Buying tomato plants – Is bigger better?

Tomatoes are one of the most popular garden plants grown over 85 percent of all gardens include tomatoes. When selecting tomato plants at your local greenhouse, there are several points to consider for healthy plants.

Larger tomato plants are available, some with blossoms and may even have small fruit. These larger blooming plants typically do not adapt well to transplanting, as most of the plant’s energy is going towards making fruit, rather than establishing a healthy root system. Choosing smaller tomato plants may be a better choice, as they will establish quickly in the garden and usually surpass larger plants in a short period of time.

If available, choose plants growing in larger, individual growing compartments, as the larger cells allow more room for root growth and do not dry out as quickly. Select plants with short, stocky stems, free of any yellowing leaves. Foliage should be a rich, green color, free from mottling or curling at the edges, which may be a sign of pests or disease.

Tomatoes have two main types of growth habits, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes, or bush types, grow to a certain point and typically produce fruit all at once, during 4 to 6 week time period. This heavier production usually occurs earlier in the season and is handy for canning or making sauces. Cultivars such as ‘Big Boy’ or ‘Celebrity’, a “semi-determinate” plant, are popular choices.

Indeterminate tomatoes, or vining types, keep growing and produce fruit all season great for vegetable burgers and salads all summer long! You will need to provide these hefty plants with support and should to be pruned to no more than four main stems. ‘Better Boy’, ‘Big Beef’ and ‘Jet Star’ are good indeterminate tomato choices for Iowa gardens.

Did you know? Tomatoes cultivars will differ in amounts of sugar content, and also may taste different to different people – try several varieties to find your favorite. Perhaps try an heirloom cultivar such as ‘Brandywine’ or ‘Cherokee Purple’, both are indeterminate plants and very flavorful choices.

For further information on growing tomatoes or other gardening questions, contact Yvonne McCormick at yvonne@iastate.edu