What You Need To Know When Choosing Tomato Plants

When you are choosing tomato plants for your garden for the first time, there is something that you should know:  Not all tomato plants are likely to work in your garden.

That’s because different types of tomato plants have different growth habits and different types of fruits.

Here are 4 types of tomatoes and their uses:

4 Basic Types of Tomatoes

  1. Paste
  2. Slicing
  3. Cherry/Grape
  4. Specialty


Best for sauces and canning since these are meaty and not as juicy as other types. Can find paste tomatoes in red, orange as well as yellow, low acid varieties. Many of these types are plum or pear shaped, but there are also some that look very much like slicers… so appearance alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

Paste tomatoes are characterized by high amounts of sugars and acids (flavor), a lot of pectin, and less water than other tomato types. The higher amount of pectin, coupled with the lower amount of water makes the juice thicker so less time is needed to cook down to a paste consistency.

Additionally, growing conditions and amount of rainfall have a direct influence on the flavour and water content of the final product.

Example varieties: Plum Regal, Roma, San Marzano, Amish Paste

Slicing Tomatoes

We can divide these types into large and smaller slicers. These are the medium to very large tomatoes that are nice to slice to top a burger on a bun, or add to sandwiches. Most of these are similar in shape to the beefsteak types you see commonly on grocery store shelves, but again you can find slicers with more interesting shapes, such as ribbing and lobes. You can also find these in the full range of colours from red, orange, yellow to green and even purple.

Some the most popular heirlooms are slicers.

Large slicers

Most of these are a bit more juicy than the medium sized slicers, but one slice will easily cover a burger… and the heirlooms are super flavourful.

Example varieties: Brandywine (flavourful orange-red heirloom), Cherokee Purple (yes, this one is purple when ripe), Beefsteak, Old German (German heirloom with large fruit with lots of meat and less seed, exceptionally sweet, yellow orange in colour with striped skin).

Medium slicers

Many of the medium slicers are meatier in texture with thicker walls than most of the large slicers.
Example varieties: mountain magic, hamlet, lemon boy (yellow), country taste, golden queen (yellow, low acid), Jubilee

Cherry and Grape Tomatoes

Now these could be separated into grape and cherry types based on shape, but really the uses are the same. The fruit is small, making it perfect for snacking and carrying in a bag lunch.

They’re also easy to add to salads. Grill them and even dry sautee them… They’re versatile.

These are commonly found in the full range of colours from red, orange, yellow to purple, and even striped and speckled. While some grape shaped varieties are like mini-pastes, others are more juicy like the round cherry tomatoes. You’ll know the difference when you bite into them.

Example varieties: Sun sugar, Juliet, Chocolate Cherry, Sweet Million, Honey Bunch, Black Cherry

Specialty Varieties

These include varieties specially selected for growing in pots or other small spaces, as well as unusual shapes and those that don’t quite fit into any of the other three classifications.

Example varieties: Tiny Tim, Patio, Costoluto Fiorentino, Yellow Pear

Now that you’ve decided on the type of tomatoes you’re after, it’s time to find the right plants for your space.

How to Select Tomato Plants for Your Space

So, next thing to consider is how much space you have and getting a plant or plants that will best fit your growing area. That’s where it’s important to understand the two categories of tomato plant growing habits.

Some tomato plants grow and grow and keep bearing until cold, disease or pests do them in. These are indeterminate. They can often get very large and sprawl over your whole backyard, if you don’t cage them or trellis and prune. They are a bit more work, but you get tomatoes over a longer period of time and usually, lots of them.

Then there’s the determinate varieties. These ones grow just so big and then produce fruit. Many of these need no trellising or caging at all, while some of the larger ones could still benefit from a sturdy cage to keep the branches upright and the fruit up off the ground. A possible disadvantage to this type is that they produce all their fruit over a fairly short period of time.

Now, if you have very little space, specialty varieties for growing in pots can be just the thing. Some of these grow just a little over a foot tall yet produce a lot of fruit for a such a small plant.

So, if you have limited space be sure to check if the variety of tomato plant you’re considering is determinate or indeterminate, or a specialty bush or patio variety. It can make a big difference!

To make it easier to choose, here’s a chart of tomato plant varieties we’re offering this spring…

Type of Tomato

Variety Name

Growth Habit

Paste San Marzano Semi-determinate – up to 6 ft tall
Slicing – Large Brandywine Indeterminate
Cherokee Purple Indeterminate
Bush Beefsteak Determinate
Old German Indeterminate
Slicing – Smaller Mountain Merit Determinate (large)
Lemon Boy Indeterminate
Country Taste Indeterminate
Jubilee/Golden Queen Indeterminate
Cherry or Grape Sun Sugar Indeterminate
Juliet Indeterminate
Black Cherry Indeterminate
Sweet Million Indeterminate
Honey Bunch Indeterminate
Specialty Costoluto Fiorentino Indeterminate
Patio For pots and small spaces
Yellow Pear Indeterminate
Tiny Tim For pots and small spaces

Happy growing!

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