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What is the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes?

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Question: What is the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes?
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.
Answer: 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. Indeterminate varieties tend to grow longer vines and will require more support in terms of staking or caging over the course of a season. Determinate varieties often (but not always) tend to be more compact and manageable.

So how do you decide what's best for your garden?

If you have a large garden, and would like heavy crops of tomatoes at certain points in the season, you might want to plan for several determinate varieties. You would look for two basic pieces of information in the plant catalog or on the plant label when making this decision. Look for the word "determinate" or the abbreviation "DET" so you know what you're dealing with. Next, look for the number of days at which the plant will set fruit. To get several nice harvests, try to combine determinate varieties that bear early, mid, and late season crops. If you are into canning, saucing, or drying your tomatoes, this is probably the best way to go.

If you want tomatoes for the course of the season for snacking and adding to salads and sandwiches, it is best to go with indeterminate varieties. Several types of indeterminate tomatoes are very prolific, and a plant or two will more than suffice to meet your needs. Many favorite heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate varieties. When shopping for your tomato plants, you will be looking for "indeterminate" on the label, or the abbreviation "IND" (or, less commonly, "INDET").

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.

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