How to tell one tomato variety from another

How to tell one tomato variety from another!

It is so easy to lose track of which tomato plant is which, at this time of the season.

Here are a few ways to tell tomato varieties apart – if you lose the labels.

How to tell one tomato variety from another
Bush variety showing a cluster of tomatoes.

Bush or Indeterminate (tall) variety?

Given that plants haven’t become leggy, the height of bush varieties such as Tumbling Tom is going to be less than than a Gardener’s Delight from around six weeks on.

Side shoots
This will give an indication too, whether the plant is a bush or a tall variety. Side shoots on most determinate (bush) plants start to show between six to eight weeks.

Tall variety showing tomatoes growing on a single stem or truss.
Tall variety showing tomatoes growing on a single stem or truss.

Spotting the difference between tall varieties

It is easy to tell the difference between a Gardener’s Delight and a Moneymaker.

Flower bud size
The flower buds on a tall cherry will be smaller than the flower buds on a medium or large variety.

Leaf shape
Notice also the shape of each variety’s leaves – the seed leaves of a Gardener’s Delight has a very distinctive shape -Spitfire wings!

Leaf Colour
Some varieties will show a darker green leaf colour than others – given exactly the same growing conditions and nutrients.

Plants that produce larger tomatoes, often require more nitrogen and magnesium and therefore display a slightly lighter leaf colour compared to a smaller tomato plant.

Plants that produce larger tomatoes will also require more calcium in order to avoid Blossom End Rot too!


Aaaah Rennie (‘Allo ‘Allo?)

One option, to add calcium and magnesium, is to dissolve an indigestion tablet that contains calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate when you water.

Use the sugar free ones – click pic

These don’t dissolve very well so it is best to water them into the soil rather than a reservoir.

The best option is Chempak Calcium and a separate box of Westland’s Epsom Salts (magnesium) but this of course is more expensive.

This is the better option.


The value in growing more than one variety

Not only do we get an assortment of colours, shapes, sizes and flavours – we get to be able to make comparisons.

When issues arise, we are able to compare one variety with another, which can often provide answers.

For example, my Lizzano plants have dark green healthy leaves – even on the lowest branches.

My Crimson Crush plants have lighter leaves – especially on the lowest branches and look as if they need a higher dose of nutrients. If I didn’t have a comparison or experience, I may think that the Crimson Crush was perfectly OK.

Of course varieties differ in appearance and leaf colour, but comparison is a very helpful way of being able to tell if more or less of something – nutrients, water etc., is required.

Not all tomato plants are the same …

The more flesh the fruit has, the more calcium a plant will need.

Plum varieties such as San Marzano and Roma contain a lot of flesh and are great for frying – lovely with an English breakfast!

By the way, there is a tomato variety called Britain’s Breakfast!

These are all fleshy, meaty varieties – less juice more flesh and great for cooking.

Calcium is needed throughout the growing cycle of a tomato plant but deficiency as the tomatoes swell in size, will produce Blossom End Rot. As soon as the first flowers set, and pea-like tomatoes appear, it is the time to make sure plants have enough calcium.

A Rennie every week to ten days (per grow bag) should be enough for medium and large varieties.

So far I have never had BER on a cherry tomato – they don’t need a lot of calcium, unless they are a fleshy variety.

The weather this week

In my part of the world we have had a lot of rain and I have spotted a touch of early blight.

Severe early blight from an earlier season.

This isn’t a big issue and leaves can be removed and plant performance unaffected. It’s the late blight, later in the season – towards the end of July – that we need to worry about.

Let’s hope we get a summer with a little rain (we don’t want another hose pipe ban!) and a lot of sun!

I hope that your plants are doing well…



8 Responses

  1. Ernest Edwards
    | Reply

    I have noticed leaves on my tomato plant are curled up what causes this.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Ernest,
      Any kind of stress can cause leaves to curl and some varieties do it by default, especially on the lower leaves.
      If the top leaves are very tightly curled there is a problem which could be either a calcium deficiency, a virus or inconsistent watering owing to the weather.
      The problem often rights itself after a week or two.

  2. Rob
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,

    I have in the past experienced BER in cherry tomatoes. But thanks to your excellent guidance in an earlier Newsletter, I realised this was due to overfeeding. It seems overfeeding can restrict a plant’s ability to take up Calcium. After reducing (by half) the amount of feed I was giving, I experienced no further problems.

    But the Rennies idea is brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? I had previously used dried milk as a means of increasing Calcium – although (due to overfeeding) I am not sure if this was successful.



    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rob,
      Dissolve one tablet in a glass of warm/hot water, crumble it up first, then pour it into about 3 pints of water.
      Give each plant around a pint each, at the roots, when the first flowers die away and the small pea-like toms appear.
      Do the same every ten days to two weeks as the toms swell.
      This is how I would feed the Rennie tablets!
      Kind regards,

  3. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    Nick, we could not have had a better May in NW London for tomatoes – unusually sunny, unusually warm, especially at night (more like July 15-August 15) and so all plants have lived happily outdoors for 3 weeks or more.

    I did notice that flowering Red Alerts loved a heavy dousing of rain 5 days ago, saturating the pots (the trays had 2cm rainwater by morning) and lots of fruit set occurred within 3 days, flowers falling off like flies to reveal little fruit beneath. Obviously the warmth and sun before and after probably helped.

    Another observation is two plants of same variety, seemingly identical at final potting up, are now showing differences. One Tigerella has more leaves and two trusses, the other has less leaves and four trusses!

    I have also found the past two years that a scoop of Nutrimate in final potting up mix makes truss formation and fruit set much more rapid. Broadly, you have enough trusses set by mid July from March sowings that tops can chopped off to let plants focus on already set fruit.

    I have also found that Super Marmande and Black Russian appear to resist BER well, despite being a beefsteak. I dropped Black Krim as yields were no better and BER susceptibility much higher.

    Like you, I never get BER on cherry varieties (Sungold, Black Cherry, Red Alert and Maskotka in my case).

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rhys,
      Thanks for keeping us up to date with your progress and the very useful tips. There is nothing like first hand experience of a variety to know what it likes and when.
      The photos you attached show very healthy stocky plants – a pleasure to see such well grown plants!

  4. Valerie
    | Reply

    I am using Oasesboxes for the first time.Easy to set up and water but ,two snags have come my way.Icouldnt easily see how much water I had used and since I was away for a few days I filled with what I thought was an adequate quantity.However I arrived home to find the tomatoes flooded! We had very heavy rain over those few days.I had to lift the inner lining out and tip the water out.It was a very heavy rainfall but an overflow would be useful.I believe there are covers but I will make some in the meantime.I shall also have to watch the mineral content as much will have been washed away since I had to let the compost drain.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Valerie,
      Sorry to hear that you have had a heavy downpour of rain and your Oasesboxes have been flooded.
      A drain screw in the side of each box would be useful!
      Concerning the nutrient flush-through, you could add a general liquid feed to the soil and the reservoir.
      Let’s hope we don’t get any more heavy rain!

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