determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes

silvery fir tree tomato


If you’ve been poring over seed catalogues, trying not to drool on the photos of tomatoes, you may have noticed that tomatoes can be classified according to whether they are determinate or indeterminate. If you’re wondering what this means, read on.


It’s actually fairly simple. Tomato plants that are indeterminate will keep growing until hit by frost. These are the tomato types that are grown year-round in greenhouses. They can grow to enormous heights – a friend who worked in such a greenhouse said they can get 15 or 20 feet high, pruned and trellised on twine. They use ladders to harvest them! In the home garden, though, they will most likely die at the end of the season, after their sprawling vines have taken over a good portion of your garden. You’ll want to stake these ones, unless you want them vining through your beans and lettuce.


Determinate tomato plants have a set life cycle; they grow, they flower, they fruit, they die. If you want to grow tomatoes in a pot on your patio or balcony, look for determinate types. My favourite is in the photo above: Silvery Fir Tree. The tomatoes are a normal-looking slicing tomato, bright red and tasty. The leaves, however, are the most delicate, feathery, pretty-looking tomato leaves. The photo below shows a comparison between normal leaves and Silvery Fir Tree leaves.


regular and silvery fir tree tomato leaves


Last year I put together an info sheet about growing tomatoes. If you’d like a refresher, please follow the link below for a printable PDF. The blog post is here.


Growing Tomatoes SKG


I’ve got some seedlings started now. They’re about 2 inches tall and wanting to be transplanted into bigger pots already, since they’re tired of sharing space. I planted the seeds in batches together, rather than in containers that would keep the individual seedlings apart. Tomatoes are easy enough to separate, but I need to transplant soon or the roots will be a tangled mess.


Some of my favourites, along with Silvery Fir Tree:


Chocolate Cherry (indeterminate): My kids request these EVERY year since we first grew them. A very tasty tomato that has darker patches.


Snow White Cherry (indeterminate): A pale yellow cherry tomato that has mild flavour. This year I’ll be planting them beside ‘Black Prince’ …. just because.


San Marzano (indeterminate): A paste tomato that is just about DRY inside when you cut it open. Cooks down into sauce very quickly.


New ones for me to try this year:


Humph (indeterminate): Awesome name, isn’t it? I can’t remember the description but I knew I had to have these. We’ll see how they turn out.


Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge (indeterminate): Just what it sounds like, I’d imagine. Another one I just had to try.


Eros (determinate): I’m a sucker for names. Tomatoes used to be called ‘Love Apples’…. so… you know… had to try this one.



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