The tomato plant, Solanum lycopersicum, is native to South America, where it was first cultivated by the Aztecs who used the juicy red fruit in cooking. Its usage has since spread around the world, with some 7500 varieties now grown with names like Early Girl, Better Boy, Roma, Sungold and Brandywine. There are a ton of tomato varieties ranging from red tomatoes to yellow tomatoes, round tomatoes to oblong tomatoes, and big tomatoes to little tomatoes. Check your location to see which tomato variety will grow best.
Tomato plants usually fall into one of two categories: determinate (bush) tomatoes and indeterminate (vine) tomatoes. Tomatoes that are determinate usually reach a certain height and stop growing, at which point they flower and bear fruit. On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes produce abundant foliage and fruit and typically won’t stop growing and producing until frost. Many gardeners grow a combination of both types to take advantage of the benefits of both.
Here is more information on determinate and indeterminate tomatoes so you can decide which may be best for your garden.
Determinate Tomatoes (Bush)
Determinate tomatoes are different heights, depending on the species. Dwarf varieties may grow only 2 to 3 feet tall, while other varieties can grow up to 5 feet. Because of their predictable size and limited growth, this makes them a good choice for container gardens, as you can grow them easily on a porch or patio. In fact, bush tomatoes thrive in such conditions because they generally need more spacing between plants and a pot of their own is ideal. For exceptionally small spaces, dwarf varieties are particularly good because they don’t spread as widely as other types. Larger varieties, however, may need to be staked for support.
Closely related to plant size is harvest. Determinate tomato plants generally produce their fruit all at once, usually within a month after reaching full size. Blooms form at the tips of the branches and then form fruit. Tomatoes on a single branch usually ripen usually within days of each other and the entire plant can be harvested within about a month.
Growers who want to harvest a mass quantity of tomatoes at once usually opt for a determinate variety, as do home gardeners interested in canning tomatoes or making large batches of tomato sauce or salsa. By staggering planting times and choosing varieties with different maturity dates, harvesting can be continued throughout the season.
Indeterminate Tomatoes (Vine)
Vining, or indeterminate, varieties of tomatoes, meanwhile, offer a completely different experience for the home and commercial use. For one, these plants never stop growing and producing throughout the entire season and can reach up to 15 feet. Obviously, some care is required to support all this robust growth in the form of a trellis or other vertical support. With the support, however, they, too, can be grown in fairly small spaces and in close proximity to other plants, especially with dwarf varieties, which don’t spread quite so much as some of the others.
Vine tomatoes are usually grown with a whole different purpose than bush tomatoes. Flowers appear constantly at different places along the vine and tomatoes can be harvested a few at a time once ripening begins. Typically, indeterminate tomatoes are chosen for kitchen gardens, allowing the chef to pluck a few tomatoes at a time for use in a salad or sandwich. The slower harvest is nicer for the home gardener without a lot of time — or the desire to deal with dozens of tomatoes at once.
Incidentally, there are some varieties called vigorous determinates or semi-determinates, which are determinates that produce one crop, re-flower, and then produce a second crop.
Looking to buy tomato plants or tomato seeds online? We recommend the Tasteful Tomato.
Want to learn more about growing bush and vine tomatoes?
Check out these resources:
Vegetable Growing Guide: Tomatoes [PDF] from Cornell University
Watch Your Garden Grow: Tomato from University of Illinois
Aztec Indians are from what is now the modern country of Mexico, which is in the continent of North America.
Correct! However, the Aztecs weren’t Indians. Indians are from India.
Correction, people from India are called Indus, Indians is a general term applied to those original inhabitants of a certain area or country. There comes the term “indigenous”.
I think what he is referring to as Indians are actually native or indigenous people to Mexico