- Best Soaker Hose Options Your Yard Truly Needs This Year - January 5, 2024
- Best Tomato Planters You Should Really Consider for Your Garden - December 21, 2023
- Best Home Depot Tomato Cages to Support Your Plants - December 16, 2023
The more I garden, the more I have come to realize how important plotting my garden space is. For example, some plants are great companions to other plants, and some plants are not great neighbors. Then there are those plants, like tomatoes, that have some space requirements. I have learned that how far apart you plant tomatoes from each other will determine their health and well-being.
Since this information is so invaluable, I want to make sure other gardeners are aware of it as well. For that reason, I have decided to write this article. My goal for this article is to guide you through plotting and planting your tomatoes so you can have a full and healthy harvest every year.
Bottom Line Upfront
Gardening keeps us busy for many months of the year, and while I want you to get the most out of your tomato plants, I understand if you don’t have time to devote to reading an article. So, save this article for later and just read this summary for now.
- Dwarf determinate tomatoes should be spaced one to two feet apart
- Full-size determinate tomatoes should be spaced two feet apart
- Staked indeterminate tomatoes should be spaced 18 – 24 inches apart
- Un-staked indeterminate tomatoes should be spaced three to four feet apart
The Benefits of Proper Spacing
Before we go into all the glorious details of how far apart you should plant tomatoes, let’s talk about why you should even care about spacing. In my years of gardening, I have discovered four beneficial reasons for properly spacing tomato plants. These reasons are:
If tomato plants are crowded, they will compete with each other for water and nutrients in the soil. However, when they are properly spaced in the garden, everyone gets the nutrition they need. This equates to a thriving garden.
If tomato plants are crowded, they won’t get adequate amounts of sunlight. However, when they are properly spaced, the leaves soak in hours of sunlight and turn that into energy to produce healthy fruit. In time, the fruit will ripen in the sunlight.
If tomato plants are crowded, they are at a higher risk of attracting pests and diseases. However, when they are properly spaced, fresh air is allowed to flow between the vines, leaves, and fruits. With adequate airflow, the plant can dry out after being watered. This means mold and mildew are less likely to grow, and pests that are attracted to standing water are less likely to infest the tomatoes.
Crowded tomato plants are highly susceptible to a lack of nutrition, adequate lighting, and disease and pest infestations. However, a properly spaced tomato garden is set up for harvesting success. Properly spaced tomato plants are more likely to produce a better harvest because they have access to necessary nutrients, sunlight, and airflow. This is why it is so important to learn how far apart to space tomato plants.
The Three Rules to Properly Space Tomato Plants
Complicated rules and guidelines frustrate me, and I assume you feel the same. For that reason, I want to keep this section simple. There are some intricate details to proper tomato spacing, but I don’t think they have to be complicated or confusing. I’m going to break up this section into three basic rules with a few underlying points that should keep things organized. So, here we go.
Conclude Which Type of Tomato Plant You Have
Just knowing whether you are growing a Beefmaster or a Purple Russian tomato variety is not enough. You need to know if the tomato variety you are planting is determinate or indeterminate. Look for this data on seed packs, plant label stakes, or in an internet search. This bit of information is going to resolve a lot of your spacing issues. Let’s talk about each of these tomato types in more detail now.
These types of tomatoes are called determinate because their size can be determined (approximately). There are dwarf determinate tomato plants that only grow up to 18” tall, and there are full-size determinate tomato plants that grow up to 5’ tall. You will need to check the information label on the tomato plant variety you intend to plant to find out what the determined size of that variety is.
Characteristics of Determinate Tomato Varieties:
- They do not require their suckers to be pruned or removed
- They grow to a determined and fixed size
- They produce mature fruit in a few weeks
- They remain small and compact
- They are also referred to as bush tomatoes
- Many varieties do not require a support structure
How to Space Determinate Tomato Varieties
- Set dwarf determinate varieties one to two feet apart
- Set full-size determinate varieties two feet apart
Popular Determinate Tomato Varieties
This is a semi-determinate tomato variety. It is a unique variety due to its yellow-orange coloring and its Ukrainian-Russian origins. Gardeners love this variety because it is uncomplicated and easy to grow. Cooks love this variety because it offers a tangy sweet flavor to their dishes. I think its uncomplicated nature and delicious flavor are great reasons for growing this variety.
I highly recommend growing this tomato variety because it is resistant to late blight. It is also a delicious option to use when cooking Italian dishes. The fruit of the Plum Regal variety weighs approximately 4 ounces.
This is my favorite determinate tomato variety. I enjoy the strong sweet flavor of the fruits and the fact that they contain very few seeds. When I get a harvest of San Marzano, I immediately turn them into pasta sauce.
These types of tomatoes are called indeterminate because they don’t stop growing until frost kills them. Consequently, their size is indeterminate. To find out if the tomato variety you intend to plant is indeterminate, you will need to locate the information label on the seed pack or the plant tray you purchased.
Characteristics of Indeterminate Tomato Varieties:
- They grow better when their suckers are removed
- They continue vining during their growing season
- They continue producing fruit during their growing season
- They continue growing until frost causes them to die-off
- They often require a support structure for their vines
How to Space Indeterminate Tomato Varieties
- Set staked indeterminate tomato varieties 18 – 24 inches apart
- Set un-staked indeterminate tomato varieties three to four feet apart
Popular Indeterminate Tomato Varieties
This tasty tomato is designed for great culinary exploits. I like that its texture is thick and meaty but still contains enough juice to make it a great accompaniment for salads or sandwiches. If raw tomatoes are not your thing, then get your canning gear out because this tomato is perfect for just such an activity. You may have noticed that this is my favorite indeterminate tomato; I love its versatility.
If you can get this variety in your garden, your tastebuds will thank you. It is a beautifully flavored tomato that is ideal for use in salsas, BLTs, or a Greek salad. I’ll let you choose how to use it, but those are my recommendations.
A gift from the people of the Cherokee nation, this tomato variety is pretty to see and delightful to taste. This variety produces large, juicy fruits that are packed with flavor and a meaty texture. I think they are great for sandwiches, but I prefer to display their pinkish-purple color in tomato salads.
Properly Space Your Garden’s Rows
This is a simple step, but it is often overlooked. Many gardeners focus more on spacing individual plants within a row than the actual row. This is an unfortunate oversight because the space between garden rows is very important. Here’s why:
- Garden row space allows plants to reach water and soil nutrients better
- Garden row space allows sunlight to reach the plant
- Garden row space allows air to flow through the plant’s leaves
- Garden row space allows gardeners to reach their plants without risking injury to neighboring plants
- Garden row space allows gardeners to separate bad neighbors (example: broccoli is a bad neighbor to tomato plants because it can stunt the tomato plant’s growth)
To keep your garden in good working order, I recommend that you till out rows that are four feet apart.
Prune Your Tomato Plants
This rule does not apply to determinate tomato varieties; however, it is a very important rule for indeterminate varieties. These are my recommendations for pruning your indeterminate tomato plants:
- Stake your tomato plants (they are so much easier to care for and prune when they vine upwards on a structure)
- Pluck suckers off before they grow more than 3” long (they are easier to pull by hand when they are this size)
- Look for suckers to pluck off every week
- Leave two or three suckers on the tomato plant while it is growing, but pluck off the rest
- Research and practice (pruning tomato plants is more an art than a science, so, yes, read what other gardeners say, but you have to do it yourself to be good at it)
The Pros and Cons of Pruning Suckers
I want to take a moment to compare the pros and cons of pruning so you can understand why this step should be taken. Some gardeners do not think it is necessary, but I think it is more beneficial to prune than to not. Decide for yourself with these comparative facts:
- Pruning allows the plant to focus on growing and ripening fruit more quickly
- Pruning helps the plant to grow bigger and healthier fruit
- Pruning limits the quantity of fruit produced by the tomato plant
Answer: I highly recommend that tomato plants, particularly indeterminate varieties, be staked. There are several reasons for this, and I want to share them with you here. These reasons include:
• Staking reduces the risk of the plants getting a disease from resting on the ground or in stagnant water
• Staking discourages animals from eating tomato fruits
• Staking makes it easier to prune and harvest the tomato plants
• Staking increases garden space since the vines will grow vertical rather than horizontal
Answer: While it is not always necessary to stake determinate tomato plants, some determinate varieties can benefit from the support of a stake or a cage. I encourage everyone to stake all their indeterminate tomato plants because there is so much benefit from doing so. Here is how I choose to stake my tomato plants:
• I decide if I want to stake or cage my plants (I usually stake small tomato plants but cage the bigger varieties)
• I push the stake or cage into the ground around the tomato plant (both supports should be set deeply and securely in the ground)
• I tie the tomato vines to the stake or the cage with strips of soft fabric (usually a cut-up shirt)
• I prune the plant as needed
Answer: Almost every plant has a beneficial side, but some plants are better friends than others. When it comes to my tomato garden, these are three of my favorite plants to set next to it.
I plant this next to my tomato garden to attract pollinators and repel pests.
I plant this herb mostly so I can use it in my kitchen. But, I love that it works double-duty as a repellant for certain pests that would love to eat my tomato plants.
These two plant companions are famous friends both in the kitchen and the garden. I like growing a little garlic near my tomato plants to ward off red spider mites and late blight.
Now that we have talked through all the nitty-gritty details, I must conclude that spacing tomato plants are necessary, not difficult. I hope that this guide has proven this to you. Hopefully, planting your tomato garden is a fun and rewarding experience, especially when you see how proper spacing benefits your harvest. May you enjoy many fruitful tomato harvests from here on out.