When planting season rolls around, it’s easy enough to decide to plant tomatoes – they’re easy to grow, sinfully delicious, and who doesn’t love homemade spaghetti sauce? But with hundreds of varieties and qualities of tomato varieties to choose from, plant and seed selection can be quite a challenge.

Here’s a guide to help you sort through all the jargon and pick which tomatoes to plant in your garden.

Tomato plants growing in garden
Plant variety spices up the tomato harvest.

Tomato Plant Sizes and Shapes

  • Determinate tomato plants (also known as “bush” tomatoes) grow to a specific size. They then stop growing, bloom, and produce one crop of tomatoes which ripen all at once. Determinate tomato plants are generally bushy, compact plants that produce early in the season.
  • Indeterminate tomato plants grow taller and more vine-like. They continue growing, blooming, and setting fruit until they are killed by frost in fall. Indeterminate tomato plants usually need staking or tying and can grow over 6 feet tall.
  • Semi-Determinate tomato plants fall in the middle. The size is more contained than indeterminate tomatoes but harvest lasts longer than determinate varieties.
  • Dwarf tomato plants are bred to be smaller in size for use in containers and hanging baskets. Dwarf tomato plants can be either determinate or indeterminate.

Tomato plants tied to stake with tomatoes on them.
Indeterminate tomato plant varieties usually require staking.

Tomato Maturity Time

Depending on the variety, tomato plants can take from 45-80 days to mature and are categorized according to when they tend to produce tomatoes:

  • Early tomato plant varieties mature in 60 days or less and set fruit at cooler temperatures than other types, making them ideal for northern gardens with later planting dates.
  • Midseason tomato plant varieties mature in 60-80 days.
  • Late season tomato plant varieties ripen in more than 80 days and are great for warm climates with long growing seasons.

While climate is a factor in deciding whether to plant early or late tomatoes, you can also vary varieties to ensure a longer harvest.

Green tomatoes
Harvested green tomatoes.

Tomato Types

There are also many choices of sizes, colors, and flavors of the tomatoes themselves. You can choose from:

  • Cherry Tomatoes: Cherry and grape tomatoes are very small and sweet, generally eaten whole and raw in salads. Many cherry tomato varieties are compact and perfect for growing in small spaces.
  • Plum Tomatoes (Paste): These tomatoes (Roma, for example) are small and firm, with thick meaty flesh and very little juice or seeds. They’re perfect for canning and making sauces.
  • Slicing Tomatoes (Round): These are the large round tomatoes that we love to slice for sandwiches. They’re wonderfully juicy and seedy. These are often called “main crop” tomatoes, because most people plant more of this variety, and they often produce all season.
  • Beefsteak Tomatoes: These huge slicing tomatoes are grown for their amazing size and globe shape.
  • Unusual Tomatoes: There are also all sorts of weird and interesting tomato types, including white, orange, pink, green and yellow colors, striped and spotted skins, and funny shapes.

Ripe red heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes put flavor first.

Hybrids, Open-Pollinated, and Heirloom Tomatoes

You also have choices of the type of breeding of the plant:

  • Hybrid tomato plants are created by crossing one variety with another. Hybrid tomatoes are bred for specific purposes (size, acidity, disease resistance, ease of transport). The seeds of hybrid tomatoes are either sterile, or they won’t reproduce the same plant – they’re one-shot deals.
  • Open-pollinated tomato plants are pollinated freely, and they’re bred by saving seeds. If you want to collect seeds, or you’re interested in luscious flavors, go for open-pollinated varieties. They generally ripen slowly and later in the season.
  • Heirloom tomato plants are open-pollinated varieties that have been around for generations. Heirloom tomatoes are the hands-down winners of taste tests, although they’re generally more fragile. Heirloom vegetables very important contributors to biodiversity and sustainability.

Red and green harvested tomatoes
Red and green harvested tomatoes.

Decoding Tomato Plant Labels

Tomato plant and seed tags are often coded with letters that represent resistance to common diseases. Examples include:

Harvested red tomatoes in basket

  • F: Fusarium wilt (strains F1, F2, or F3)
  • N: Nematodes
  • V: Verticillium wilt
  • A: Alternaria leaf spot
  • L: Septoria leaf spot
  • St: Stemphylium
  • T: Tobacco mosaic virus
  • BKS: Bacterial Speck
  • EB: Early Blight
  • TSWV: Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

You may also see abbreviations:

Green tomatoes on vine
Green tomatoes growing in the garden.

Tomato Variety Examples

Now let’s try putting some of this together in a few examples:

  • Better Boy: Indeterminate, midseason, hybrid, slicing tomato, FVNTresistant.
  • Roma: Determinate, midseason, open-pollinated, plum tomato, FV resistant.
  • Early Girl: Indeterminate, early, hybrid, slicing tomato, VF resistant.
  • Brandywine: Indeterminate, late, heirloom, beefsteak tomato.

    Further Information

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Danny Lipford

    Danny Lipford


    Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio, TodaysHomeowner.com, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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