Understanding the Growth: Determinate vs Indeterminate Plants

If you are a new gardener, you probably heard experienced gardeners share their thoughts on indeterminate or indeterminate tomatoes or eggplants. The gardening world can sound intimidating at times with so many nomenclatures and terms, and knowing this one can make it or break for your garden, and you will understand why as I dive into what it means.  

In the wild, plants evolved various growth strategies for survival and reproduction. Some plants naturally evolved a determinate growth habit, and others, Indeterminate plants, evolved with their ability to grow and produce fruits or flowers continuously. As agriculture developed, farmers began selecting plants for traits that suited their needs, including yield, size, taste, and growth habits. This unintentional and later intentional selection led to the development of more distinct determinate and indeterminate forms.

Determine vs indeterminate meaning

While determinate tomatoes are often the go-to choice for large-scale agricultural operations due to their uniform and simultaneous fruiting, indeterminate varieties hold a special place in the hearts of many backyard gardeners. These vining tomatoes are cherished for their continual yield throughout the growing season.

Determinate varieties plants are smaller, bushier, and produce a standard amount of fruit in a set period of time. Determinate tomatoes tend to stay around 5 feet tall produce the majority of the fruits, and decline fast after. 

Indeterminate varieties, on the other hand, will grow almost in a vine-like grow habit for a long period of time, producing fruits in smaller increments. These varieties often need extra support, such as Florida weave, taller cages, trellis, or arch to grow.  Theoretically, indeterminate tomatoes, for example, could last more than a year as they are perennial plants (complete their life cycle in more than a year). However, frost and pathogens tend to kill the plant before that happens. 

Diverse Veggies, Diverse Strategies: Tailoring Garden Choices to Climate and Space

In my backyard, I’ve cultivated both types of tomatoes, each with its distinct appeal. However, when it comes to other vegetables, I have a strong inclination towards determinate varieties. This preference stems from their compact growth habit and concentrated harvest period, which I find more manageable and fitting for my gardening style. Potatoes (one of the Solanaceae members), can require a quite long season to grow and prefer cooler temperatures. As a gardener in an area with very few months of cool weather, I need to focus on varieties with fast turnaround times in winter. Some determinate varieties can be harvested within 60-75 days, whereas indeterminate varieties can take as long as 140 days to harvest. 

It’s important to note that both indeterminate and determinate growth patterns are not exclusive to tomatoes. Vegetables like beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, and eggplants exhibit these varied growth habits. This diversity allows gardeners to select varieties that best suit their space, climate, and lifestyle. 

I personally like indeterminate beans (vining) beans over bush beans, as lack of space is one of my biggest problems at times. I sneak vining beans in the corner of my tomato cages, or in my archway. Bush tomatoes tend to require no more than ¼ of a square foot per plant, so whenever I have corners of my beds with insufficient space for most crops, I sneak a bush bean there. 

Squash (zucchini or winter squash) are wildly different taste wise in my opinion, and are also quite different when it comes to their growth habit. Zucchini plants tend to be more compact, while winter squash grow like a vine. However, both plants are prone to the same issues, such as powdered mildew, downy mildew, and squash borrower’s insects.

Which variety should you grow?

I always recommend experimenting with different types of plants and mixing what you grow depending on your needs. For example, for places with short growing seasons, such as Alaska, determinate varieties and early-bearing plants may be the best choice, as indeterminate varieties may not produce enough or produce on time to justify the time and effort required to grow the plant to maturity. Determinate plants are also great for folks doing container gardening or with small spaces.

If you are located in a place with a long growing season, it may be beneficial to grow both. The determinate variety will allow you to have a lot of tomatoes at once (ideal for canning and preserving), and indeterminate varieties will last a long time until either pathogens or the weather take them. In 2021 to 2022 I had the same tomato plant from August 2021 to June 2022 because the winter was quite mild and we did not get a frost. However, my plants from August of 2022 died in December of 2022 due to an early frost. In this scenario, a determinate variety would be more beneficial as I would have harvest a substantial amount of fruits before it got killed.

Favorite tomatoes varieties

I am the kind of gardener who will grow almost anything and always experiment with different varieties. One of my favorite things about gardening is that every year is different, and the problems tend to also be different. At the beginning of 2023, pest pressure was off the roof; I had so many tomato hornworms, cutworms, beetles, and stink bugs that I lost a lot of tomatoes to them. It was honestly disheartening, and tomato season ended sooner than later. This season, fall of 2023, was marked by a few tomato hornworms (handpicked) and blight striking sooner than later. Root-knot nematodes ( microscopic roundworms that infect plant roots, causing the formation of distinctive galls or “knots” that hinder the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients) also made their appearance very clear. Those issues made tomato season overwhelming for the majority of the tomatoes, especially my heirloom varieties. However, my hybrid varieties, resistant to root-knot and blight thrived! One variety in particular (Jasper F1) has produced over 40lb of tomatoes so far!

 I will share with you some of my favorite varieties, including hybrids and heirlooms. I also would like to add that hybrid varieties are nothing more than plants created through the crossbreeding of two genetically distinct parent lines, typically from the same species. This process combines desirable traits from both parents, resulting in offspring with improved characteristics such as higher yield, disease resistance, or specific physical attributes. Saving seeds from your hybrid plants does not result in the same plants as they are not true to type. On the other hand, heirlooms are varieties that were kept by generations, and seeds tend to remain true to type. Hybrids can be advantageous for folks focusing on production and heirloom for those focusing on being self sustainable (by purchasing seeds only when necessary).

Indeterminate: Black beauty (my favorite taste and look wise, but not a big producer and prone to a lot of pathogens), Black Cherry, Sungold, Jasper F1, Edox F1, San Marzano 2 F1, Indigo Cherry drops, Mountain Magic F1

Determinate: Calahad F1, Celebrity Plus F1, Mountain Fresh F1, Mountain Merit F1 (favorite production wise), Gold nugget 

Final thoughts

I hope this post clarified a little bit about these terms of the garden world. As I always say, if you have the opportunity, space, and ability, please consider gardening. Gardening is good for nature, for you, and for your soul! Happy gardening!

Get Your Free Raised Bed Guide for Beginner Gardeners

Learn the principles of having a successful raised bed garden.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.