determinate vs. indeterminate tomatos

nated(7)November 22, 2012


I have my limited pros and cons on this subject. I did try and search for this prior to posting, maybe i looked over the applicable thread. Basically i like the indeterminate tomato varieties because i don't have to replant for the fall. What is your experience and opinion(s)? Thanks,

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I like indeterminates in general and mostly grow this type, but there are some determinates I like to grow for specific reasons.

My first criteria in variety selection is productivity of a given variety, not whether it is determinate, semi-determinate, indeterminate or ISI. The second criteria is flavor. Third likely is disease resistance. Whether a plant is determinate or indeterminate is largely irrelevant to me when it comes to choosing varieties as long as I am not choosing something for a smallish container.

Some early varieties are determinates, but I am choosing them based on their earliness, suitability for container culture, flavor and disease resistance and it is incidental to the decision process that they are determinates or even semi-determinates.

The only reason I'd deliberately choose a determinate over an indeterminate would be if I was growing in a container unsuitable for an Indeterminate or if the determinate variety has a specific feature I'm seeking.

Of the 28 varieties currently on my 2013 Grow List, 22 are Indeterminates, 3 are determinates and 3 are semi-determinates. One of the container varieties is a cascading indeterminate, so it stays smaller than a regular indeterminate. Another container plant is determinate, and the third is semi-determinate. They were chosen for container culture so in that sense their size matters, but I have containers of all sizes, so it isn't the most important factor.

Of the remaining varieties, Phoneix F-1 is a hybrid determinate chosen because the fruit have good flavor and it has the heat-set gene.

The only other two on my list that could be determinate are Heidi and Principe Borghese, but for me they both grow like a semi-determinate (which is how I think of them) and get about 4-5' tall. They produce a lot at once like determinates tend to do, but also produce over a very long period. Generally I am sick of picking and processing them long before they slow down production. So, in that way, they are more like indeterminates.

As for choosing indeterminates in order to avoid replanting for fall, I have a different approach. In general, I prefer to plant new fresh plants for fall if I have space for them and if I am not too busy to plant them. Fresh, new plants usually give me about twice as many fruit per plant as older "tired" plants I am carrying over from spring. That doesn't mean I plant new fall tomatoes every year though. Sometimes I am too busy, and just yank out the most tired, pest-ridden or diseased spring-planted tomato plants and keep the rest. Sometimes I cut back the spring-planted indeterminates by about 50% when fruit set halts in high temperatures. Then I water them well and feed them if they need it. They generally put out a lot of new growth and produce okay in the fall, but not as well as fresh plants do.

Space available would be one reason to choose determinates over indeterminates if a person is really space-challenged. Or, if a person wants a lot of tomatoes at one time for canning or dehydrating, determinates generally will provide you with that. Otherwise, I find I like the productivity and the flavor of most indeterminates more than that of determinates.

I had high hopes for the indeterminate short internode types when they first hit the market, but many of them have been tough-skinned and we don't care for that. Also, their flavor tends to be nothing special....just typical run-of-the-mill red hybrid commercial type flavor and texture. Husky Red Cherry is an ISI type I grow sometimes, but mostly for tomatoes for dehydrating since it doesn't matter if they are tough-skinned if you're going to dehydrate them anyway. A reason I would choose the Husky series of ISIs instead of other full indeterminates or determinates would be their outstanding disease resistance, which is about 10000% more important to me in a very rainy year than in an average or dry year.

I'd suggest you decide what criteria matter most to you and choose varieties that you believe will fit that criteria. Then grow them and evaluate their performance. I usually give a variety that is new to me two years to prove it is worth growing. If it doesn't do that, I drop it. You likely will find that your criteria and your list of favorite varieties to grow will evolve over the years. There was a time, not too long ago, when I never could have imagined a Grow List that didn't include Cherokee Purple or Black Krim, but those long-time favorites have been superceded by JD's Special C-Tex, Gary 'O Sena, Spudatula and Spudakee Purple. If I had stuck only to my faves and not tried the others, I never would have discovered other varieties that gave us the same flavor but with better production and/or disease resistance and/or xuperior though very similar flavor. Experiment and choose what makes you happiest regardless of whether it is indeterminate or determinate, or if it produces tomatoes that are red, pink, purple, black, green-when-ripe, yellow, orange, white or bi-colored. When you have found the right tomatoes for your taste buds and your soil, it won't even matter to you if they are determinate or indeterminate.

I freely admit I have a strong bias against commercial hybrid determinate varieties and tend to not grow many of them any more. Most of them are bred so they can be harvested more easily, which tends to mean they are pretty firm and often thick-skinned. It definitely means that flavor usually was not the main goal of the breeder and it shows. Some breeders are working hard to breed flavor back into commercial determinate varieties, but even when they can fix the flavor, I still don't care for the hardness of the fruit or the thick skin. So, why would I choose them over indeterminates with better flavor, texture and nice skin that's not too thick or tough? For me, in the long run, it all comes down to flavor and texture. If I only wanted to grow for quantity, I'd just plant Super Boy and produce a billion fruit a year that I didn't much care to eat. However, in our difficult climate some of the fine open-pollinated indeterminates I prefer do not produce well. If I was growing only for flavor. I'd grow Brandywine and settle for about six fruit per year per plant in an average year. It takes a lot of trial and error to find the varieties that give you what you're seeking in a fruit and yet also produce well in your specific soil and weather conditions, while also tasting good to your tastebuds. Finding those varieties can be both fun and frustrating. It's all part of the journey.


    Bookmark   November 22, 2012 at 11:03PM
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My determinates always give me two crops. I never get my tomatoes into the ground or cattle tubs until late as the feed store never gets plants until late. Very late.

They just start fruiting nicely when the heat wants to take everything out. I heavily cut them back, & keep them watered enough to live through the heat. Then later, I start watering heavier, regularly using compost & alfalfa teas to bring them back to life for a fall crop. As a one time deal when "re-growing" I use tiny shot of black strap molasses; & a healthy dose of powdered milk to make up for whatever spring dose of powered milk may have already have been washed out of the cattle tubs. Since I grow a lot in tubs, I am guessing I wash a lot more of everything out faster, than normally would be retained in deeper ground soil.

Come Thanksgiving I am usually tired of coverng them up on cold nights, so yank them out. This fall was a much warmer fall than usual.

I do not have the means to properly stake up indeterinates, so definetly prefer determinates.

2013 I am going to try sprouting some seeds myself, so I can actually get them in the ground far earlier than usual.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 7:06PM
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crm2431(7 -Tahlequah)

So Waurika how,and in way and how severe do you trim them back?


    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 8:16PM
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Well there goes my past experience that determinate tomatoes quit after one crop. Thank you

    Bookmark   November 25, 2012 at 10:22AM
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Guessing on average I cut them back by 1/2 to 2/3's. I am pretty severe with them.

I do a lot of pinching back as the plants grow, so I usually have a double joint to choose from where I want to make my new top of plant.

At what shall then be the new top of the plant, I try to make that cut about an inch or so above a joint. The branches there I leave a couple of inches longer then the cut on the main stem. Like an odd trident, with the middle prong (the main stem) being shorter.

Any side branches remaining below this can be pretty short, or 3-4 inches long. I take off the actual leaf foilage, leaving the rest of the leaf stem attached to the main plant. It will shrivel & look ugly. But new branching usually will start at the joint on the main stem again later.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 3:56AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Nate, Some determinates produce repeated flushes of blooming and crops over a longer period of time, and others don't. Weather plays a role too, so the same variety won't necessarily behave the same way every year.

Really, though, the biggest factor in what kind of a crop I get...whether it is from determinates or indeterminates is how early I plant. Almost any tomato type (except for oxhearts) will produce heavily in our garden as long as we got it into the ground as early as we reasonably could without losing the plants to frost. The more the plant can grow, flower and set fruit before the temperatures reach the range that impede fruit set, the better the crop.

I should mention, too, that indeterminates tend to produce tomatoes with fuller, richer flavor than most (but not all) indeterminates. I've grown probably about 500 varieties of tomatoes and if I had to list my top 10, 20 or 25 based solely on flavor, I don't know if a single determinate would make the list. Well, maybe one or two would.


    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 10:07AM
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Until the last few years I've never grown many determinates. Most years 2-3 varieties at most. And usually one plant of each. Two of a variety at most. Although many of the market growers I know have always grown 25-40% determinates. As most will tell you I can be a little hard headed. But the last 4 years of drought has finally changed my planting habits some. The last 4 years with the drought, late springs and early heat I've only had a short harvest window early and another late. Determinates and semi-determinates have been the best performers production wise. Like Dawn stated determinate varieties vary and some will bear longer and have repeated flushes. The advantage of a indeterminate in a normal year is the continuous production. Although the initial flush will usually be smaller they will continue to set for the whole growing season. The last 4 years except in a few instances that hasn't been the case. Randy's Brandy has been an exception. This year as I expect at least some continuation of the drought cycle I'll be planting more determinate and semi- determinate varieties. When I post my 2013 list later I'll try to remember and list them as such. I haven't grown as many varieties as some but overall I'm like Dawn and prefer indeterminates for flavor and also continual production. Jay

    Bookmark   November 26, 2012 at 1:15PM
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Thanks everyone i really appreciate it. i learned a lot.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 7:02PM
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When I grew Marglobe, I pushed one of the branches into the ground, it rooted and gave a second crop, several weeks after the first. Sort of made a whole second plant. I guess I did a cutting. I can't remeber what type of cutting that's called?

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 10:01PM
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Plant propagation by layering.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 11:19PM
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I'm planting more this year, too. If we get hot early, I want a bunch of tomatoes to put up from at least some heavy producing determinates, if nothing else.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 10:45PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Tracy, Do you ever have a random cool spring there (cool for y'all, not cool for the rest of us) that surprises you and lets your tomatoes produce later than expected?

You have my sympathy. In the drought of 2011, I didn't can any tomatoes at all and it drove me crazy not having enough to can. I could have/would have canned in May and early June if I had known drought and relentless heat were about to set in and ruin the tomato season, but instead I was happily giving away tomatoes, figuring I'd can the later tomatoes. Well, the later ones were too few and far between to can. 2011 is the first year I can remember where I didn't can tomatoes from my garden.

You know that I compensated for 2011 by planting extra-early and in great quantity for 2012, and I canned until I couldn't see straight. It was both fun and exhausting. I hope you have a fun and exhausting canning season in 2013 because that's the kind of exhaustion that feels so good.


    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 10:28AM
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