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GardenSMART :: How to Choose Tomato Varieties Best Suited to Your Space and Personal Preferences

How to Choose Tomato Varieties Best Suited to Your Space and Personal Preferences

By Joan Casanova, Bonnie Plants, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Bonnie Plants, Inc.

During the cold days of winter, gardeners are figuring out what to plant in their spring gardens. Nearly everyone plants tomatoes, which are known to be the most popular vegetable of all. A sometimes-tricky task is deciding what tomato varieties to plant since there are important variables to consider: type, plant size, days to maturity, use, and so many varieties to choose from!

Whether you want tomatoes for slicing, salads, making sauce or sweet treats — like cherry and grape tomatoes — all tomatoes are categorized as either determinate or indeterminate. You'll need to know if the tomato plant you choose is determinate or indeterminate so you can plant it in the right environment (pot or plot) and know what to expect.

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Determinate tomato varieties are compact plants (usually 2 to 3 feet tall). They grow, bloom, and set fruit just once, so you'll harvest the entire crop almost all at the same time.

Generally speaking, if you have a limited amount of growing space, or will be growing tomatoes in a pot or a planter, a determinate variety is a good choice. Determinate varieties are also good for gardeners who prefer to harvest their whole crop of tomatoes at once. Determinate tomato plants, like Bush Goliath and Bush Early Girl, are ideal for growing in containers.

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Indeterminate tomato varieties keep growing taller and taller, setting and ripening fruit all season long, right up to frost. If you have plenty of space and prefer to harvest all season long, indeterminates will work well for you. As indeterminate varieties grow very tall, you'll need to lend support with either a cage or staking to keep them off the ground. Some examples of indeterminate tomato plants are Bonnie Original, Beefmaster, Better Boy and Tami G (grape).

When selecting varieties, you'll also need to consider if you plan to use your harvest for salads and snacking, making sauce or slicing.

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Small, salad and snacking tomatoes are bite-size grape and cherry tomatoes, like Husky Cherry Red, Juliet Roma Grape, Sun Sugar and Sweet Million. Use cherry and grape tomatoes in salads, on skewers or eat them as a tasty treat.

Sauce/paste tomatoes are dense, meaty and perfect for making sauce. Good choices are San Marzano, Roma and Little Napoli Patio Roma for small spaces.

Slicing tomatoes are medium to large in size and juicy, perfect for burgers, "mater" sandwiches or sliced on a plate with mozzarella and basil. Good choices are Big Beef, Bonnie Original and Cherokee Purple.

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When choosing tomato varieties there are other characteristics beyond use that will factor into your choices, like fruit size, color, hybrid or heirloom, disease resistance and heat tolerance. There are lots of characteristics to consider, however there's a super simple solution to sort through all the variables and choose the right tomato plants for you! Bonnie Plants, available coast to coast at Lowe's, Walmart, Home Depot and more than 5,000 independent garden retailers, offers nearly 70 different tomato varieties to choose from, and they make the selection process simple for you with their Tomato Chooser, located on their website. (There's also a Pepper Chooser!)

Bonnie's Tomato Chooser is a great "tool" for selecting the type of tomato that suits your personal preferences. Once you arrive on the tomato chooser page, you can check off a box to select determinate, indeterminate, or either. Then check boxes selecting traits you desire and the Tomato Chooser will do the work for you, sorting through nearly 70 tomato varieties and identifying those that match your specifications. Once results pop up, click on each individual variety image for detailed information and how to grow guidance.

With dozens of tomato varieties to choose from, select a few different types and try something new to provide you with a good, well-rounded selection of fresh, home grown, tasty tomatoes right outside your door!


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