One of the most common questions about tomato plants is what the difference is between determinate and indeterminate varieties. Once you know the difference, it’s easy to make informed decisions about which tomatoes will work best in your garden.
The most simple explanation of the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes is that determinate tomatoes bear their crop all at once, while indeterminate tomatoes bear fruit over the course of a season.
These varieties stop growing once they reach full size, which is usually three to four feet tall. As a result plants set all their fruit at once, bearing over a four to five week period and then are done. If you want to grow in containers, you’ll probably want to stick with a few different determinate varieties. They are more well-behaved and better suited to container culture. You can certainly grow indeterminate tomatoes in containers, but be prepared to be vigilant about staking or caging, as well as pruning the suckers to maintain compact growth.
They may require a limited amount of caging and/or staking for support, should NOT be pruned or “suckered” as it severely reduces the crop, and will perform relatively well in a container (minimum size of 5-6 gallon). Examples are: Rutgers, Roma and Celebrity (called a semi-determinate by some).
These varieties of tomatoes are also called “vining” tomatoes. They will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although 6 feet is considered the norm. They will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the growing season.
They require substantial caging and/or staking for support and pruning and the removal of suckers is practiced by many but is not mandatory. The need for it and advisability of doing it varies from region to region. Experiment and see which works best for you. Because of the need for substantial support and the size of the plants, indeterminate varieties are not usually recommended as container plants. Examples are: Big Beef, Goldie, most cherry types, Early Girl, most heirloom varieties, etc.