When it comes to gardening, only a casual observer or a rank novice would think that all it takes is throwing some seeds on the ground, hitting them with the water hose, and waiting to collect your fruits and veggies in a couple of months.
You and I know that nothing is further from the truth! There are so many factors you have to get right if you want to ensure healthy and productive plants it can be a little intimidating.
One factor that is easy to get wrong is spacing, and with some plants overcrowding them is one of the very worst things you can do.
Let’s look at the ever-popular tomato plant today. How far apart should you plant tomatoes?
When planting determinate tomatoes, space them about 2 1/2 feet (75 centimeters) apart. Indeterminate varieties should be spaced about 3 feet (90 cm) apart. Try to leave around 4 feet (1.2meters) between rows or raised beds so you have room to work.
Most vegetables, to a degree, require proper spacing in order to thrive, but it is tomatoes that are among the most sensitive plants to being overcrowded.
There are many things that can go wrong if you crowd your tomatoes, and I’ll tell you all about those potential issues, how to prevent them and more about spacing requirements in the rest of this article.
Why Tomato Spacing is Important
Correct spacing is always important, for any plant in your garden, but it’s especially so for tomatoes!
The first reason is to prevent competition between the plants for nutrients, water, and sunlight. When tomato plants are overcrowded, they can struggle to grow and produce fruit.
By giving each plant enough room to grow, you’re ensuring that they have access to ample resources to thrive.
In addition to preventing competition, proper spacing can also reduce the severity and impact of pests and diseases.
When plants are too close together, pathogens and pests can spread quickly from one plant to another, leading to an outbreak.
We all know someone who’s had their tomato crop wrecked by one or the other, and crowding is a leading contributor.
By providing adequate space, you’re limiting the chance that a disease or pest infestation will spread from one plant to the next.
Furthermore, proper spacing also helps with air circulation, which can prevent the growth of fungal diseases that can thrive in damp, humid environments.
Good air circulation can also help reduce the chances of bloom drop, where blossoms fall off before fruit develops.
By providing enough space, you’re setting your plants up for success and protecting your time and effort investment.
How Far Apart Should You Space Tomato Rows?
Tomato rows, no matter the variety, should be about 4 feet apart, though some people might be able to squeeze in at 3 feet.
This is so you have enough room to work and tend to the plants without having to step on them or damage them.
If planting tomatoes in raised beds, keep the same spacing between plants and rows.
Do Different Tomato Varieties Require Different Spacing?
Yes, concerning the type and cultivar. Determinate, or “bushy” tomatoes, don’t need quite as much space as indeterminate, or vining tomatoes.
The latter invariably needs large support structures to hold them up, and this increases the space requirement.
You should leave at least 3 whole feet between indeterminate plantings, and around the usual 2 1/2 feet for determinate varieties.
Within each type, the cultivar you choose might be larger or smaller and need a little more or less space accordingly, but the rule of thumb I gave you is reliable.
What Happens if You Plant Tomatoes Too Close Together?
Only bad things. As the plants mature and grow, they will start to compete for resources, including light as they start to shade each other.
This means reduced growth, poor fruit production and even plant death if left unchecked. It also opens the door to devastating pest and disease infestations as well as blossom drop due to inadequate air circulation.
In any case, you’ll have a much harder time inspecting your plants without damaging them since they are too close for you to move between them, and trying to keep the plants from literally killing each other is now going to be a full-time job.
Other Spacing Requirements for Planting Tomatoes in the Ground
Make sure you research the overall size of your cultivar before you plant: sometimes a determinate variety might grow especially broad and need more space than 2 1/2 feet, such as the Celebrity Tomato.
The reverse is also true; you might be able to plant mid-sized or small indeterminates in less than the usual 3 foot spacings.
Spacing Requirements for Planting Tomatoes in Containers
Container planting is a great way to raise tomatoes since it is so versatile and flexible, but your success is dictated on choosing the right container for the right variety.
Most, but not all, indeterminate varieties will need very large pots or other containers. Medium-sized determinates are usually a better bet, and can keep the containers moveable once they are filled with dirt.
Also, remember to only plant one tomato plant per container no matter what it is, and always keep the recommended spacing between containers as described above.
Spacing Requirements for Planting Tomatoes in Raised Beds
Follow the same spacing guidelines for ground planting when planting your tomatoes in containers: 4 feet between beds and 2 1/2 to 3 feet between individual plants according to their type.
Don’t forget to allow for cages, stakes, and trellises as needed.
Are Tomatoes Suitable for Square Foot Gardening?
Yes, surprisingly. Square foot gardening done right will have your tomato plants closer together than usually prescribed, but the addition of beneficial companion plants can help create a more balanced environment and promote healthier growth.
To that end, one tomato plant should be planted in each 4×4 block.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.