By Jennifer Poindexter
Have you ever wondered why adequate spacing around plants matters? Tomatoes are one of the most common vegetables grown in the garden, and the spacing they require is extremely important to their overall health.
There are many varieties of tomatoes and environmental differences which must be taken into account when deciding how far apart tomatoes should be planted.
If you’re curious (or confused) about the recommendations you’ve seen for spacing your tomatoes in the garden, let us help!
You’ll be walked through the reasons why spacing matters around your tomato plants, a general recommendation on tomato spacing, spacing recommendations for specific tomato varieties, and we’ll even talk about container gardening.
Here’s what you should know when determining the amount of space tomatoes need in your garden:
How Far Apart to Grow Tomatoes: The Explanation
We grow quite a few tomatoes around our garden each year. I like to grow them in raised beds, container gardens, and in regular garden plots.
How Far Apart to Grow Tomatoes: The General Rule of Thumb
You now know all the reasons why it’s important to space your tomato plants properly. They should never be piled right on top of the next, unless you’re using a specific style of gardening which calls for this.
However, you don’t want too much space between them either or this can lead to more problems. This leaves us scratching our heads thinking, “So how much space do tomatoes need?”
We’re going to discuss specifics later in this article, but for now, know that if you supply your staked plants with approximately two feet of space between each other and three feet of space between rows, you should be able to avoid many of the issues mentioned here.
Now that you know the general rule of thumb, let’s start breaking down the spacing requirements for different types of tomatoes.
How Far Apart to Grow Tomatoes: By Tomato Types
If you’ve grown tomatoes you’ve probably heard the terms determinate and indeterminate. A determinate variety of tomato is a bushier plant.
These tomato plants typically become around four feet tall, don’t require support when growing, and the tomatoes ripen around the same time.
Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes can grow as tall as eight feet, they do require support while growing, and they’ll produce until frost kills the plant.
It’s important to understand which style of tomato you’re growing to best understand the amount of space it will need.
If you grow a dwarf determinate variety, these plants only grow to be a little more than a foot tall. Therefore, they can handle being spaced one to two feet apart.
Should you grow a full-sized determinate tomato plant, it will need the full two feet of space between each plant you grow.
With indeterminate plants, if they’re staked, you can get away with spacing them a foot and a half to two feet apart.
However, you must prune these plants regularly to ensure they maintain adequate airflow throughout the growing season.
Some gardeners choose to allow their indeterminate tomatoes to grow along the ground without staking them.
This isn’t recommended as it makes picking the tomatoes harder, and it does open the plants up to more soil-borne disease issues.
However, should you choose this growing method, you should leave approximately four feet between each plant and an equal amount of spacing between the rows.
You now know the amount of space different tomato varieties need when grown in a regular garden plot. Let’s now discuss how much space tomatoes need using different gardening methods.
How Far Apart to Grow Tomatoes: Container and Raised Bed Gardening
If you’re growing tomatoes in a container garden or raised bed garden, their spacing needs will vary once again.
For containers, you should only grow one tomato plant per container. The container should be approximately two feet deep and equally as wide.
Some gardeners like their containers to be fuller. If you share this same preference, try growing other lower growing plants around your tomato plant.
For instance, you could grow lettuce, basil, or marigolds around your tomato plant. They won’t compete with nutrients, water, or space like another tomato plant will.
If you’re growing tomatoes in a raised bed, provide approximately two feet of space between each plant as long as your bed is one foot or less in depth.
Should you have a raised bed with a greater depth, you may be able to plant your tomatoes a little closer together because they should have more nutrients available to them since they have more soil to pull from.
These are a few general guidelines to consider when growing tomatoes using different gardening methods.
You now have an idea of why it’s important to space your tomatoes properly, a general rule of thumb for spacing your tomatoes, and you’ve also been provided specifics based upon tomato type and gardening style.
Now, use this information to help keep your tomatoes healthy and thriving. In turn, it should keep your entire garden healthier as you’re taking steps to avoid inviting pests and diseases into your growing space.
If you’re anything like me and like to grow tomatoes each year, you probably already know that tomatoes are susceptible to pests and diseases.
You also know that they’re particular about their growing conditions. If the conditions aren’t accurate and the pests and diseases aren’t kept under control, it could lead to a poor harvest.
This is where adequate spacing comes into the picture. Here are a few ways spacing your tomatoes properly can benefit your crop:
1. Spacing Avoids Competing for Nutrients
There are people who participate in square foot gardening. Make no mistake, they aren’t planting in your average soil.
They’re making sure that the soil is loaded with nutrients, so the plants won’t compete with each other while growing in close quarters.
If you aren’t participating in this style of gardening, your soil probably isn’t as loaded with nutrients. Therefore, your plants will go to battle with each other when it comes to retrieving both nutrients and water from the soil.
By supplying enough space for everyone, there should be plenty of nutrients and moisture to go around. Then none of your plants will suffer.
2. Spacing Can Help Prevent Disease
When you supply more space around your tomatoes, you’re taking steps to discourage disease. Tomatoes are prone to fungal issues.
These diseases like to develop in areas that are cold and wet. If your tomato plants are growing on top of each other, there isn’t enough room for the air to move freely around your plants.
Proper airflow is vital in keeping the growing area and the foliage of your plants dry. When there isn’t excess moisture on or around the plant, there’s less chance of fungal issues developing.
3. Spacing Provides Adequate Lighting
Tomatoes need full sunlight. This equates to around six hours of direct sunlight each day. If you don’t provide adequate spacing between plants, your plants could stop the flow of light to the others growing around them.
This is an issue as it not only dampens the growth of your tomatoes, but it can also lead to disease. As stated above, fungal issues thrive in areas of cold and moisture.
Therefore, if you don’t have room for air to move around the plant and sunlight isn’t reaching the growing location adequately, you’re leaving room for diseases to form.
4. Spacing Can Help Grow Healthier Plants
We’ve discussed the need for more space to deter diseases, and we’ve also mentioned providing adequate space between tomatoes to meet their need for ample sunlight.
However, if tomatoes are planted too closely together it can weaken their root systems. Between battling disease, not having enough sunlight, and struggling roots you could end up with stunted plants.
Not only this, but weaker roots lead to stressed plants which invite pests. Planting more tomatoes in a tighter space doesn’t always pay off in the long run.
5. Spacing Can Boost the Plants’ Production
Our last reason for ensuring tomatoes are spaced properly boils down to production. Did you know that providing too much space is also a big concern when growing tomatoes?
If you provide too much space between plants, it leaves room for weeds to take over. This leads to a whole new competition for nutrients and water. It also leads to issues with airflow, hiding spots for pests, and the cycle of bad things continues.
However, if you plant your tomatoes too closely together, we’ve spoken of all the ways this can weaken your tomato plants and hinder your harvest.
Therefore, it’s vital to do your research, understand the type of tomato you’re planting, the setting in which you’re planting them, and the adequate space the tomatoes need in those conditions.