in space. You also have the alternative of quickly planting them in a pot or container and then place them on your balcony or patio.

Have little time for maintenance

Because these plants are smaller in size, they will be easy for you to manage. You don’t need to start thinking of a support mechanism because the plant will not grow that tall anyway.

Also, before any common disease issues begin, the plant would have been done with production.

If you desire to harvest your tomatoes at once

If you are, for instance, into the canning process, the best variety of tomato plants to grow is the determinate ones. This is because they will grow fruits first, and all of them will ripe all at once; therefore, you can continue with your canning process hitch-free.

Your garden is for multipurpose use

Because determinate tomato plants produce first, once the plant is finished with its first batch, you can easily remove it and put that garden space to a different use. This way you can enjoy a variety of plants in the same garden.

Master Growing TOMATOES With This Mind-Blowing Video

The video below will take you through loads of other information about tomatoes. I filmed this and it is typical of the type of videos I make on my YouTube channel. If you love growing tomatoes and want to know more then watch the video, and if you find value consider subscribing to the YouTube channel for more great content like this. Here is the link.

You can choose indeterminate tomato plants when:

You wish to enjoy some fresh tomatoes from your garden throughout the summer season

Because determinate tomato plants keep producing fruits until the onset of frost, you can choose to go for this variety if you are like me and would like to enjoy fresh tomatoes for longer.

Your garden has enough space

If you have adequate space in your garden, then indeterminate tomato plants are a good option. Because of the size and the fact that they continue growing for longer, a big garden space will support their nature.

You are growing them for commercial use

Indeterminate varieties produce more fruits and do this for longer. They are therefore an ideal choice if you have plans of selling them. You will be assured of more income and a consistent supply with this variety.

You love to have some gardening moments

This variety requires more maintenance because the plant does not stop growing. You will need to take some time to prune and stake the plant. If you are someone who enjoys gardening tasks, indeterminate plants will give you that chance.

Conclusion on how to tell if tomato plants are Determinate or Indeterminate

The distinction between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants can be established by checking the size, growth habits, and how long production takes. In this blog post, I aimed at ensuring you derive a perfect understanding of the differences between the two categories.

Armed with this knowledge, you can easily tell whether the tomato plants you have in your garden are determinate or indeterminate. I have also shared some insightful thoughts to help you select a variety that best suits your needs.

As I conclude, I wish to share a trick that can help you remember the difference: the determinate tomato plant has a determined growing season and number of fruits.

The indeterminate one has an undetermined size, length, and several fruits. I wish you a fruitful and enjoyable gardening experience!

Tomatoes are great to grow, especially if you follow the basic rules and growing methods. I wrote a detailed article on growing tomatoes at home to ensure perfect results every time. Read that here.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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