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Garden,  Getting Started,  Vegetables

Determinate vs Indeterminate Plants: Important Differences to Know

Have you ever read a plant description and wondered what the word “determinate” or “indeterminate” means, and what the difference is? Then you’ve come to the right place to learn. It’s important to understand these gardening terms because indeterminate and determinate plants grow very differently – so you’ll plant, train, and harvest from them differently in your garden too! That’s especially true for tomatoes, so be sure to read the section on growing bush vs vining tomatoes towards the end of this post.


Throughout time, plants have evolved and developed different strategies to spread their seed for future generations. The indeterminate plants sprawled out with long vines and many flushes of fruit to routinely scatter seed around the mother plant. Determinate plants put all of their “eggs” in one large, delicious, bountiful basket of fruit, hoping to lure in birds and other critters to help spread seeds. Over time, humans have selectively cultivated plants based on these growth and fruiting characteristics to suit our needs.

Determinate vs Indeterminate Growth in Plants

Botanically speaking, indeterminate growth keeps on going throughout a plant’s lifetime, while determinate growth is finite. 

An indeterminate (ID) plant will continue to grow larger and taller, and bear a steady, continuous supply of fruit to harvest over a longer period of time. Indeterminate growth is often synonymous with vining plant varieties, such as vining tomatoes or vining pole beans. Each stem ends in a growing tip, and will usually keep on growing and producing until frost comes along. Due to their sprawling nature, indeterminate plants often need some sort of trellis or support system.

In contrast, determinate (D) plants are more compact, bushy, and short-lived in nature. They generally have one main growth spurt, reach a certain size, and then yield a single large set of fruit all at once (or during a short period of time). Once a mature determinate plant has produced its main “bumper crop”, the plant will drastically slow down in production or stop growing entirely. Bush tomatoes and bush green beans are prime examples of determinate plants.

A close up image of some Dragon Tongue green beans growing form a bean plant.
Dragon tongue bush beans are determinate – small, bushy, and short-lived.
A trellis of green beans is set up against the wall of a house, various calendula flowers, chard, and borage are growing throughout the space. Bush beans are determinate while they pole beans that are being trellised are indeterminate.
Vining pole beans (indeterminate) need the support of a trellis, and will continue to produce more beans all season long.

Examples of Indeterminate and Determinate Plants

In the garden, the terms indeterminate (vining) and determinate (bush) are most commonly used to describe the growth habits of different tomato varieties. See tips about how to grow and train each type of tomato below. Many other types of plants can fall into these two categories as well.

Other common indeterminate plants include eggplant, peppers, melons, and peas. Eggplant and peppers are especially long-lived, and can even be overwintered as perennials.

Cucumbers, beans, potatoes, and squash can be either determinate OR indeterminate depending on the cultivar. Just like tomatoes, there are “bush” cucumber varieties vs vining cucumbers. Summer squash like bush zucchini are determinate (though they produce over many months), while vining winter squash varieties are more indeterminate and take longer to mature. Both early and mid-season potato varieties grow like determinates, while late-season potatoes are considered indeterminate and bear longer.

Generally speaking, annuals tend to follow a more determinate pattern of growth while perennials are more indeterminate in nature. 

A large eggplant bush is growing in a raised bed, its long purple fruits are hanging down the side of the raised bed as the plant is heavy with fruit.

Pros and Cons 

Indeterminate varieties bear more fruit overall, but offer prolonged, staggered, and more manageable harvests. This makes them popular among home gardeners. Most folks likely prefer a slow and steady harvest of tomatoes all summer long, rather than having to deal with pounds and pounds of fruit maturing all at once! Though indeterminate plants grow larger and longer, they can easily be trained vertically up space-saving trellises.

On the other hand, determinate plants mature faster, and “come and go” more quickly in the garden. This makes them ideal to use in succession planting, places with short growing seasons, or as short-lived fillers between other plants or seasons (especially things like bush beans or zucchini). The bumper crop provided by determinate plants is also excellent for canning or preserving a lot at once.

Determinants are more compact, making them great for small spaces and container gardens. They don’t require elaborate support structures, though some may benefit from a simple cage or stake to keep the plants upright. Determinate crops can also be attractive in commercial agriculture settings, enabling mechanical harvests all at the same time. 

A chart that describes the differences between indeterminate and determinate plant types.
DeannaCat's hand is holding a large, plump, red fruit from a determinate tomato plant. A wicker basket and two wooden bowls are below containing both determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties that are dark red, green lighter red and come in various shapes and sizes.
We primarily grow indeterminate tomatoes, along with a couple determinate varieties each year – like this beautiful Mountain Merit (D) tomato!

What are semi-determinate plants?

Some crops (including tomatoes, beans, squash and peas) can be semi-determinate, and exhibit growth patterns somewhere between indeterminate and determinate. This category of plants usually boasts one large bounty of fruit, but can be coaxed into continued production by routinely harvesting their fruits – which frees up energy and signals the plant to produce more. Semi-determinate varieties will often grow bigger than determinate plants, but not nearly as large and sprawling as true indeterminates. Due to their decently long harvest window, I consider zucchini and summer squash semi-determinate. Celebrity and Moskvich are an example of semi-determinate tomatoes. 

Two raised beds with summer squash and winter squash are the focus with the words "summer squash" and "butternut squash" superimposed by the corresponding raised beds. A wall of tomatoes are growing in the background in two raised beds beyond.
Our garden in September. Vining winter squash will grow and produce until frost stops them (like the butternut squash in the foreground) while bushy summer squash slow in production and fizzle out sooner. The summer squash in the bed on the left is actually the second round we grew that season. We usually succession plant summer squash in late March to early April, and another round in July.

Growing Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes

When it comes to tomatoes, it’s paramount to know if you’re growing indeterminate or determinate varieties! Indeterminate (vining) tomatoes are by far the most common, though there are quite a few determinate tomato cultivars available too – sometimes referred to as bush or patio tomatoes. The plant or seed description will usually specify which type it is, and may simply say (ID) or (D). See a list of popular varieties below.

Determinate or bush tomatoes are best grown in cages – like these sturdy DIY tomato cages. They’re ideal to grow in containers, in small patio gardens, or in places with short growing seasons. Determinate tomatoes should not be pruned, since they only have a finite amount of growth and fruit to bear! 

Conversely, indeterminate tomatoes can be trained or pruned in a number of ways. Training and pruning indeterminate tomatoes offers a number of benefits, including improved fruit quality, reduced disease prevalence, and saving space. Or, you can simply let vining tomatoes grow wild and unpruned in a large cage like determinants. See this guide to learn 7 ways to train and prune tomatoes, including our favorite DIY tomato trellis system. 

At least three raised beds are in view, each of the beds containing tomatoes, some indeterminate and some determinate. The indeterminate tomatoes are growing in two raised beds with wooden a frame trellis, the raised bed has determinate tomatoes growing in cages. Marigolds, basil, and zinnia are growing in and around the tomatoes in the raised beds.
We moderately prune and train our indeterminate tomatoes up these awesome DIY tomato trellises, and in another bed, let our determinate tomatoes grow wild, bushy, and unpruned in homemade cages.

Determinate and Indeterminate Tomato Varieties 

Determinate tomato varieties include: Mountain Merit (our favorite), Plum Regal Roma, Red Racer, Plum Perfect, Mountain Princess, Tasti Lee, Iron Lady, Gold Nugget, Washington Cherry, and Bush Early Girl – among others.

Indeterminate tomato varieties include: Pink Boar, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, San Marzano Roma, Amish Paste, Green Zebra, Rose de Berne, Valentine, Mountain Magic, Granadero, Beefsteak, Better Boy, and most cherry tomato varieties. Sakura is our favorite variety of cherry tomato.

An image of a tomato that has been trellised to create a wall of green plant material and fruit. Many ripe red tomatoes are visible along with some green tomatoes as well as some in between.
Sakura tomatoes – my favorite cherry

And that’s a wrap! As you a can see, there are a lot of important differences between determinate vs indeterminate plants. They both have their benefits, so we like to grow some of each. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below, and share this article if you found it useful! Thank you so much for tuning in today, and happy growing.

DeannaCat signature, keep on growing

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