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Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomato Plants
Simplified, determinate tomatoes produce the bulk of their tomatoes all at once. They are generally smaller bush style plants. Indeterminate tomatoes produce tomatoes all season long, they generally are large and at times cumbersome plants that require cages, stakes and assorted forms of support to keep them from sprawling across the ground. Indeterminate tomatoes are 'vining' plants, while determinates are 'bush'.
Determinate Tomatoes are advantageous to gardeners with limited space and are ideal for container gardens. They also reduce the harvest time to a few short weeks durring which the bulk of tomatoes can be harvested. Determinate tomatoes are preferred for canning and preserving, since the whole crop comes in simultaneously. They also ripen fairly early and rapidly, although once again there are exceptions to every rule. For companion planting or integrated gardening they are more easily worked in with other plants, both edible and ornamentals, with minimal interferance. Indeterminates on the other hand are best suited for dedicated vegetable gardens.
Pinching Back: If you choose to pinch determinate tomatoes, do so prudently. Light pruning by pinching can be done to maintain shape, but pinching back after bud break poses the risk of pinching out buds, which the plant shant replace. You are reducing the yield and not neccesarily improving the quality substantially.
If you've already planted and aren't sure what you have, determinate varieties cease producing shoots once flowers form on the ends. Indeterminate are like the energizer bunny and they just keep going and going ...
Indeterminate Tomatoes produce more prolifically and contimue producing till seasons end, if all goes well. You can usually expect a larger yield from indeterminate varieties spread out over a longer time frame. Most heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate.
How to tell Determinate from Indeterminate varieties
Seed Packets are a wealth of information, most of which is usually overlooked by uniformed gardeners. Most, not all, just most seed packets for tomatoes will tell you whether the product is a determinate or indeterminate variety. Abbreviations are at times used IND or INDET for indeterminate and DET for determinate.
Semi Determinate Tomato Varieties
You may also come across tomato varieties listed as 'semi-determinate'. Semi's as common sense should tell you, aren't quite part of either group and fall into the cracks between determinate and indeterminate so far as their growth habits are concerned. Most semi-determinate tomatoes will produce a primary crop that ripens early and nearly together, but will also continue to produce diminished yields up until first frost. Semi determinates are best staked like an indeterminate.