What Is a Determinate or Indeterminate Tomato?

determinate tomato variety

The Spruce / K. Dave

With the wide variety of tomatoes varieties, gardeners often focus on whether to grow standard, beefsteak, oxheart, cherry, Roma, sauce, grape, plum, or one of the many types of heirloom species. But before getting to this point, you have to make a more basic decision about tomato growth habits: whether to grow determinate or indeterminate tomato varieties.

The Determinate/Indeterminate Distinction

The two types of tomato plant growth habits are:

Determinate tomatoes grow to a predetermined height (approximately four feet tall). The plant stops growing when fruit sets on the top bud, and all fruit ripens at or near the same time (usually over a two-week period), and then the plant stops producing fruit and dies. Most sauce tomato varieties are determinate so that the entire crop ripens at once for making sauce, canning, and jarring in large batches. The restricted growth habit makes indeterminate tomatoes more suitable for growing in containers than indeterminate tomatoes and consume much less garden space. Staking is required but not nearly the heavy duty staking required by indeterminate tomato varieties.

Indeterminate tomatoes grow, flower, and produce fruit throughout the growing season until the first fall frost kills the plant. Given their long growing season, indeterminate tomatoes grow to be quite large and tall. Plants can reach heights of up to 12 feet although six feet is typical. Because of their size, they also require very sturdy staking or caging over the course of the season. So robust is the growth pattern on some indeterminate varieties that ordinary tomato cages are often inadequate. You may need to stake these large plants with heavy metal rebar stakes or another sturdy support structure.

Key Differences


  • Predetermined, smaller plant size
  • Fruit ripens fairly early in the season over a two-week period
  • Ideal for mass canning, jarring
  • Plants usually die by midsummer freeing space for other plants
  • Requires less sturdy staking and caging
  • Suitable for containers
  • Can be integrated into flower beds


  • Large plants with sprawling and unlimited size
  • Plants continue to grow, flower, and produce fruit all season
  • Grows until frost kills the plant
  • Requires strong, study support and staking
  • In-ground planting is recommended rather than containers
  • Well suited for large, dedicated vegetable beds
determinate tomatoes

The Spruce / K. Dave

indeterminate tomatoes

The Spruce / K. Dave

How Do You Choose?

So how do you decide what's best for your garden?

If you have a large garden and would like heavy crops of tomatoes at certain points in the season, you might want to plan for several determinate varieties. You would look for two basic pieces of information in the plant catalog or on the plant label when making this decision. Look for the word "determinate" or the abbreviation "DET" so you know the growth habit of the plant. Next, look for the number of days to maturity, which is when the plant will set fruit. To get several nice harvests, try to combine determinate varieties that bear early, mid, and late season. If you are interested in canning, saucing, or drying your tomatoes, this is probably the best way to go—many ripe tomatoes at once.

If you want tomatoes for the course of the season for snacking and adding to salads and sandwiches, it is best to grow indeterminate varieties. Several types of indeterminate tomatoes are very prolific, and two or three plants will more than suffice to meet the needs of a family of four. Many favorite heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate varieties. When shopping for your tomato plants, look for the word "indeterminate" on the label, or the abbreviation "IND" (or, less commonly, "INDET").

If you want to grow tomatoes in containers, you'll probably want to stick with a few different determinate varieties. (Better yet, look for patio tomatoes or dwarf tomatoe varieties). Determinate tomato plants are more well-behaved and better suited to container culture. You can certainly grow indeterminate tomatoes in containers, but be prepared to be vigilant about staking or caging, as well as pruning the suckers to maintain compact growth.

Both indeterminate and determinate tomatoes offer choices for all types of tomatoes. You can find both determinate and indeterminate varieties of beefsteak, Roma, or cherry tomatoes, for example.


Here are some suggestions for recent tomato varieties with good reviews from horticulturalists and garden authorities:

  • Better Boy: Indeterminate hybrid beefsteak tomato. Produces fruit 10 to 16 ounces in size about 75 days from planting.
  • Big Beef: Indeterminate hybrid beefsteak tomato. Produces fruit 10 to 12 ounces in size about 73 days from planting. Was a 1994  All-America Selections Winner.
  • Big Boy: Indeterminate hybrid tomato. Produces fruit 10 to 16 ounces in size about 78 days after planting.
  • Celebrity: Determinate hybrid globe tomato. Produces fruit about 8 to 10 ounces in size about 70 days from planting.
  • Early Girl: Indeterminate hybrid globe tomato. Produces fruit about 8 ounces in size about 50 to 52 days after planting.
  • Juliet: Indeterminate hybrid elongated cherry tomato. Produces 1 ounce fruit about 60 days after planting. Was a 1999 All-America Selections Winner.
  • Sun Sugar: Indeterminate hybrid cherry tomato with orange fruit. Produces 1 ounce fruit about 62 days after planting.

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