Types of Tomatoes: Indeterminate, Determinate and Dwarf

Do you know which types of tomatoes are best for your vegetable garden? Here are the differences between indeterminate, determinate and dwarf varieties.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

Tomatoes are among the most-loved plants of the vegetable garden. And it’s not just because gardeners love eating these tangy fruits fresh off the vine, but also because we love cooking, canning and preserving them for winter enjoyment, when we long for their fresh-from-the-garden flavor. Now that tomato-planting season is at our doorstep, it’s time to consider what types of tomatoes to include in this year’s garden.

Which Types of Tomatoes Are Best for You?

When it comes to tomatoes, each variety fits in one of three primary categories: indeterminate, determinate and dwarf.

Indeterminate Types of Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomatoes are those varieties whose mature height and width is not predetermined by their genetics. The vines will continue to grow and produce fruits until their growth is stopped by a killing frost. Indeterminate tomato varieties can grow quite large, with well-fed plants reaching upwards of 8-10 feet in a single season. Pruning is often required to keep the plants to a manageable size.

Indeterminate tomato vines continually produce fruit over a long season, on a rolling ripening schedule. These varieties are excellent for gardeners with plenty of space who like picking a fruits every day. Many cherry tomato varieties are indeterminate, as evidenced by their rambunctious growth habit.

Determinate Types of Tomatoes

For this category of tomatoes, their mature height is predetermined by their genetics. Most determinate types of tomatoes reach around 4 feet tall at maturity and then their growth stops. Often called “bush” or “patio” tomatoes, determinates are excellent for small gardens, containers and raised beds because of their smaller stature and better-behaved growth habits.

The fruits on determinate tomatoes tend to all set and ripen at the same time, or close to the same time, making these varieties excellent for food preservers and canners. If you grow all determinate tomatoes that ripen at the same time, you can spend just a few days canning quarts and quarts of sauce, juice and soup all at once, rather than needing to do it multiple times throughout the season. Commercial farms who grow for ketchup, soup and sauce manufacturers almost always opt for determinate tomatoes to streamline the harvesting and processing procedures.

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Dwarf Types of Tomatoes

A new breed of tomatoes is emerging as well: dwarfs. Though these varieties are fairly new, they’re genetically stable and afford urban and small-scale gardeners an excellent option. With most varieties maxing out at just three to four feet, these dwarf tomatoes come in a broad range of colors and fruit sizes on compact, dark-leaved, productive plants. You can find more about the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project here, and you can buy seeds for some of the available dwarf tomato varieties here.

In addition to dwarf tomatoes from this breeding project, there are many other compact types available to gardeners from other breeders as well, including varieties like Tumbling Tom and Sweetheart of the Patio that can even be grown in hanging baskets.

As you’re deciding which types of tomatoes to include in your garden be sure to take their disease resistance into consideration, too. Healthy plants produce more fruits. With flavors that range from smoky to mild and tangy to sweet, tomatoes come in a broad range of flavors and colors. Don’t be afraid to try something new; you never know when you’ll find a new favorite.

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