Vining Tomatoes vs. Bush Tomatoes: What's the Difference?

vining tomatoes

The Spruce / K. Dave

The tomato is top crop in the garden for many home vegetable growers. This fruit is so popular the quest for the perfect tomato has resulted in dozens of hybrids, and new varieties keep coming. There are so many choices, it can be hard to decide which kind to grow. But one major difference to consider is whether the plant is a vining variety or a bush or dwarf variety.

The terms vine tomato and bush tomato can be confusing because all tomatoes grow on vines. There is no plant called a tomato bush. These plants are described as either vining or bush for the shape they take on they mature.

Vining tomatoes are often described as being indeterminate, which is a term applied to tomato plants that continue to grow and produce fruit until a frost. But not all indeterminate tomatoes are vining varieties. This is especially true for cherry and grape types which have been hybridized to grow well in pots and even hanging baskets.

bush tomatoes closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

When to Choose a Vining Type Tomato

Vining tomato plants require work and attention and won't thrive if neglected. The rewards are well worth it, so if you choose vining tomatoes be prepared to spend some time with your plants.

Space and Staking

Growing and sprawling to 7 feet tall or more, vining plants need plenty of room and a good staking system. They can topple cages and cause a single stake to collapse from the weight of the fruits alone. All tomatoes, except hanging basket plants, benefit from staking to support fruit laden vines, however with vining varieties staking is essential. If you are gardening in a small space, or growing in large pots, bush and dwarf varieties are a better choice.

Pruning and Shaping

You can begin to control vining tomatoes early by pinching out suckers which appear as a new leaf in the juncture of two stems that are already growing. Pinching out suckers during the first several weeks of growth cuts down the number of vines which improves air circulation and helps you manage the plant more efficiently.

The vines will keep growing all season and will need to be continuously attached to a support. If left to grow on their own, they can break or droop causing fruit to rot or end up on the ground. As the end of the season approaches you can accelerate ripening of existing fruit by doing a heading back pruning cut on the vines.

Bush and dwarf varieties, on the other hand will often do well with a tomato cage or single stake. Their growth pattern keeps them more compact and easier to maintain. Pruning and suckering are optional and usually not needed. A little early suckering can improve air circulation but too much can lead to a smaller harvest. The combined weight of many fruits maturing all at once is the biggest reason to add support.

vining tomatoes

The Spruce / K. Dave

Why Choose a Vining Tomato Variety

Some notable qualities for vining type tomatoes include a long harvest, variety of sizes, and exceptional flavor.

Tomatoes All Season Long

You may have to wait a bit longer for the first ripe fruit, but once they are ready for harvest, you will find plenty of delicious tomatoes on your well-cared for vining plants every few days until frost. Bush tomatoes tend to produce lots of fruit that ripen all at once in flushes, a growth pattern referred to as determinate. Depending on the length of your growing season, the first harvest may be followed by a second flush, but you may be tomato poor in between. If you are growing tomatoes for fresh eating and cooking, vining varieties will give you a season long consistent yield.

Large Fruits With Exceptional Flavor

From the largest beefsteak variety to the smallest sweet cherry type, vining tomatoes are made for the table. With few exceptions, heirloom tomatoes are vining varieties and, if you are a tomato connoisseur, nothing will compare to heirloom flavor. Fruits mature as grillers, slicers, stuffers, sandwich, salad and snack/cherry types to boost the flavor of any dish.

Bush type tomatoes served fresh from the home garden won't lack for taste. They are the type most often grown commercially for their uniform, small to medium size, transportability and shelf life. As a result some hybrids sacrifice taste for tougher skin and denser flesh less susceptible to bruising.

Vining Tomato
  • Needs lots of room

  • Requires staking

  • Harvest smaller amounts all season long

  • Wide variety of sizes from extra large to cherry

  • Juicy with more seeds

  • Thin skin

  • Best fresh

Bush Tomato
  • Good for smaller spaces/pots

  • Staking recommended but optional

  • Usually one large harvest

  • Uniform small to medium size

  • Fewer seeds, denser flesh

  • Thicker skin

  • Best for canning, sauces