Tomato Varieties:
How to Understand the Way They are Classified

Some experts estimate there are up to 25,000 tomato varieties to choose from. 

Tomato Varieties: 3 ways to understand how they are classified with Tomato Dirt. #GrowTomatoes #HeirloomTomatoes

That can be overwhelming, even for the most enthusiastic home gardener.

So many tomatoes – so little garden space!

Here’s the dirt.

There are at least 3 different (and simple) ways to classify tomato varieties. Here you can see how tomatoes can be classified by their genetics, the time of length that they produce, and yes - even their shapes. 

This way you'll have a better understanding of this whole tomato variety business. You'll understand the terms (at least a bit.) You won't be so confused when you're at the garden center. And you'll have a better idea of how to choose varieties for your garden.

If you want to know which varieties are most popular in the home garden, click here. And read on to learn about classifications.

Classification #1: Heirloom or Hybrid

This classification centers on a tomato’s genetic line.

Heirloom tomatoes are strains that have been reproduced for generations without cross-breeding.

Hybrid tomatoes, on the other hand, are a cross between two different varieties. Hybrids are cultivated both commercially and in the home garden.

As you get to know varieties, you'll soon recognize which tomatoes are heirlooms and which are hybrids. Hybrid seedlings are often identified as "hybrid" on their identification tags in nurseries and garden centers. (Learn more about heirlooms and hybrids here.)

Classification #2: Determinate or indeterminate

This classification centers on the length of time a tomato produces fruit during season.

A determinate tomato plant produces fruit for a couple of weeks and then production fades out. That’s because it eventually forms a flower cluster at the terminal growing point, which causes it to stop growing in height.

An indeterminate tomato plant produces fruit throughout the season, often until frost. It never sets terminal flower clusters, but only lateral ones, and continues indefinitely to grow taller.

Classification #3: Shape

This classification centers on a tomato’s shape.

Looks count – even for tomatoes! Whether a tomato is a hybrid or an heirloom, or determinate or indeterminate, it is also classified according to its shape. 

There are four broad shape classifications for tomatoes:

  • Globe tomatoes: the most heavily commercially-cultivated fruit
  • Beefsteak tomatoes: the biggest fruit
  • Paste tomatoes: thick-walled fruit, used to make sauces
  • Cherry tomatoes: smallest fruit

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