How to Select Tomato Varieties
Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable growing in US gardens, and also a joy to grow. They're relatively easy to cultivate and vary widely in shape, color, size, grow time and disease resistance.
There are many things to consider when deciding what tomatoes you want to plant, including uses, size, where you live and personal preference. Though each tomato variety requires different growing conditions these tomato growing instructions are detailed and accurate for growing tomatoes.
When thinking about what kind of tomato variety to grow, you need to consider how you plan to use them. Are they for salads? Slicing? Making tomato sauce, salsa or ketchup? For juices?
Also, how much space do you have in your garden to grow tomatoes? If you only have space for a single plant or a few plants in a container or in your garden, then you'll want to stick with salad and slicing tomato varieties
Types of Tomatoes
There are three main types of tomatoes: slicing round tomatoes, plum tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Then, within each type, are a plethora of varieties.
Slicing tomatoes are the classic tomatoes you see everywhere. Round, large, usually red in color, and easily cut into rounds for sandwiches. They generally have lots of juice and seeds which are evident when you cut into them.
Plum tomatoes are smaller, oblong in shape, meaty in texture with minimal seeds and juice. These are best for sauces and canning.
Cherry and grape tomatoes are small, round or slightly oblong, juicy and are generally eaten whole. The larger of the cherry tomatoes can be cut in half, if desired. They are best in salads or on a vegetable tray assortment with a dip.
Tomato seed packets are usually marked as to whether they are early, mid, or late season. If you live in a northern climate, you will want to get tomatoes with a shorter growing season. Those in a moderate climate can grow a variety of tomatoes, even staggering the plantings so there are ripe tomatoes at different times. Make sure you lookup optimal planting dates for growing tomatoes in your location.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Determinate versus indeterminate refers to the growth rate of the tomato plant. Determinate tomato plants grow to a specific height and then they stop. They also mature quicker, going from flower to fruit faster than indeterminate. These plants tend to be smaller and are great for small spaces or container gardening. They are easy to control and work well with tomato cages or being staked.
Indeterminate tomato plants don't have a specific height, and many will grow wildly, sometimes up to 8 ft (2.50 meters) tall if they are not pruned. Their branches grow out horizontally as well and if not cut back, will turn into a jungle of tomato vines.
Older varieties, including most heirlooms, are indeterminate. They produce wonderful flavorful fruits, though they often take longer to mature since the plant is expending a lot of energy into the vines, instead of the fruit.
Heirloom and Hybrids
In general, tomatoes do not naturally cross-pollinate. To create a hybrid, a tomato cultivator carefully takes two genetically different parent plants and crosses them to create a new tomato seed. These seeds are usually superior to either individual parent, showing vigorous growing results, enhanced resistance to disease or other special trait. The downside to these seeds is that they cannot be saved and planted again as they are not true to their type. Each year, these seeds need to be repurchased from the supplier.
Heirloom tomatoes are varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation, often through a family of gardeners. These plants are generally not as uniform in size, growth or production. They often are more susceptible to diseases as well. The attraction to these tomatoes is their variety, depth or uniqueness of flavor, and the desire to continue the heritage and not lose traditions.
Some popular Heirloom varieties are Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, and Rutgers. Learn more about tending for your tomato plants.
Verticillium and fusarium wits are diseases borne by the soil that cause leaves to turn yellow, wilt and the plant to die. If this is a problem in your garden, it is hard to eradicate, and the best course of action is to buy seeds that are resistant to these diseases.
Alternaria is a fungus that causes Early blight. It begins with dead brown spots showing up, usually on the lower leaves, and spreading up the plant. Blight causes defoliation and can cause the fruit to rot on the vine.
Nematodes are little worms that feed on the plant's roots. Foliage will turn yellow and the plant growth is stunted.
Tobacco mosaic virus is a virus that causes stunted growth, uneven ripening of fruit and a large reduction in yield.
Choosing Tomatoes For Your Garden (a small sampling of the 600+ varieties available)
Varieties are marked with their resistance to type of disease as well. V=Verticullim, F=Fusarium, A=Alternaria, N=Nematodes, TM=Tobacco Mosaic Virus]
Early Girl: hybrid, indeterminate, 50 days to maturity, bright red fruit, 4-5 ounces, VF.
Sub-Artic Plenty: determinate, 45 days, 3-4 ounces.
Early Cascade: indeterminate, 55 days, large fruit clusters, 4 ounces, VF.
Champion: indeterminate, 65 days, red, 10 ounces, VFNT
Mountain Spring: determinate, 65 days, 9 ounces, VF
Bush Steak: hybrid, determinate, 65 days, 8-12 ounces, large red fruit
Celebrity: hybrid, determinate, 70 days, 7 ounces, VFANTM
Mountain Delight: hybrid, determinate, 70 days, 10 ounces, VF, large red
Better Boy: hybrid, indeterminate, 70 days, 10 ounces, VFAN, juicy red
Beefmaster: hybrid, indeterminate, 80 days, 16 ounces, VFAN, deep red
Mountain Gold: determinate, 70 days, 8 ounces, VF, golden yellow
Jubilee: indeterminate, 80 days, 8 ounces, golden orange yellow
Lemon Boy: indeterminate, 70 days, 7 ounces, VFAN, bright yellow
Veeroma: determinate, 72 days, 2-3 ounces, VF, red
Roma: determinate, 75 days, 2 ounces, VFA, red
San Marzano: determinate, 80 days, 3 ounces, red, meaty
Viva Italia: determinate, 80 days, 3 ounces, VFN, red, sweet
Cherry and Grape Tomatoes
Sweet Million: indeterminate, 65 days, 1 inch, red sweet cherry, FNTM
Yellow Pear: indeterminate, 70 days, 1 inch, pear shaped yellow, VF
Large Red Cherry: indeterminate, 70 days, 1 ½ inch, rich red cherry
Mountain Belle: determinate, 65 days, 1 ¼ inch, red cherry, VF
Juliet: hybrid, indeterminate, 60 days, 1 ounce, pink grape
Sunsugar: hybrid, indeterminate, 65 days, orange cherry, FTM
Jolly: hybrid, indeterminate, 70 days, peachy pink grape
Small Fry: hybrid, 65 days, 1 inch red cherry, VFAN
University of Illinois Extension, https://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/tomato.cfm">Tomatoes