The Lowdown on Tomato Types: Which Is Right for Your Garden?

There are hundreds of varieties of the great summer favorite: the tomato. Types of tomatoes to grow come in every shape, size and color and are specially suited for different needs.

Indeterminate, hybrid, heirloom…how can you possibly know which type is right for you and your circumstances? Believe it or not, there is a method to the madness, and a somewhat simple explanation for all of these varieties.

colorful tomatoes

Photo licensed via Creative Commons by Flickr user Photo Farmer


Determinate means that the plants will only grow to a certain height before blooming and setting fruit. These types are great for container gardening or square foot gardening, where space is an issue. They’re great for beginner gardeners as they don’t need to be staked or controlled by pruning. When determinate varieties set fruit, they’re done for the season, they won’t continue to grow or produce. This is not a good option for someone looking to harvest tons of tomatoes, but if you’re just starting off or limited on space, it’s a great option.


These babies will grow and grow, with nothing stopping them but you. They can get as tall as 15 feet and will continue to produce flowers and fruit on every branch until the end of the season. These bad boys need a little restraining in order to stay standing and productive. They need to be staked or caged and their suckers need to be pruned to keep them under control. This type of care takes some experience and practice but is well worth it if you’re looking to harvest a lot of fruit from one plant.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Photo via Craftsy instructor Marie Iannotti


The most important characteristic of heirloom tomatoes is that they’re open pollinated, meaning the deed is done by nature, as in insects, birds or wind. These are the tomatoes your great grandmother grew. Their seed stock has been passed down from generation to generation.

The very definition of heirloom fruits and vegetables are ones that have not been cross-pollinated with other varieties for more than 40 years. Growing heirloom tomatoes is currently rising in popularity due to the fact that their seeds can be saved and the variety can be re-grown every year and will grow just the same as their parent plant. Many people believe these to be better tasting than hybrids, and they often come in interesting shapes and colors not seen in your average grocery-store tomato.

Unlock a whole new world of flavor and grow the most delicious heirloom tomatoes in your neighborhood with help from gardening expert Marie Iannotti. Sign up for her new Craftsy class Growing Heirloom Tomatoes and enjoy a bountiful harvest of everyone’s favorite tomato!


Hybrids, on the other hand, are the tomatoes you’re likely to see at the grocery store. Hybrid tomatoes are those produced by forced cross-pollination between two different varieties by the plant breeder. This is done to produce a plant that has the best characteristics of each parent plant. Hybrids are produced so the plant can more easily resist disease, grow bigger and stronger, and require less care and attention. The fruits are generally more uniform in size, shape and flavor. Because these plants are produced by intentional cross-pollination, you couldn’t save the seeds and have them grow true, which means you’ll need to buy more seeds or seedlings every year for your garden.

Paste/sauce tomatoes

These varieties are grown for the purpose of cooking or canning them. They have very little gel and seeds inside, so they’re great for making sauce or salsa. Some varieties that fall into this category would be Roma tomatoes, with their thick walls and rich taste are great for sauces, and Amish Paste, Big Mama, and Italian Paste

tomato sauce in jar

Photo licensed via Creative Commons by Flickr user TheBittenWord

Sandwich tomatoes

Is there anything better than slicing up big thick slabs of a fresh tomato for a sandwich? If you’re looking to grow a tomato that’s great for slicing or eating fresh, there are some clear winners for this category. Beefsteak tomatoes are known to grow as large as 1-2 pounds a piece, making them a great slicer. Brandywines are beloved for their taste and Mortgage Lifters are a wonderful large slicer.

Cherry and grape tomatoes

If you’re looking for tiny tomatoes for your tossed salads, or to put on skewers for summer grilling, cherry or grape tomatoes should be on your list. These little plants are great for growing in containers if you don’t have a lot of space, and they need very little care to thrive. These are great for beginner tomato growers to find success without an abundance of knowledge.

The world of tomatoes is vast and can be confusing, even just deciding on a variety to grow can be daunting. Hopefully this post will make your options a little more clear and take one mystery away from the wonder that is tomato gardening.

What tomato types of tomatoes are you growing this year? What do you want to try next time?

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2 Responses to “The Lowdown on Tomato Types: Which Is Right for Your Garden?”

  1. Diane

    I'm growing several heirlooms this year and they are growing very well, despite all the rain. I started them much too early, in my basement. (it was warm and I was convinced it would continue to stay that way. I was wrong. haha) Most were over 2ft with nice thick stalks by the time it was warm enough to put them outside. Bought the seeds, so now I know which ones do the best for me, which is almost all them. I'll save seeds from the best plants.

  2. Joe Connor

    I'm just growing the ordinary ones that you can buy in the shops and their not doing very good at all ..I really would like to learn those little different coulerd ones. please