Recommended Cultivars and Types of Tomatoes for the Home Garden

Tomatoes are a popular addition to the home vegetable garden.  The wide variety of tomatoes available to grow is tremendous! (Figure 1)

Variety of Tomatoes By istetiana AdobeStock
Figure 1: Tomatoes come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.

 Tomato Types  |  Recommended Cultivars  |  More Information


Types

Tomatoes can be classified based on several different characteristics including growth habits, fruit shape, and color, among other things. 

Growth Habits

Determinate

Determinate tomatoes are small, compact plants that grow to a certain height, then flower and set all their fruit within a short time frame. The harvest period for determinate tomatoes is generally four to six weeks, making them good choices for canning and fresh consumption.

Indeterminate

Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow, flower, and set fruit until the first fall frost kills them. The fruit on indeterminate cultivars usually mature later than determinate tomatoes, but the harvest period often extends over two to three months. Yields are generally higher than determinate types. Indeterminate tomatoes are tall, sprawling plants that usually perform best when supported by stakes or cages.

Dwarf

Dwarf tomatoes have a growth habit much like determinate types, just much smaller.  Some may only grow to 8 to 12 inches!  These cultivars, however, tend to fruit more like indeterminate tomatoes, producing a few tomatoes at a time.  These cultivars are great for containers.

Fruit Shape

  • Standard - round shape; smooth; larger than salad tomatoes but smaller than beefsteak types.  Also referred to as slicing or globe. (Figure 2)
  • Beefsteak - large fruit (sometimes more than one pound); round, oblate (fruit are flattened at the top and bottom), or irregular shape; dense flesh with numerous small seed cavities; usually late maturing. (Figure 3)
  • Salad - small, bite-sized fruit;  numerous shapes including cherry, grape, and pear; typically indeterminate; early to mature. (Figure 4)
  • Paste - small to medium sized fruit; often oblong or elongated shape; thick flesh with small seed cavities (making them good candidates for processing into sauces and tomato paste). Also referred to as processing, Roma, or plum. (Figure 5)
slicing tomato at state fair by Cindy Haynes
Figure 2: Standard Tomato (also called slicing or globe)
Harvesting a big beef tomato By M.Dörr & M.Frommherz AdobeStock
Figure 3: Beefsteak Tomato

 

Salad tomatoes of different types by Cindy Haynes
Figure 4: Salad Tomatoes
Processing tomatoes by Cindy Haynes
Figure 5: Paste Tomatoes (also called processing, Roma or plum)

Classification

Hybrid 

Hybrid tomatoes are produced by crossing two different parent plants.  The resulting progeny will have characteristics from both parents.  Tomatoes are self-pollinating (meaning the fruit can form when pollinated by pollen from the same flower or another flower on the same plant).  So, cross-pollination often has to be assisted by a pollinator or a gardener.  The gardener will purposely select pollen from different parents to get progeny that exhibits the best attributes of both parents.  As a hybrid, the seed collected from the fruit will not resemble the parent.  For this reason, it is not possible to save seeds from hybrid tomatoes.  

Often, hybrids are selected for natural resistance to common tomato diseases and disorders.  These tomatoes are indicated by a series of letters following the cultivar name.  These letters stand for resistance to certain diseases.  This does not mean they cannot get the disease, as the level of disease resistance can vary.  But most should be disease-free or become infected to a level that does not impact yield, unless the disease pressure is exceptionally high.  A list of common letters and the diseases they represent is below: 

  • V = Verticillium Wilt
  • T = Tobacco Mosaic Virus
  • F = Fusarium Wilt, race 1
  • FF = Fusarium Wilt, race 2
  • FFF = Fusarium Wilt, race 3
  • N = Nematodes
  • TSWV = Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
  • CMV = Cucumber Mosaic Virus
  • Septoria Leaf Spot = L
  • ASC = Alternaria Stem Canker
  • A = Alternaria
  • S = Septoria
  • St = Gray Leaf Spot

Heirloom

Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated and have been passed down from generation to generation. Being open-pollinated means the seed collected from the fruit will grow true to type the following year.  This is provided it is not crossed with a different cultivar nearby (that would make the progeny hybrids!).  

There is no universal definition of an heirloom tomato. However, many agree they are cultivars with a story or lineage documented and developed more than 50 years ago (although newer tomatoes can also be called "heirloom" if they have a story).  For example, 'Cherokee Purple' originated from tomatoes grown by the Cherokees more than 100 years ago and was shared with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange by John Green of Sevierville, Tennessee, in 1990.  Older cultivars with many characteristics of heirloom tomatoes but no "stories" are sometimes called "open-pollinated."

Many gardeners believe the flavor of heirloom tomatoes is better than modern hybrids developed primarily for commercial production and long-distance shipping.  Many have unique or unusual colorations, shapes, or textures. Heirloom tomatoes tend not to be as productive as most hybrid tomatoes. Also, heirloom tomatoes are more susceptible to many diseases and disorders.

Color

Tomatoes come in a wide range of colors, including red, pink, yellow, purple, orange, green, black, white, rose, deep pink, golden, green-pink, bi-color, and multi-color.  They can be solid, striped, speckled, or randomly spotted, among other patterns.  

Season of Fruiting

The time it takes to produce ripe fruit can vary from cultivar to cultivar.  Early-season tomatoes require 65 or fewer days from transplanting to harvest; mid-season tomatoes (sometimes called main season) require 70 to 79 days; and late-season tomatoes take more than 80 days.


Recommended Cultivars

The number of tomato cultivars available is staggering!  They can be classified by growth habits, fruit shape and size, color, and season of harvest, among other things.  

The following are suggested tomato cultivars for home gardeners in Iowa. These cultivars have performed well in university cultivar trials and home gardens in the state.  

Many of the cultivars on this list are hybrids (not heirlooms), as hybrids are often more resistant to common diseases and disorders, making them more productive.  Dozens of other cultivars can be considered.  An extensive list of cultivars can be found in this article from Rutgers University: Tomato Varieties.

Recommended Cultivars

  • ‘Better Boy’ (indeterminate; red, round, medium-size fruit).
  • 'Big Beef' (indeterminate; red, round, medium fruit).
  • ‘Brandywine’ (indeterminate; pinkish red, oblate, large fruit).
  • ‘Carolina Gold’ (determinate; golden orange, oblate, large fruit).
  • ‘Celebrity’ (determinate; red, oblate, medium to large fruit).
  • ‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ (indeterminate; orange, round, large fruit).
  • ‘Cherokee Purple’ (indeterminate; rose-purple, oblate, large fruit).
  • ‘Early Girl’ (determinate; red, oblate, medium-size fruit).
  • ‘Golden Sweet’ (indeterminate; yellow, oval, grape-type fruit).
  • ‘Jet Star’ (indeterminate; red, oblate, medium to large fruit).
  • ‘Juliet’ (indeterminate; red, elongated, small fruit).
  • 'Lemon Boy' (indeterminate; yellow, round, medium fruit).
  • 'Mountain Fresh Plus' (determinate; red, round, large fruit).
  • 'Patio' (dwarf; red, round, small fruit).
  • ‘Pony Express’ (determinate; red, blocky pear-shaped, medium-size fruit).
  • 'Primo Red' (determinate; red, globe, large fruit)
  • ‘Red Deuce’ (determinate; red, globe-shaped, large fruit).
  • ‘Roma VF’ (determinate; red, pear-shaped, medium-sized fruit).
  • 'Sun Gold' (indeterminate; yellow-orange, round, cherry-size fruit).
  • ‘Supersweet 100’ (indeterminate; red, round, cherry-size fruit).
  • 'Sweet Hearts' (indeterminate; red, small, grape-shaped fruit).
  • ‘Sweet Olive’ (determinate; red, oval, grape-type fruit).
  • 'Yellow Pear' (indeterminate; yellow small, pear-shaped fruit).

Popular Heirloom Cultivars

  • 'Amana Orange' (Orange; Indeterminate; Late)
  • 'Amish Paste' (Red, Indeterminate)
  • 'Big Rainbow' (Yellow and Red; Indeterminate, Late, large fruit)
  • 'Black Krim' (Purple/Black; Indeterminate; Large fruit)
  • 'Brandywine' (Pink-red; Indeterminate; Black & yellow fruit available)
  • 'Costoluto Genovese' (Red; Indeterminate; Irregular shape, paste/juice type)
  • 'Cherokee Purple' (Purple-red; Indeterminate)
  • 'Druzba' (Red; Indeterminate)
  • 'German Pink' (Pink; Indeterminate)
  • 'Green Grape' (Green; Determinate; Small fruit)
  • 'Green Zebra' (Green; Indeterminate; Striped fruit)
  • 'Hungarian Heart' (Pink; Indeterminate)
  • 'Kellogg's Breakfast' (Orange; Indeterminate; Large fruit)
  • 'Martino's Roma' (Red; Determinate; Oval fruit)
  • 'Mortgage Lifter' (Pink-red; Indeterminate; Large fruit)
  • 'Oxheart' (Red, pink, or orange; Indeterminate; Large, heart-shaped fruit)
  • 'Persimmon' (Yellow/gold; Indeterminate; Large fruit)
  • 'Pineapple' (Orange and yellow; Indeterminate; Large fruit)
  • 'Ponderosa Red' (Red; Indeterminate; Large fruit)
  • 'Red Fig' (Red; Indeterminate; Small pear-shaped fruit)
  • 'Speckled Roman' (Red with orange/yellow; Indeterminate; Speckled oval fruit)
  • 'Silvery Fir Tree' (Red; Determinate; Compact plants, early)
  • 'Valencia' (Orange-red; Indeterminate)
  • 'Wapsipinicon Peach' (Yellow/gold; Indeterminate; Slightly fuzzy fruit)
  • 'Wyche's' )Yellow/gold; Indeterminate)
  • 'Yellow Pear' (Yellow; Indeterminate; Small pear-shaped fruit)

More Information


Photo credits: Figure 1:  istetiana/AdobeStock  |  Figure 2: Cindy Haynes  |  Figure 3: M.Dörr & M.Frommherz/AdobeStock  |  Figure 4: Cindy Haynes  |  Figure 5: Cindy Haynes

Authors:
Last reviewed:
April 2024