If you want to grow the biggest tomato you’ve ever put in your hand, beefsteak tomatoes are probably your best bet. The first time buying beefsteak tomato seeds you may be confused about the ‘determinate’ or ‘indeterminate’ label on the seed packet. So…
What is the difference between the two, and which is best?
Most beefsteak tomato plants are vining or “indeterminate” varieties and require sturdy trellises to support their 6 to 12+ feet of vine growth and heavy fruits. Bush types i.e “determinate” varieties, such as the hybrid Bush Champion II are sturdier and are able to support more of their own weight.
Below, I elaborate more on these terms and how to care for beefsteak tomatoes:
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How to Tell If My Tomato Plant is a Determinate or Indeterminate Variety?
For newbie gardeners, these terms may not be familiar to them. But it’s actually a common way of referring to a tomato plant’s growth habit. Here’s how to differentiate the two:
|Determinate Tomatoes||Indeterminate Tomatoes|
|Also known as the bush variety||Also known as the vining variety|
|Grows as tall as 3-4 feet; side shoots will develop even as the main stem stops growing||Grows as tall as 6 to 12+ feet tall; multiple side shoots will grow into main stems, which require regular pruning|
|Has a short growing season||Has a long growing season; it will only stop development once exposed to frost|
|Tomatoes grow and ripen in clusters at the same time within 4-5 weeks||Tomatoes grow throughout the season, maturing slowly|
Most of the time, the tomato seed packets or seedlings will come with information on whether it’s determinate or indeterminate. But you can also look for the more straightforward terms: ‘bush’ or ‘vining’. Both types are great on their own merits, so choosing the suitable tomato variety depends on your personal preference and garden space.
Here’s a brief overview of both varieties if you’re looking to decide which is best for your gardening needs:
|Determinate/Bush Tomato Variety||Indeterminate/Vining Tomato Variety|
|Grows well in small/limited space; more suited to container gardening||Grows well in large, open spaces; more suited to in-ground planting|
|Produces tomatoes all at once before the plant dies||Produces tomatoes continuously throughout its growth|
|Low-maintenance growth, i.e., only needs a small tomato cage and minimal pruning||High-maintenance growth, i.e., requires a trellis and regular pruning|
|Best used for canning, making sauces, and juices||Best used fresh like in sandwiches, garnishes, burgers|
|Known varieties are San Marzano, Roma, Plum Dandy, and Rutgers||Known varieties are Big Beef, Early Girl, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, and Brandywine|
But what about beefsteak tomatoes? More on that in the next section.
What Variety is a Beefsteak Tomato Plant?
They are primarily of the indeterminate or vining growth habit. But some are determinate with compact growth, such as the Bush Champion II. These juicy, plump fruits are known to be the largest type of tomatoes you can grow, weighing up to one pound or more. Apart from their hefty sizes, their vining growth habit needs a robust structure to support their weight and vertical development. But they can also be grown hanging upside down!
Luckily, beefsteak tomato plants are not that hard to grow. But you do need to do regular maintenance on them. Here’s an overview of their basic care needs:
- Sun: 8 hours of full sun.
- Soil: Nutrient-rich, well-draining, and slightly acidic with pH 6-6.8.
- Water: 1-2 times a week directed at the soil level; increase watering when the fruits start growing.
- Fertilizer: Once every 3 weeks with a high Phosphorus fertilizer to encourage fruit production.
- Temperature: Above 60°F; if lower than 55°F with frost, it may kill the plant.
- Regular trimming of suckers or side shoots growing in between branches.
- Keep 1-2 main stems for high yield and foliage protection for the fruits.
- Trellis support:
- Any tall and thick stakes or cages that can hold the plant as it grows vertically.
- Additional help in tying the vines loosely around the support is useful.
- Pest & disease: Aphids, tomato hornworms, black mold, blossom end rot, and early blight are some of the many problems that tomato plants can suffer from. But keeping an eye on them regularly should help you deal with the problem asap before it spreads.
- Toxicity: Keep the leaves away from pet and human consumption as they are toxic.
Frequently Asked Questions About Beefsteak Tomatoes
As a whole, regular pruning is required for most beefsteak tomatoes. This ensures more energy is directed towards fruit production than foliage and stem development. Side shoots should be trimmed often to prevent them from developing. As long as you keep at least 1-2 main branches, the plant will grow just fine with plenty of yield for harvest. However, it’s worth noting that the few determinate or bush variety of beefsteak tomatoes don’t need pruning.
Most beefsteak tomato plants develop up to 12+ feet tall. But home garden varieties tend to be in the 6-8 feet range. But it’s worth noting that the small percentage of determinate varieties only grow up to 3-4 feet tall.
Beefsteak tomato plants need tall and sturdy trellis support to accommodate their indeterminate or vining growth habit. This allows them to grow vertically. Otherwise, they will simply develop all tangled up on the ground, leading to a high risk of pest & disease problems.
An average of 85 days of maturity is expected before beefsteak tomato plants are ready for harvesting. But this may vary depending on several factors, including the tomato variety and the primary care. Once the plant is established, it’ll continually produce fruits throughout the growing season until the temperature drops and frost kills the plant.
It’s unnecessary to prune determinate tomato plants due to their set height, compact growth, and short growing season. The plant will readily produce fruits all at once as soon as it has matured at 3-4 feet tall. Due to their immediate abundance, these tomatoes are best used for making sauces or preservation techniques like canning.
As a whole, it’s unnecessary to cut a tomato plant’s leaves off, whether they are of the determinate (bush) or indeterminate (vining) variety. They are essential in protecting the fruits from the sun as they develop. However, the latter type benefits from pruning suckers/side shoots to prevent too many branches from developing.
There may be several reasons why that happened:
1. It has too many branches. This means the plant is directing energy into maintaining stems and foliage rather than fruit production.
2. It has been given high Nitrogen fertilizer. This will cause more foliage development rather than fruits. Ensure you use high Phosphorus to encourage more blooms and fruits to grow.
3. It is of the determinate or bush variety. Most of these types grow smaller than the average beefsteak tomatoes due to their compact size. If you want bigger tomatoes, you must pick the vining or indeterminate variety.
4. It is not getting enough water. Tomato plants need more moisture once they start fruiting. If they get less than what they need, they’ll conserve energy and dedicate most of the water and nutrients to maintaining the whole plant instead.
Beefsteak tomatoes take longer to ripen throughout the growing season. The plant continually develops, so its energy is not solely focused on ripening the fruit. However, you can pluck these off and store them in a warm room where they’ll naturally mature and become redder over time.
Tall tomato plants are likely indeterminate or vining varieties, growing as tall as 6 to 12+ feet. However, indeterminate or bush tomato types are compact and often stop growing at 3-4 feet tall. There is nothing wrong with growing either tomato type. But if you have limited space, it’s best to go with the bush variety.
Regularly pruning your tomato plants will keep them from growing too tall. However, if this is an issue, it’s best to pick determinate or bush variety tomato plants because they have compact growth. These don’t need much pruning as they will stop growing at a certain height but continually develop side shoots which you can trim off as you like.
Overall, beefsteak tomato plants are both determinate and indeterminate. But you are likely to encounter the latter more often. Whichever you choose to grow, they are still pretty great either way. Happy planting!
- Determinante vs Indeterminante Tomatoes. (n.d.). Union.ces.ncsu.edu. Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://union.ces.ncsu.edu/2020/04/determinante-vs-indeterminante-tomatoes/
- What’s The Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes? (n.d.). ANR Blogs. Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=16937
- Tomatoes – Beefsteak | Cooperative Extension | University of Delaware. (n.d.). Www.udel.edu. Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://www.udel.edu/academics/colleges/canr/cooperative-extension/fact-sheets/tomatoes-beefsteak/
- 2022 Beefsteak Tomatoes – UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa. (n.d.). Ccmg.ucanr.edu. Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://ccmg.ucanr.edu/EdibleGardening/Tomato-Beefsteak/