Determinate tomato plants grow only to a certain size, stop, and set all the fruit at once, excellent when canning.
Indeterminate tomatoes just keep growing and growing and the fruit also keeps coming. Some varieties are semi-determinate and have traits of both.

Which Variety of Tomato Should I Plant?

Which kind and varieties of tomatoes you grow depends on your needs and your location. If you are inland, you can grow any type of tomato, but if you live within a few miles of the coast you will be limited to certain types. If you can smell the ocean or can hear foghorns, you will really have your work cut out for you. In that event you may need an enclosure to help generate enough heat.

No matter where you live, plant as least two types of tomatoes, an extra-early and an early variety. If you would like to experiment, plant an ultra-early type. Ultra-early tomatoes set and ripen fruit with less heat needs than other types of tomatoes. Don't count the "Days to Maturity" of the variety because the actual days to when these tropical fruits ripen will depend entirely on your daytime and nighttime warmth. However, those numbers are a good guide to determine which other varieties would likely also do well in your microclimate. See "Where to plant your tomatoes" for the tricks you can use to give your plants as much help as possible.

Extra-early tomatoes are usually determinate (explain) and set blossoms during cooler weather and produce earlier fruit. Early tomatoes are next, and if you have enough heat, main-crop tomatoes will allow you to make sauces and juice. The sizes of the fruits will depend on how soon they ripen, with earlier fruits being smaller.

Tomato Maturities

We are reluctant to specify tomato varieties because of availability in your area, but use these as an example, and if you are not able to find the variety ask for a similar one. Visit a good nursery and ye shall receive. What if you can't find the plants you're looking for? Start your own tomato plants from seed.

Which other tomato varieties to choose (or avoid)

If you are within a few miles of the coast and the summer days remain cool, avoid any tomato plant with a maturity date of more than 60 days. Plant only the ultra-early types. If there is a ridge between you and the ocean, or if you are a few more miles inland, your garden may experience a bit more heat and you can then choose varieties with up to 70-day maturities. Experiment with longer maturity dates if your garden has microclimate areas that receive more heat.

If it gets warm enough during the afternoons for you to seek out shade, experiment to your heart's content and grow even heirloom varieties. Night time temperatures are important as well, ideally they should remain above 45°F.

Dr. James Baggett, OSU
Professor Jim Baggett, image courtesy of OSU Foundation

Dr. James Baggett spent 30 productive years as a plant breeder at Oregon State University. He is responsible for so many of our early tomato varieties, including that all-time classic, Oregon Spring. He also improved and adapted many varieties of garden peas and other vegetables for processing, fresh market and home garden use, primarily for those on the west coast and in damp and foggy conditions. Because of his contributions, Dr. Baggett has been recognized nationally by a variety of food and agricultural organizations. He retired in 1995 and is a professor emeritus of horticulture at Oregon State University.

Dr. Baggett bred parthenocarpic tomatoes. That mouthful of a word means that the tomatoes are able to produce fruit without requiring pollination. This trait allows the plant to produce fruit even if conditions are not conducive for flower pollination and the setting of fruit. As an added bonus the fruit is seedless.

So what do you do? The above varieties give you a good starting point, but you should always try other types. Some years are warmer and you may succeed in meeting that challenge. Your motto should always be 'experiment', and that's the fun in gardening. The closer you are to the coast, the more challenging it becomes to grow tomatoes.

NEXT: Growing Your Own Tomato Plants From Seed