Dakota Gardener: Tomato varieties for North Dakota

Tom Kalb
North Dakota State University Extension
When selecting tomatoes to grow, look for varieties that ripen early, resist diseases and produce good yields.

Do you like tomatoes?

Of course, you do! It’s the favorite vegetable grown by gardeners.

Thousands of gardeners in North Dakota will go to their garden centers during the next two weeks to buy their tomato plants for this summer.

Lots of varieties are available. Look for varieties that ripen early, resist diseases and produce good yields of delicious fruits.

I encourage you to try a new variety every year. I tried the orange cherry tomato "SunSugar" 10 years ago and have grown it every year since.

Think about the type of tomato fruit you want to eat. Varieties provide large beefsteak tomatoes, small cherry tomatoes and everything in between. Canning tomatoes also are available.

Think about the type of tomato vine you want to grow. Tomatoes come in two major types: determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate vines are easier to grow. The vines stop growing after they set their fruits, and the plants stay compact. Determinate vines do not need to be pruned and are easily trellised in cages. Determinate vines are best if you grow your tomatoes in containers.

Indeterminate vines keep growing until frost kills them. These bushes can grow 5 feet or more. They must be pruned and trellised.

Sometimes the label will tell you if a variety is determinate or indeterminate. If it doesn’t, use your smartphone to find the information you need.

One of the most popular and reliable tomato varieties is "Celebrity." Its determinate vines resist many diseases, and its fruits are very flavorful and resist cracking.

"Early Girl" is widely available, too. Gardeners like its extra-early yields of bright red, delicious fruits.

"Better Boy" tomato, an improvement over "Big Boy," is a great choice. Its fruits are large, and its indeterminate vines are extremely productive.

If you like beefsteak tomatoes, please give "Big Beef" a try. Hailed as one of the finest tomatoes ever developed, "Big Beef" fruits ripen early and taste great. This indeterminate variety is very productive.

"Mountain Rouge" is a new, award-winning, pink beefsteak tomato you may want to try. It has excellent flavor, thick flesh and few seeds. The "Mountain" series of tomatoes, including "Mountain Fresh Plus," is famous for growing well in cool climates and resisting diseases.

It’s fun to snack on cherry tomatoes. "Super Sweet 100" is the most popular variety. Its vines are productive, but its fruits have a tendency to crack after rains.

That’s why I prefer "Juliet." Its fruits don’t crack. "Juliet" fruits are red, glossy and very sweet.

My favorite cherry tomato is "SunSugar." I was hesitant to try "SunSugar" at first because its tomatoes are orange and don’t look ripe. After hearing other gardeners rave about it, I decided to give it a try. "SunSugar" tomatoes are sweet and tangy, and absolutely delicious, and resist cracking.

Another fun variety to try is "Yellow Pear." The giant bushes are filled with hundreds of small, yellow, pear-shaped fruits that taste very mild.

"Roma" is the most popular variety used for canning. Its vines are compact and productive. This year, I am going to try "Amish Paste." Many gardeners say it is the best tasting canning tomato.

If you grow your tomatoes in containers, consider "Patio." It produces good yields of medium-sized, flavorful fruits on bushy, 2-foot vines. "Bush Early Girl" and "Better Bush" are other good choices. Cherry and grape tomatoes for containers include "Fantastico," "Ruby Crush" and "Husky Cherry Red."

Be cautious with heirloom varieties. Heirloom varieties are usually less productive, less reliable, more susceptible to diseases and more likely to crack, compared with modern varieties.

Nevertheless, many gardeners like the special flavors of heirlooms. The heirloom "Brandywine" has the reputation of being the best tasting tomato. It has pink fruits. "Brandywine Red" is a selection with red fruits.

Heirloom tomatoes specifically developed for the northern Great Plains include "Manitoba," "Sheyenne," "Cannonball," "Super Sioux" and "Allstate." These varieties generally have compact vines, ripen early and tolerate dry conditions. Growing these historic tomatoes can be a rewarding experience.

It’s time to go to our garden centers. Let’s try a few different varieties this year and enjoy some of the finest flavors of summer!