It is difficult to sort through the staggering array of tomato and pepper varieties, whether buying plants as seedlings or starting from seed. This post describes the growth habits, flavors and “best use” of tomato and pepper varieties, with a focus on heirloom tomatoes.

How to Decide Which Variety is the Best for “You”

The best way to sort through the huge variety of tomato and pepper varieties is to think about your end use. Start with these sample questions to refine the selection process:

  • Do you make a lot of salsa?  
  • Are you at the cabin and away from home a lot?  
  • Do you entertain and want beautiful color and variety in your dishes?  
  • Are you into DIY and want to dry, can or pickle your tomatoes?  
  • Are you a novice gardener and want the best chance of getting a high yield?
  • Do you have limited space and need to grow on a deck or a patio?

Heirloom Tomato and Pepper Varieties Summarized by Growth Habits and Flavor

The following photos are signs I use at the farmers’ markets, and they are organized by color and/or type of tomato, primarily because these categories are easiest to explain to customers at a busy market.  For more specific information on size, growth habit, flavor, and disease resistance see this post which gives more in-depth information

Select the Best Tomato Varieties for Early Season

Select the Best Tomato in the “Main-Season Slicer“ Category (for Fresh Eating):

Best “Medium” Main Season Red Slicers

Best “Black” Varieties (Rich, Wine-like flavor)

Best Orange Varieties (sweet)

Best Yellow or Green Varieties (Yellow = mild & green = tangy)

Best Striped Varieties (beautiful, often sweet)

Best Variety of Cherry Tomatoes (Heirloom & Hybrid):

Best Pepper Varieties – Hot & Spicy:

Best Pepper Varieties – Sweet:

Your selection of varieties will be much larger if you buy seeds and start your own plants. For a detailed tutorial on starting plants from seed, see this post.

Share some of your favorites?  I’d love to hear about the varieties you like or love, as well as the ones that haven’t done well for you in the past, for whatever reason.


  1. […] addition to unique flavors and colors, heirloom tomatoes have different growth habits, yields, etc. Click here for a summary of distinctive characteristics of heirloom […]

  2. Kristi Otto on May 11, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    So nice to talk to you today. Love your blog

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