How to Choose the Right Variety of Tomato Plant for Your Garden
By: Julie Day
When planting season rolls around, it’s easy enough to decide to plant tomatoes – they’re easy to grow, sinfully delicious, and who doesn’t love homemade spaghetti sauce? But with hundreds of varieties and qualities of tomato varieties to choose from, plant and seed selection can be quite a challenge.
Here’s a guide to help you sort through all the jargon and pick which tomatoes to plant in your garden.
Tomato Plant Sizes and Shapes
- Dwarf tomato plants are bred to be smaller in size for use in containers and hanging baskets. Dwarf tomato plants can be either determinate or indeterminate.
Tomato Maturity Time
Depending on the variety, tomato plants can take from 45-80 days to mature and are categorized according to when they tend to produce tomatoes:
- Late season tomato plant varieties ripen in more than 80 days and are great for warm climates with long growing seasons.
While climate is a factor in deciding whether to plant early or late tomatoes, you can also vary varieties to ensure a longer harvest.
There are also many choices of sizes, colors, and flavors of the tomatoes themselves. You can choose from:
- Unusual Tomatoes: There are also all sorts of weird and interesting tomato types, including white, orange, pink, green and yellow colors, striped and spotted skins, and funny shapes.
Hybrids, Open-Pollinated, and Heirloom Tomatoes
You also have choices of the type of breeding of the plant:
- Heirloom tomato plants are open-pollinated varieties that have been around for generations. Heirloom tomatoes are the hands-down winners of taste tests, although they’re generally more fragile. Heirloom vegetables very important contributors to biodiversity and sustainability.
Decoding Tomato Plant Labels
Tomato plant and seed tags are often coded with letters that represent resistance to common diseases. Examples include:
- F: Fusarium wilt (strains F1, F2, or F3)
- N: Nematodes
- V: Verticillium wilt
- A: Alternaria leaf spot
- L: Septoria leaf spot
- St: Stemphylium
- T: Tobacco mosaic virus
- BKS: Bacterial Speck
- EB: Early Blight
- TSWV: Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
You may also see abbreviations:
- OP: Open-pollinated
- AAS: All-America Selection
Tomato Variety Examples
Now let’s try putting some of this together in a few examples:
- Better Boy: Indeterminate, midseason, hybrid, slicing tomato, FVNTresistant.
- Roma: Determinate, midseason, open-pollinated, plum tomato, FV resistant.
- Early Girl: Indeterminate, early, hybrid, slicing tomato, VF resistant.
- Brandywine: Indeterminate, late, heirloom, beefsteak tomato.
- How to Grow Tomatoes (article)
- Tips for Growing Tomatoes (video)
- America’s Favorite Tomatoes (Mother Earth News)
- Sortable Tomato Chart (Cross Country Nurseries)
- Heirloom Tomatoes List (heirloomtomatoes.net)
- Tomato Varieties: Growth Habit and Disease Resistance (Ala. Extension)