The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Growing Tomato Plants

Tomatoes are a versatile and delicious addition to any garden. With so many different varieties available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right ones for your space and needs. From juicy beefsteaks to sweet grape tomatoes, there is a tomato for everyone. In this guide, we will explore the different types of tomato plants and provide tips for growing them successfully.

Types of Tomato Plants

Tomatoes come in various sizes, shapes, and flavors, making them suitable for a variety of dishes. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Beefsteak tomato: Known for their large size, meaty texture, and classic flavor, beefsteaks are perfect for sandwiches and salads.
  • Campari tomato: These golf-ball-sized tomatoes have low acidity, a sweet flavor, and a juicy texture, making them great for snacking, salads, and salsa.
  • Pear tomato: Small and pear-shaped, these tomatoes have a sweet, mild flavor and are ideal for snacking, salads, and preserves.
  • Plum tomato: Popular varieties include Roma and San Marzano. These low-water-content tomatoes are perfect for tomato sauces, pastes, and canning.
  • Salad tomato: With a balanced acidity and sweetness, these round tomatoes are great for slicing on sandwiches or tossing in salads.
  • Grape tomato: Similar to plum tomatoes but smaller, these oval-shaped tomatoes have a meatier texture and are perfect for snacking, salads, and roasting.
  • Cherry tomato: Bite-sized and sweet, cherry tomatoes are excellent for snacking, salads, and quick sauces.

Determinate, Indeterminate, or Semi-determinate?

Tomato plants can be categorized as determinate, indeterminate, or semi-determinate. Understanding these classifications is crucial when choosing what tomatoes to grow based on your available space and intended use.

  • Determinate: Also known as “bush tomatoes,” these plants typically grow 1-3 feet tall and are ideal for patios, containers, and small space gardens. They produce one big crop and die off towards the end of the growing season, making them perfect for canning and sauces.
  • Indeterminate: Commonly referred to as “vining tomatoes,” these plants can grow up to 10 feet tall and require sturdy support. They continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the growing season, making them suitable for raised beds and larger vegetable plots.
  • Semi-determinate: Falling between determinate and indeterminate, these compact plants produce fruit throughout the growing season and are a great choice for gardens with limited space.

Heirloom vs. Hybrid?

When choosing tomato plants, you will come across heirloom and hybrid varieties. Understanding the differences between the two can help you make an informed decision.

  • Heirloom: Heirloom tomatoes have been around for centuries and are known for their exceptional flavor. They come true from seed, meaning you will get the same variety when planting saved seeds. Heirlooms can be either determinate, indeterminate, or semi-determinate.
  • Hybrid: Hybrid tomatoes are a result of crossbreeding two different varieties. They are bred to possess specific traits, such as disease resistance and cold hardiness. While they may have slightly less flavor than heirlooms, they can still be delicious. However, they will not come true from seed. Like heirlooms, hybrids can be determinate, indeterminate, or semi-determinate.

How long do tomatoes take to grow?

The time it takes for tomato plants to grow and fruit ripen varies depending on the variety. Here are the three main categories:

  • Early season: These varieties mature in 65 days or less, making them perfect for cooler climates and shorter growing seasons.
  • Mid-season: Maturity takes around 70-80 days, with fruit production occurring in mid-summer.
  • Late season: These tomatoes take the longest to mature, typically around 80-100 days. The extra time allows for bigger and more flavorful fruit.

When choosing a variety, ensure that the “days to maturity” is less than the number of days between planting and your average first frost date.

Now that you know about the different types and classifications of tomato plants, it’s time to choose the right ones for your garden. Here are some tips based on different growing scenarios:

For Edible Plots and Raised Beds

  • Plant determinate or indeterminate types, depending on your available space.
  • Provide sturdy support for indeterminate varieties.

For Containers

  • Choose determinate varieties that stay smaller and require little to no support.
  • Look for patio types specifically bred for containers, such as ‘Tempting Tomatoes® Goodhearted®’, ‘Tiny Tim’, ‘Elfin’, and ‘Patio Princess’.

For Hanging Baskets and Upside Down Planters

  • Opt for determinate trailing types that have proven to grow well in hanging baskets and small containers, such as ‘Tumbler’, ‘Maskotka’, ‘Red Robin’, and ‘Balconi Red’.

Tomatoes are not only delicious but also packed with nutrition. High in vitamin C, potassium, beta carotene, and lycopene, they are believed to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Here are some ways to enjoy tomatoes:

  • Fresh tomatoes: Perfect for snacking, sandwiches, salads, dips, caprese, pizza toppings, salsa, and pico de gallo. Heirlooms and slicers are ideal for sandwiches, bruschetta, and caprese, while cherry and grape tomatoes are great for snacking and salads.
  • Tomato pulp: Use it to make marinara sauce, pasta sauce, ketchup, soup, pizza sauce, juice, or paste. Tomato pulp freezes well for later use.
  • Whole or chopped tomatoes: Preserve, can, roast, grill, dry, or freeze them. Sun-dried tomatoes are a staple of Italian cuisine. Plum and grape varieties with lower water content and firmer flesh work best for these purposes.
  • Green tomatoes: Fry them or use them to make jam, chutney, salsa, or relish.
  • Cooked or fresh tomatoes: Perfect for stuffed tomatoes, stew, tomato pie, chili, tarts, and casseroles.

For more information on growing tomatoes and other garden edibles, be sure to check out our related articles:

  • Garden Edibles: Success Secrets
  • Arbors, Trellises, and the Edible Garden
  • How to Grow Strawberry Plants

With this guide, you are now equipped to choose the right tomato plants for your garden and enjoy a delicious harvest. Happy growing!