Growing tomatoes is one of the most rewarding activities for homesteaders and gardeners, with their bright colors and delicious flavor adding an extra dose of creativity to any summer menu. When planting your tomato plants, it’s crucial to the health of the plants to have the correct spacing in between each one. By planting them too close together, you can run into a whole host of issues, like not getting enough sunlight or air circulation – leading to stunted growth and disease! Don’t worry: learning how far apart to plant tomatoes is easier than you think! In this blog post we’ll discuss why proper tomato plant spacing matters, as well as some tips that will help optimize your success.
This blog post is all about tomato plant spacing.
Table of Contents
Tomato Plant Spacing: Why Tomato Plant Spacing Matters
Tomatoes need room to grow and spread out to reach their full potential. When they are planted too closely together, they compete for resources like sunlight and soil nutrients, which can lead to weak growth or even disease. Additionally, it’s important to note that tomato plants require air circulation, which also helps to prevent disease. Too much moisture in the air can cause fungal and bacterial diseases.
Tomato Plant Care
Now that we have a basic understanding why tomato plants need to have proper spacing, let’s take a look at the requirements for tomato plant care.
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Tomato Sunlight Requirements
Light and temperature are a key ingredient in the success of your garden. Tomatoes love the heat and are not fans of the cold. They do not tolerate frost and your plant will start to suffer below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Tomatoes need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight. Be sure to plant them in an area that has full sun.
For those that live in the southern regions of the United States where it gets very hot during the summer, consider using a shade cover to give the plants relief from the afternoon sun. This can help them survive the heat and also keep their foliage from burning.
Tomato Plant Nutrients
Tomatoes should be fertilized on a regular basis, preferably with an organic fertilizer like compost or manure. Tomato plants are heavy feeders so periodic feedings need to be occasionally added, or use a slow-release fertilizer. This will give your plants the nutrients they need to stay healthy and produce lots of delicious tomatoes. Be sure to water regularly as well, especially during dry spells.
To properly uptake nutrients, the best soil pH for tomatoes is between 6.0 to 6.8. The pH of the soil is particularly important since it impacts the availability of nutrients and minerals to plants.
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Tomato Plant Fruit Production
Improper sunlight, temperature, too little water, inadequate nutrients, and overcrowding can cause disruptions to fruit production. ‘Overcrowding’ occurs when there is an over planting of plants in a given area. Be sure to do the following to ensure a bountiful harvest:
- Plant tomatoes when the soil is warm. If the conditions are too cold, it causes stunted growth because of the plant’s inability to absorb nutrients.
- Provide nutrients like phosphorus.
- Water deeply, not shallowly. Tomato plants need at least an inch of water a week. Be careful not to overwater the plants as this can cause waterlogging.
- Prune off the lower leaves and suckers on indeterminate tomato plants. The lower leaves of the plant shouldn’t touch the ground to avoid splatter from water. Leaving the leaves on the bottom that touch the ground can cause the plant to be susceptible to diseases. On the other hand, suckers “suck” away the energy from the plant and it won’t focus on fruit production. Instead the plant focuses on growing leaves.
*** There are various other reasons why tomato plants aren’t producing fruit, but to stay on topic of the importance of plant spacing, we’ll focus on the aforementioned reasons.
How to Water Tomato Plants and How Much Does a Tomato Plant Need Per Day
By planting your tomato plants too close together, they’ll fight for resources, and that includes water. Your plants need at least 1 inch of water a week and need to be watered deeply. Keep an eye on the moisture of the soil. Tomato plants may not need water every day depending on weather conditions. Always water at the base of the plant instead of overhead. Watering overhead can open the plant up to a whole host of issues, like mildew.
Before you start planting your tomatoes, check to see what type of tomato it is. Is it determinate or indeterminate?
Determinate vs Indeterminate
Determinate tomato plants, which include bush varieties, are a smaller type of plant in comparison to indeterminate tomato plants. They average about 4 to 5 feet tall. Once they reach a certain height, they’ll stop growing. Their fruit will also mature earlier and will ripen simultaneously. Although determinates have a shorter harvest period in comparison to determinates, we’ve had plants that have produced all the way up until September.
Unlike determinate tomato plants that will reach a certain height and then stop growing, indeterminates continue to grow. They can reach at least 10 feet tall! indeterminates have a longer growing season but start to produce fruit later in the growing season. They can produce fruit up until the first frost. It’s ideal to have both determinates and indeterminates.
Now that we’ve established the different types of varieties, we can now start looking at the appropriate spacing. Where you’re planting them needs to be taken into consideration as well. For smaller planting areas, I recommend having determinate varieties. It’ll be easier for maintenance purposes. That’s not to say that indeterminates can’t be planted in smaller spaces, but it can be more challenging since they require some sort of support.
Tomato Plant Spacing Raised Bed
Spacing of your plants is determined by two things: (1) the variety you chose to plant, bush versus vining; and (2) how big your raised beds are (width and length).
Your plants should be planted at least 2 feet apart. Bush varieties are generally wider than vining varieties. You may be able to plant vining varieties closer together, between 18 to 24 inches apart. However, since indeterminates require support, you’ll need to compensate for their support systems.
Tomato Plant Spacing in Pots
Unless you have an exceptionally large pot or container to plant your tomatoes in, plant only one plant in it. If you have more than one plant, space the pots apart according to the variety that you planted. Determinate varieties are more suitable for pots since they are more compact in size.
Tomato Plant Spacing in Garden
When you are planting directly in the ground, there are different recommendations for determinate and indeterminate tomato plants. Place the pots about 1 ½ to 2 feet apart to allow your plants plenty of space.
Determinate Tomato Space
Plant determinate tomato plants 2 to 2 ½ feet apart. Rows should be spaced about 4 feet apart. Spacing is not only important for the health of the plant, but it’s also important for accessibility to your plants. You could run into the issue of not being able to reach each of your plants if they are planted too close together.
Indeterminate Tomato Space
Planting indeterminates in the ground is the best way to grow them, in my opinion. There’s usually plenty of room for them to grow and account for their support systems adequately. The distance between the plants and rows depends upon the type of support system.
If you’re using stakes to support the plants, space them 1 ½ to 2 feet apart. If you use wire cages, plant them 2 ½ to 3 feet apart.
•Proper tomato plant spacing is essential for the health and productivity of your plants.
• Tomatoes need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight, as well as adequate nutrients, water and air circulation to reach their full potential.
• Determinate varieties are more suitable for smaller planting areas while indeterminates require support systems in order to grow properly.
• When planting directly in the ground or a raised bed, determinate tomatoes should be spaced 2-2 ½ feet apart with rows 4 feet apart; indeterminates should be 1 ½ – 3 feet apart depending on type of support system used (stakes vs wire cages).
• For pots or containers it’s best to only have one plant per pot unless you have an exceptionally large container; space them according to variety planted (determinate: 2-2 ½ ft., indeterminate: 18” – 24”).