Tomato Growing Terminology: Words a Tomato Gardener Should Know

From trusses to setting, determinate to heirloom, these tomato-growing terms will help the
budding home gardener at least fake expertise!
Tomato Growing Terminology
Tomato Growing Terminology

Blossom End Rot

A common tomato disease which affects the blossom end (bottom) of the fruit. Blossom end rot is characterised by a small black patch on the bottom of the tomato. The disease results from insufficient calcium, and does not spread from plant to plant; it is treated by adding calcium to the soil or taking measures to improve calcium availability and absorption.


Tomato cages are structured, three-dimensional trellises. Cages provide more support and climbing surface than simple stakes, and are a handy alternative to trellises. Tomato cages can be purchased or made at home out of wood, bamboo or strong wire. Cages tend to be pyramid-shaped for stability, and are placed over the young tomato plant, which then grows up and through the structure.

Companion Planting

A theory of gardening in which plants are grouped to maximise disease resistance, deter or trap pests, and achieve optimum flavour and growth. Companion plants for tomatoes include basil, carrots and parsley.


Determinate tomato plants are bushy, usually free-standing plants which perform well in containers. The plants produce their entire crop of fruit within a short period and then die. Roma tomatoes are determinate, as are some dwarf tomatoes.


Heirloom tomatoes are old-fashioned, open-pollinated breeds. Unlike the common supermarket tomato, an heirloom tomato may be yellow, purple, green, white, orange or striped. Heirloom tomatoes also come in a range or shapes and sizes, and are often preserved for their superior flavour and resistance to disease.


Modern tomatoes tend to be hybrids–tomatoes which have been produced by cross-pollinating different species in order to preserve the most desirable traits. Unless labelled ‘heirloom’, most tomato seeds purchased will be hybrid varieties. Hybrid tomatoes have some advantages over heirlooms in terms of disease resistance, uniform-looking fruit and heavy cropping; however, many consider their flavour to be inferior to that of heirloom tomatoes. Confusingly, some heirloom tomatoes are also hybrids!


Indeterminate tomato plants produce continuously throughout the growing season. These varieties tend to vine and thus need staking or caging. Indeterminate tomatoes are more common than determinate, and include most heirloom varieties and such common breeds as Beefsteak, Brandywine and Big Boy.


Laterals are branches of the tomato plant which contain no blossoms and thus produce no fruit. A lateral branch will not grow any other branches; its sole purpose is to provide photosynthesis for the plant. Some gardeners recommend severely pruning laterals—also called side shoots– in order to increase fruit yield.

Paste Tomatoes

A paste tomato is one of a number of breeds which have few seeds and meaty, coreless flesh. These fruit are used for making tomato paste and sauces. The Italian ‘Roma’ is one kind of paste tomato.


Some indeterminate varieties of tomato mature early in the season and die off before the frosts; as a result, they are known as semi-determinate.


Tomato-growing lingo refers to trusses ‘setting’. A set truss is simply one whose flowers have disappeared and begun to form tiny fruit.


A number of unusually-coloured tomatoes are described as having ‘shoulders’ of one colour—a band of colour around the top curve of the fruit. The ‘Black Krim’ tomato actually has ‘black’ (dark purple) shoulders, with a red blossom end.


A sturdy stick poked into the ground to support a tomato. The plants are often tied to the stake with a soft material, such as a piece of old stocking. Staking provides minimal support; some varieties of tomato require caging.

Tomato Food

It is recommended to feed (fertilise) tomato plants generously. An all-purpose plant food is adequate; however, special ‘tomato food’ products are available which contain specific levels of NPK and calcium to help growing tomato plants along.


A truss is a fruit-bearing tomato branch.

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