Experts and BHG readers answer.
What's the difference between "determinate" and "indeterminate" tomatoes?
Determinate varieties of tomatoes, also called "bush" tomatoes, are bred to grow to a compact height, usually 4 feet or less. The plants stop growing when fruit sets on the terminal, or top, bud. The entire crop ripens at or near the same time, usually over a 2-week period, then the plants decline. These tomatoes may require a limited amount of caging and/or staking for support. Avoid pruning or sucker removal, because it severely reduces the crop. Determinate tomatoes perform relatively well in a container (minimum size of 5-6 gallons). Examples are 'Rutgers', 'Roma', 'Celebrity' (called semideterminate by some), and 'Marglobe'.
Indeterminate tomatoes also are sometimes called vining tomatoes. They grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights up to 10 feet, although 6 feet is considered more average. The plants bloom, set new fruit, and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the growing season. These plants require substantial caging and/or staking for support.
Pruning and the removal of suckers are practiced by many but are not mandatory. The need and advisability of doing so vary from region to region; experiment and see whether pruning works best for you. Because of the need for substantial support and the large size of the plants, indeterminate varieties are not usually recommended as container plants. Examples are 'Abraham Lincoln', 'Beef Master', most "cherry" types, and 'Early Girl'.