Tomato Harvest

Tomato Basics: The Difference between Determinate and Indeterminate Types

So, you want to grow tomatoes but have no idea where to start? Here is a little article to explain the two types of tomato and what you can expect from each so you can grow yourself that hard to beat taste of homegrown, vine ripened tomatoes!

Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate types are also known as bush varieties – they grow in a bush like fashion and will usually grow between 3-5ft in height. The fruit will ripen at the same time though, so whilst this is perfect if you are keen on canning and preserving it is not so great if you want to eat tomatoes all season long. Determinate types will stop producing after the first flush of fruit ripens and the plant will start to die off but their fruit often ripens earlier than indeterminate types. 

Bush varieties are easy to grow in a container as a patio plant which is great if you have a small garden or do not have a large growing area and they often require no staking whatsoever. They are also very easy to take care of and require no pruning at all except for maybe the odd sucker. You should definitely never prune the growing tip of a determinate tomato as it will limit the amount of fruit the plant will produce.

Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomatoes are also known as vining tomatoes. They will continue to grow in height as the growing season progresses and will produce fruit all season long. They are perfect if you want a regular supply of lovely fresh tomatoes throughout the season. 

Indeterminate types will need regular pruning if you want to keep the plants in check. Many gardeners will prune their plants to a single stem to allow them to grow the plants vertically which also allows them to be planted closer together. Suckers should be pruned regularly to allow the plant to focus its energy on the main growing stem and, whilst removing suckers may reduce yields, your tomatoes will be of better quality – whether that be in size, juiciness or flavour! I would definitely rather sacrifice some of the harvest for an exceptional fruit!

The weight of the growing stems will be significant so the plants will require staking to avoid damaging the plant. Staking will also help to keep the plant in some sort of order as they do have a tendency to spread out and get tangled up! 

The growing tip should be removed towards the end of the growing season to force the plant to put its energy into the existing fruit development rather than new growth.

What are suckers? 

Suckers are mentioned all the time when people talk about tomatoes but what are they exactly?

Put simply, suckers look like little mini tomato plants that appear between a branch and the main tomato stem. They will eventually produce fruit if left on the plant but they will literally suck away energy from the rest of the plant to allow them to grow. If you choose to leave your suckers on the plant then they will form another main stem with its own suckers and the cycle continues. You will absolutely need additional supports if you leave the suckers on the plant!

You don’t have to let the sucker go to waste though – you can simply cut it off from the main tomato plant as close to the base as you can and pop the end of the cutting in a glass of water where it will form its own roots which can be replanted….a free tomato plant! 

It is worth noting that both types of tomato may benefit from removing the lower leaves to prevent them from touching the soil to avoid soil borne diseases affecting the plant foliage. 

The leaves and stem of a tomato plant are also poisonous and should never be ingested. It is however perfectly safe to add the plant material to the compost heap provided they are not diseased. 

Happy Sowing!