Tomatoes are a warm-season perennial grown in home gardens in the United States as annuals. Plant size depends largely on the cultivar. Although some plants are labeled as semi-determinate, tomatoes typically fall into two categories: determinate and indeterminate which describes their growth patterns.
Determinate tomato plants grow to a predetermined size, generally 1 to 2 feet in height, and cease growing. Once the mature height is reached, the plant channels energy to producing fruit. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow throughout the summer, reaching heights of 4 to 6 feet or more in warm climates.
Determinate tomatoes produce blooms and set fruit all at one time, making them ideal for gardeners who prefer to harvest all tomatoes at once. Indeterminate tomatoes bloom and set fruit throughout the summer. Tomatoes ripen over a long period and new fruit sets on until frost.
Indeterminate tomatoes require caging or staking to keep fruit off the ground and to prevent breakage of stems under the weight of heavy fruit. Determinate varieties do not require staking or caging.
Indeterminate tomatoes produce suckers (young shoots that appear at the Y between branches and the main stem) that grow into sprawling plants if they are not pruned. To maintain size and shape, indeterminate tomatoes require pruning. Determinate varieties require only occasional pruning to maintain overall shape or to remove dead foliage.
Indeterminate tomatoes typically produce larger fruit, like giant beefsteak varieties. Their robust growth and vigorous vines support the weight of large tomatoes. Determinate varieties generally produce smaller fruit to match their smaller size.
Indeterminate tomato plants require ample space and are best planted in rows in the garden. They require 2 ½ to 3 feet between plants with rows spaced 3 to 4 feet apart to provide adequate air circulation. When planted too closely, tomatoes are susceptible to disease.
Determinate tomatoes make excellent container plants and can be grown successfully in buckets or pails and placed on a patio or tucked into a small sunny nook. They are equally at home in the garden and require 1½ to 2 feet between plants with rows spaced at 2½ to 3 feet.
The flavor of tomatoes depends on the specific cultivar. There are a wide range of cultivars in both determinate and indeterminate varieties that have been bred for specific flavor and texture, ranging from sweet and juicy to firm and tart.