Indeterminate vs Determinate
Tomatoes come in two growth habit types – determinate, or bush varieties, and indeterminate or vining varieties.
DICTIONARY: Growth habit of a plant in horticulture refers to the shape, height, form, and general appearance of a plant species. Basically answering the question of “What does it physically grow like?”
At the most basic, tomato plants that terminate (stop growing) at a specific height, are called DETERMINATE (their height is predetermined), and plants that keep growing throughout the season (and can get really, really tall!) are called INDETERMINATE (their height cannot be predetermined).
Normally most vine and heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate- they need staking, or tomato cages to support them, and are pruned for ease of growing, and productivity.
These plants produce flower buds on side stems along the main vine, and continue to produce crops of tomatoes throughout the growing season as the main vine keeps grow taller. Fruit and flowers in various stages can be seen on the same plant at the same time.
Some indeterminate heirlooms that I grow include Riesentraube, Green Grape, White Cherry, Aunt Ginny’s Purple, Black Krim, Jaune Flamme, and Hawaiian Pineapple.
Please note although most heritage tomatoes are indeterminate there are some determinate heirloom varieties available.
Determinate varieties, tomatoes that grow to a certain height only, often have a lovely rounded bush shape, and include dwarf tomatoes. They don’t often need staking, but use your discretion to provide some support if needed. Bush tomatoes do really well in pots, and are favoured by container growers.
Determinate varieties produce flower buds on the tips of growing stems, and can be splendidly productive, but it must be noted that all the tomatoes are produced and ripen more or less at the same time as one crop on a plant. Once it’s flush of fruiting is finished, it won’t set flowers again (or at least very rarely does) and start to die.
Examples of determinate tomatoes that I’ve grown include Henry’s Dwarf Bush tomato, Scoresby Dwarf, Tiny Tim, Tumbling Tom, Patio, and Dwarf Maja.
Read more about Tomato Terminology #3 – To Be(efsteak) or not to Be(efsteak)