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How to Choose a Tomato for Your Garden

Tomatoes ripening on the vineGrow enough tomatoes this year for fresh eating and also for cooking, canning, or preserving (if that’s what you have in mind). But don’t grow more than you can use or give away.

Planting more tomatoes than you need is a fairly common mistake. (A mistake you’re never fully aware of until late in the summer.) Some forethought before the growing season begins will save time, effort, and space in your garden for other crops.

Best tomato growing tips: How to Grow Tomatoes.

Two or three tomato plants for each person in the household should give you just the right amount for fresh eating.

Which tomatoes should you grow? Here is a roundup of the most popular, easiest growing, and easiest to find tomato varieties. Keep this list handy when ordering seeds or going to the garden center. This list should help you find the right tomatoes for you and your family’s needs, and it will help you time the planting of tomatoes for the coming season.

To use the lists below, here are some abbreviations and explanations:

Green Zebra tomatoes
Green Zebra open-pollinated tomatoes

Open-pollinated (OP) or Hybrid (H) Tomatoes. Look for the note in the charts next to the varietal name. Tomatoes can be divided into two basic types: open-pollinated and hybrid. Open-pollinated (OP) tomatoes pollinate themselves and produce offspring just like themselves in looks and taste. Hybrid (H) tomatoes are a cross between two varieties which can occur on purpose or by accident. Tomato breeders cross-pollinate differing varieties to create plants with specific attributes. The difference between open-pollinated and hybrid is important for several reasons; one important consideration for you is if you intend to save the seed from one or two of your tomatoes at the end of the season and hope to use them next year to start a new garden. You can with open-pollinated seed; you can’t with hybrid seed. The hybrid seed will not grow true.

Notable among open-pollinated tomato varieties are heirloom tomatoes or old-fashioned tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes have been around for generations and include dozens and dozens of plants that have very desirable natural mutations or traits. Heirloom tomato varieties are often well-suited to a particular climate or region.

Disease resistant notes. Disease-resistant varieties are identified by a letter code which will be found on seed packets or transplant identification stakes: “V” (verticillium wilt), “F” (fusarium wilt), “N” (nematodes–microorganisms that cause root cankers); and “T” (tobacco mosaic virus). Resistant varieties are noted after the variety name of each tomato in the chart below.

Indeterminate tomatoes
Indeterminate tomatoes grow tall and require staking or caging.

Determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties. Determinate (D) varieties produce bushy plants just a few feet tall that tend to come to harvest all at the same time–usually over a period of about 4 weeks. Determinate cultivars are a good choice in short-season regions because they tend to ripen more quickly.

Indeterminate (I) varieties are vining plants that keep on growing, producing new clusters of flowers, and fruiting until the first frost. These plants tend to be continuous producers but they can grow unwieldy and will require staking, caging, or trellis growing.

Growing suggestion. Where the growing season is long, plant determinate tomatoes for a quick early harvest and also plant late-maturing indeterminate tomatoes for a continuous supply through the summer.

Days. The days listed in these charts are the number of days to maturity or harvest from the time of seed sowing. But this time is under optimal seed starting conditions–meaning a soil germination temperature of 85°F. If you are sowing seed in the garden or in less than optimal circumstances add 5 to 10 days or more to this number.

Use. Meaning how you plant to use the tomato in the kitchen: C=Container or miniature variety; these are often used as salad or snacking tomatoes. S=Slicing or fresh eating tomatoes; use these on sandwiches. P=Paste or cooking tomatoes.

Early girl tomatoes
Early Girl determinate bush tomatoes

Early Harvest Tomato Varieties (50-65 days). Early harvest or first-early tomatoes are more compact than main-season tomato varieties. Many of these cultivars are suited to short-growing season regions or cool-summer regions. Generally, these tomatoes will be small to medium-sized.

Early-Harvest Variety D/I Days Color Use Comments
Burpee’s Pixie (H) D 60 Red C 16-inch plants
Bush Beefsteak (OP) D 62 Red S Large, firm
Champion (H) VFNT I 65 Red S Smooth, large
Cherry Grande (H) VF D 58 Red C Large cherry tomato
Early Cascade VF (H) I 61 R S Salads, sandwiches
Early Girl (H) VFF I 62 Red S Favorite early crop
Earliana (OP) I 65 Red S Mild flavor
Earlirouge (OP) D 65 Red S Sets fruit in extreme temperatures
Glacier (OP) D 54 Red S Good flavor
Gold Nugget (OP) D 60 Gold C Nearly seedless
Ida Gold (OP) D 55 Orange S Cold tolerant
Juliet (H) I 62 Red P AAS winner
Marmande (OP) VF D 65 Red S French gourmet
New Yorker (OP) V D 64 Red S Small, compact, early
Orange Pixie (H) D 52 Orange C 1-to-2-inch fruits
Oregon Spring (OP) D 60 Red S Adapted to cool regions
Pilgrim (OP) D 65 Red S Compact, good flavor
Quick Pick (H) VFNT I 60 Red S Good flavor
Red Currant (OP) I 65 Red C Small, big flavor
Siberia (OP) D 50 Red S Tolerates cold
Small Fry (H)VFN D 60 Red C Cherry-size 40 to cluster
Stupice (OP) I 55 Red S Cool, short season
Sub-Arctic Maxi (OP) D 52 Red S Very cold tolerant
Sun Gold (H) I 65 Red C Sweet and early
Super Chief (H) D 60 Red S Very early; large fruits
Sweet Chelsea (H) I 65 Red C Drought tolerant
Taxi (OP) D 64 Yellow S Compact
Tigerella (Mr. Stripey) (OP) I 56 Orange-Yellow S Tangy flavor
Tiny Tim (OP) D 55 Red C Grow in a hanging basket
Whippersnapper (OP) D 52 Dark Pink C Extra early
Slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and paste tomatoes
Slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and paste tomatoes

Main-Crop Tomato Varieties (65-80 days). Main-crop or mid-season tomato varieties generally bear larger fruit. These tomatoes are well-suited for summer growing and are very good producers. Many can be pruned and trained to stakes or grown in wire cages or on trellises.

Main-Crop Variety D/I Days Color Use Comments
Abraham Lincoln (OP) I 78 Red S Flavorful old-timer
Bellstar (OP) D 70 Red P Large plum type
Better Boy  VFV (H) I 72 Red S Flavorful, firm
Big Boy (H) I 78 Red S Meaty, long season
Black Prince (OP) I 70 Dark red S Compact, tasty and juicy
Bonny Best (OP) I 70 Red S Old-fashion favorite
Brandywine (OP) I 85 Pink-red S Heirloom; superb flavor
Burpee’s Big Girl (H) VF I 78 Red S Crack-resistant
Burpee’s Supersteak (H) VFN I 80 Red S Rich flavor, beefsteak
Burpee’s VF (H) I 72 Red S Firm, meaty
Campbell 1327 (OP) D 75 Red S Firm, smooth
Celebrity (H) VFNT D 70 Red   AAS winner
Cherokee Purple (OP) I 72 Pink-purple S Multicolor flesh, southern heirloom
Creole (OP) I 72 Red S Southern favorite
Dutchman (H) I 80 Dark pink S Low-acid beefsteak
Evergreen (OP) I 72 Green S Green flesh, mild flavor
First Lady (H) I 66 Red S Disease resistant
Floramerica (H) VFN D 70 Red S AAS winner
Gardener’s Delight (OP) D 65 Red C Sugar sweet
Glamour (OP) I 74 Red S Crack-resistant
Golden Boy (H) I 75 Yellow-orange   Good grower
Heat Wave (H) VFF D 68 Red S Heat tolerant
Heinz 1350 (OP) VF D 75 Red P Canning variety
Homestead 24 (OP)F D 82 Red S Southern performer
Husky Gold (H) VF I 70 Gold S AAS winner
Jet Star (H) VF I 72 Red S Flavorful, low acid
Lemon Boy (H) I 72 Yellow S Mild flavor
Marglobe (OP) F D 75 Red S Smooth, firm
Monte Carlo (H) VFN I 75 Red S Smooth, long season
Mortgage Lifter (OP) VFN I 85 Red S Southern beefsteak
Park Whopper (H) VFNT I 65 Red S Good disease resistance
Patio Hybrid (H) F D 70 Red C Good yield, favorite
Persimmon (OP) I 80 Orange S Fine flavor
Ponderosa (OP) I 90 Pink S Beefsteak
Porter (OP) I 65 Red S Heat resistant
Quick Pick (H) I 79 Red S Heavy yields
Red Pear (OP) I 70 Red S Small fruited
Roma (OP) VF D 75 Red C Standard paste variety
Rutgers (Jersey) (OP) I 74 Red P Canning favorite
Small Fry (H) VF D 72 Red C Heavy yields, compact
Solar Set (H) D 70 Red S Heat tolerant
Sunray (OP) F I 80 Yellow-orange S Widely grown
Super Fantastic VF (H) I 70 Red S Smooth, long producer
Supersonic (H) VF D 79 Red S All-around performer
Super Sweet 100 (H) I 70 Red S Sweet and productive
Sweet Million (H) FN I 60 Red S Improved Sweet 100
Sweet 100 (H) I 65 Red C Big yields
Terrific (H) VFN I 70 Red S Meaty, long season
The Juice D   Red PS For canning or juice
Valencia (OP) I 75 Orange S Maine heirloom
Veepick D   Red P Plum; peels easily
White Beauty I   White S Mild and sweet
Wonder Boy (H) VFN I 80 Red S Heavy producer
Yellow Currant (OP) I 70 Yellow C Very small
Yellow Pear (OP) I 76 Yellow C Mild; preserves salads
Yellow Plum (H) I 70 Yellow C Preserves and salads
San Marzano late-season paste tomatoes
San Marzano late-season paste tomatoes

Late-Season Tomatoes (80+ days to Harvest). Late-season tomato varieties are long-stayers in your garden. Grow these tomatoes only if you have a generous growing season. Late-season tomatoes tend to be larger and juicier because they take full advantage of the summer season.

Late-Season Variety D/I Days Color Use Comments
Ace 55 VF (OP) D 80 Red S Tart to sweet
Arkansas Traveler (OP)F I 90 Red S Southern heirloom
Beefmaster (H) VFN I 80 Red S Meaty, flavorful
Beefsteak (OP) I 90 Red S Large, delicious
Big Rainbow (OP) I 102 Green-red S Long season
Brandywine (OP) D 80 Pink-red S Good flavor
Burgess Stuffing (OP) I 74 Red S Mild
Cal-Ace (H) VF D 90 Red S Adapted to arid areas
Caro Rich (OP) D 80 Orange S Cool climate
Delicious (OP) I 77 Red S Beefsteak
Doublerich (OP) D 80 Red S Canner
Giant Belgium  (OP) I 90 Dark Pink S Low acid; large fruit
Golden Boy (H) I 80 Yellow S Mild flavor
Green Grape (OP) D 80 Yellow-green S Sweet-tart
Green Zebra (OP) I 80 Green-yellow S Mild flavor
Homestead 24 (OP) F D 82 Red S Adapted to the South
Oxheart (OP) I 86 Red S Old favorite
Pineapple (H) I 90 Red-Yellow S Striped Heirloom
Pink Ponderosa (OP) I 90 Red S Meaty, old-timer
San Marzano (OP) I 80 Red P Mild, meaty; paste-type
Super Bush (H) D 70 Red S Big yielder
Tangerine (OP) I 85 Yellow-Orange S Heirloom beefsteak

Best tomato growing tips: How to Grow Tomatoes.

If you’ve got tomato questions turn to The Tomato Grower’s Answer Book.

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11 Comments

  1. Trying to understand growing tomato varieties. As I understand from your article, open pollinated varieties can be grown from their own seeds, and self-pollinate. Hybrids apparently cannot, and will not “grow true”. How then is any particular hybrid reproduced from year to year?

    • Some, but not many, hybrids can grow true. Hybrid seed is produced by seed growers who isolate and cross-fertilize mother plants with the intention of harvesting the seed from the best plants that are created. This process calls for close observation and continuing efforts to breed plants with desirable characteristics. Commercial seed operations spend considerable time, effort and money to grow seed. The link that follows may be helpful if you would like to breed plants for seed: http://howtosaveseeds.com/breeding.php
      Also this link: https://www.seedsavers.org/learn

    • Wonder Boy is a hybrid tomato that was introduced in 1959. Like many hybrids which often are introduced but do not catch on or fall out of favor as new hybrids come on the market, it appears that no seed growers currently are offering Wonder Boy.

  2. I am new to edible gardening, I’m excited to start growing, harvesting and eating my own veggies but I will admit…I’m a bit overwhelmed! lol I live on Long Island in NY and we have a small, mostly wooded piece of property so I opted to use grow boxes so I can place them on my back deck where we do get sun. Being I am growing veggies that way are there certain types that grow better that way? I am looking to grow Tomatoes (cherry & plum), beans, lettuce, garlic, peppers, cucumbers and maybe 1 more. Any suggestions/recommendations? Thank you very much for your time.

    • Go to the Index here and then go to Container Gardening for articles that may help (here’s the link https://harvesttotable.com/tag/container-gardening-2/ ). You can grow almost all vegetables in grow boxes or containers. You should choose containers that allow for deep root growth–for a tomato or pepper a container at least 18 to 24 inches deep or more is best. Leafy crops can grow in soil 12 to 15 inches deep; root crops require 15 to 20 inches. The soil or potting mix you use should be rich in nutrients. Place your boxes where they get the maximum amount of sunlight each day. Next be sure to give each plant plenty of room to grow to maturity–a tomato will need at least 3 x 3 feet, a lettuce plant 8 inches by 8 inches. Allowing for deep root growth and space for each plant to grow to maturity is very important. After that just check articles here for each crop you grow for suggestions on watering and feeding. Experience is the best teacher when it comes to gardening; so be patient and keep learning year by year. See this article as well 10 Things to Know About Vegetable Garden Planning https://harvesttotable.com/10-things-to-know-about-vegetable-garden-planning/

  3. I have been gardening since 1963 and the best tomatoes I have ever had what are Burpees Better Boy bush. I still have a desire to grow this plant but can’t find the seeds. Do you have any idea where I may obtain seeds for this plant. It has to be the bush variety. Also do you know if this was open pollinated are hybrid? Also, how do people get tomatoes near soil level? I have never no matter what I try been able to get low level tomatoes.

    • ‘Better Boy’ is a hybrid tomato. It is an indeterminate or vining tomato. If you can’t find the seeds or starts at a nearby garden shop or nursery, you can get ‘Better Boy’ online from Burpee and also from Park Seeds, Ferry Morse, Harris Seeds, and Gurney’s Seeds. If you want a tomato similar to ‘Better Boy’ that is a determinate or bush type tomato, try growing ‘Bush Big Boy’ or ‘Better Bush’. Grow bush or determinate tomatoes if you want low-growing plants (not indeterminates). Also, To keep tomato plants low growing you must prune away the growing tips; this is usually done with indeterminate tomatoes, not determinate varieties. Space your plants well apart to ensure good air circulation; this will keep lower branches from yellowing and falling.

How to Grow Tomatoes: Grow tomatoes on stakes or in cages for easy harvest.

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