If you start paying attention to the info on the back of seed packages or catalogue descriptions you will start to notice one of two words showing up. Determinate or Indeterminate.
What’s the difference?
Determinate= a bush-type plant, meaning that the plant has a “determinate” height. It will grow to a point then will stop growing up. All new growth will then take place from side-shoots off the main stem. And the plant will be bushy. These plants usually set fruit and ripen in a concentrated span of time, making this a great type if you want to can tomatoes.
Growing determinate plants: use a tomato cage, a good sturdy one, it might be helpful to also put a stake near the main stem and tie the stem to it. It will keep the plant from toppling over when its heavy with fruit.
Indeterminate= vine-type plant. This is a tomato that will continue to grow and has an “indeterminate” height. These can be unruly, if not staked and caged well. For those of you in Texas you know what I mean. In August the tomato vines will be heavy and 10 feet tall and still growing. And you will be looking at this profuse vine thinking “what am I supposed to do with this?” These types set fruit and ripen continuously, so you have an ongoing supply of tomatoes from the vine.
Growing indeterminate plants: use a very tall stake or tomato ladder so the vines can grow up. This helps to keep the fruit off the ground which leads to a whole other set of problems.
I’ve also been known to drive in a T-post and use in conjunction with a cage. When the vines get too heavy for the cage to support it, the T-post will prop the cage up. T-posts are in abundance on the ranch because we use them to build barbed-wire fences.
One type is not better than the other, but it’s helpful to know what kind you are growing when planning your garden. You can select specific types depending on what you want to accomplish or the planting space you have available. Personally I like a variety of both in my garden. I have a small raised-bed garden at my house and a large plot in our family garden out at the ranch. In my small home garden I’ve planted a variety of both indeterminate and determinate tomatoes.
The determinate types will suit my purposes better at home because they are compact plants and will ripen in a concentrated period of time. I can harvest my main tomato crop, then move on to my next crop and get the most out of my small garden. I’m also hoping to have enough come off at one time to can (aka put up) my crop.
At our ranch plot, I’ve got more indeterminate varieties because we have much more space and can provide plenty of room for the plants to spread out. I’m hoping the indeterminates can provide a just-in-time regular delivery of homegrown tomatoes to eat throughout the season.
One last note about growing tomatoes in Texas: think of growing tomatoes in 2 shorter growing seasons, instead of one long season. Tomatoes will take a hiatus from mid-July to late August when it’s too hot. In fact, most tomatoes will not set fruit when overnight temps reach 80-85 degrees.
My plan is to grow an early crop, pull up spent plants, then replant in late August for a fall harvest.
Fingers crossed. Happy Gardening 🙂