What Is an Indeterminate Tomato Plant?

Overview

A favorite of home gardeners, indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow, producing long vines with stems, leaves and fruit, until the first frost. Determinate tomatoes grow in more of a bushy shape, produce their fruit in a limited time frame, and stop vertical growth at seven weeks, according to the University of Florida Extension, making them more suitable for mechanical harvesting.

Considerations

Indeterminate tomato plants are the "standard, all-summer tomatoes that most people like to grow," according to the Arizona Cooperative Extension. Left alone, they would sprawl on the soil, making the fruits susceptible to rot. Most horticulturalists, including the University of Minnesota Extension, recommend that they be grown in tall, sturdy cages made of cement reinforcing mesh.

Size

The giant vines can reach 6 feet outdoors in North America and 20 feet in more tropical areas. Grown in greenhouses, mature indeterminate tomato plants may be 40 feet in length and can grow even more, according to the Arizona Cooperative Extension. Vigorous indeterminate varieties grown outdoors may need 4 feet between plants and 5 to 6 feet between rows.

Varieties

Indeterminate globe varieties include Big Boy, Better Boy, Bigger Girl, Early Girl, Chianti Rose, Green Zebra, Lemon Boy and Beef Steak. Cherry-type indeterminate tomatoes include Super Sweet 100, Sun Sugar and Sun Gold, according to the Washington State University Extension.

History

Most older varieties of tomato predating the mechanization of the U.S. commercial tomato harvest in the 1960's are indeterminate. Brandywine, one of the most famous heirloom tomatoes with a century of recorded history, is a classic indeterminate enjoying a comeback as part of a post-1990's trend toward sustainable agriculture.

Features

Indeterminates, unlike determinates, do not set terminal flower clusters at the top of the plant, only lateral ones.

Time Frame

With the exception of Early Girl at 54 days and Quick Pick at 60 days, many indeterminates mature later in the season. Better Boy produces fruit 72 days after transplanting, followed by Burpee's Big Girl, 78 days; Supersonic, 79 days; and Supersteak and Beefmaster, 80 to 81 days.

Benefits

Indeterminates often work well in a home garden, providing many weeks of slicing or eating tomatoes. Determinates may be a better choice for the home canner or those with limited space growing tomatoes in containers or hanging baskets, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

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About this Author

Rogue Parrish has written two travel books and edited at the "The Baltimore Sun," "The Washington Post" and the Alaska Newspapers company. She began writing professionally in 1975. Parrish holds a summa cum laude Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.