Determinate Tomato Plant – Perfect for Containers

How can I tell whether I have a determinate Tomato plant?

Nothing tastes quite like a home grown tomato.  They are sweet and juicy and so easy to grow.  But they also take a lot of room, so are not so great for those who have small yards and no room to plant the larger varieties. That is what makes a determinate tomato plant perfect for a container.

Tomato plants come in two varieties – determinate and indeterminate.  They have some similarities (basic light, watering, and fertilizing needs) but also some major differences:

  • Determinate tomatoes, or “bush” tomatoes, are varieties that grow to a nice compact height.   They usually get to about 3 – 4 feet.  They will stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. All of the fruit on determinate tomatoes  ripen at approximately the same time (usually over a 1- 2 weeks period). They require a limited amount of staking for support and are perfectly suited for container planting.
  • Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost. They can reach heights of up to 12 feet although I have found that mine get to about 6 feet. Indeterminate tomatoes will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit  throughout the growing season. They require substantial staking for support which means that you need space to grown them.

Here are pictures that I took today of two tomato plants that were planted on the same day, just a few weeks ago.  The determinate plant in the first picture is already very bush and has set some buds for flowers.  The indeterminate plant in the second photo is much more spindly and you can see it has quite a way to go.

determinate tomato plant


Never prune a determinate type tomato. You will want all the fruit you can get from these shorter plants.

If you want to grow plants in containers, you will 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 you will have to be prepared to be vigilant about staking or caging, as well as pruning the suckers to maintain compact growth.

General care for tomatoes:

  • Light:  Full sun
  • Temperature requirements:  Plant two weeks after the expected date of the last frost.
  • Watering:  Water frequently for a week or two after transplanting, gradually diminishing frequency and increasing depth of penetration. After that, thoroughly soak soil about once a week. Tomato plants should not be sprinkled late in the day. Water deeply to encourage deep root growth.
  • Mulching:  Cover the soil around the plants with a plastic or organic mulch to maintain uniform moisture levels.   I used grass and leaf mulch for mine
  • Pinch tiny side shoots that grow where the side leaves meet the stem. This makes for a more robust plant.

Have you grown both types of tomatoes?  Which do you prefer? I am growing a determinate tomato plant for the first time this year.

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  2 comments for “Determinate Tomato Plant – Perfect for Containers

  1. 05/31/2014 at 8:52 pm

    Help! I bought a tomato plant the other day for the first time. I would like to get other plants from it but don’t know how..If someone could show me how to do it, I would really appreciate it as I have to start planting vegetables as I can no longer afford to buy them at the grocery store. I live on a very very small disability pension and by the time all of the bills are paid I hardly have anything left for food. I have good days, but more bad and if it isn’t too much work I really want to do this. I thank you all so much for any information you can give me on getting more out of the one plant I bought.
    Very Grateful Woman


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