square foot gardening spacing
Organic Gardening

The Complete Guide to Square Foot Gardening for Tomatoes

square foot gardening spacing

This post is a series of posts about square foot gardening for tomatoes. The series will serve as a complete guide on everything you need to know about implementing square foot gardening as a technique to maximize your tomato crop.


A common misconception is that you need a lot of land to grow food and that couldn’t be further from the truth. You don’t need acres and acres of land. You can definitely grow in small spaces like on patios, decks, and even a wall with vertical gardening! But we’re not focusing on much smaller spaces today, but instead maximizing the space in raised beds. Although you can even use it in a small plot of land.

Welcome to the exciting world of square foot gardening, where limited space meets maximum yield, and lush tomatoes flourish in even the smallest of spaces. In this guide, we’ll embark on a journey to demystify the art of growing tomatoes using the innovative square foot gardening method. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener looking to optimize your yield or a beginner eager to explore the possibilities of homegrown tomatoes, this article is your comprehensive roadmap to getting started with square foot gardening for tomatoes.

This is a post all about square foot gardening for tomatoes.

Square Foot Gardening for Beginners

Before we go into the specifics of growing tomatoes, let’s establish a foundational understanding of what square foot gardening is. 

Square foot gardening was pioneered by Mel Bartholomew who revolutionized traditional gardening by condensing planting spaces into organized, easy-to-manage grids. Its core principles emphasize efficient space utilization, minimal maintenance, and bountiful harvests. Now, imagine applying these principles to the vibrant world of tomatoes – one of the most beloved and versatile crops in home gardening.

The principles of this concept are as follows:

1. Grid System: At the core of square foot gardening is the use of a grid system. The growing area is divided into one-foot-by-one-foot squares, and each square is dedicated to a particular crop. This grid not only provides a structured layout but also simplifies planning and maintenance.

2. Intensive Planting: Unlike traditional gardening, which often spaces plants far apart, square foot gardening promotes intensive planting. By maximizing the number of plants within each square foot, the garden becomes a lush and productive space. Intensive planting also helps to reduce weed growth by creating a dense canopy. It can provide cover for plants that don’t need as much sun during the day, and need a break at the hottest points of the day.

3. Companion Planting: Square foot gardening encourages the practice of companion planting, where compatible plants are grown together to promote mutual benefits. This includes pest control, improved nutrient absorption, and efficient space utilization. For example, basil and tomato plants are perfect companions in the garden.

4. Raised Beds: Many square foot gardens utilize raised beds to create defined growing areas. Raised beds offer better drainage, warmer soil temperatures, and ease of access for planting, weeding, and harvesting.

5. Soil Mix: The soil mix in square foot gardening is a critical component. It typically consists of a balanced blend of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. This mix provides a light, well-draining medium that supports healthy plant growth.

Contrast with Traditional Gardening Methods

To further understand square foot gardening, let’s see how it compares up against traditional gardening methods.

  • The first comparison between traditional methods and square foot gardening is space utilization. In traditional gardening, plants are often spaced apart to accommodate their mature size, leading to significant open spaces between rows. In contrast, square foot gardening optimizes every inch of available space, resulting in a more efficient use of the garden area.
  • There’s a reduction in maintenance. Traditional gardens can be labor-intensive, requiring extensive weeding and ongoing maintenance. Square foot gardening minimizes these tasks by using intensive planting to naturally suppress weeds and employing a well-defined grid system for easy organization.
  • Square foot gardening tends to be more efficient with water use. Traditional gardens may require more water due to the open spaces and larger distances between plants. Square foot gardening, with its close plant spacing, reduces water wastage and promotes efficient irrigation.
  • It can be more accessible to people of all ages, especially if raised beds are used. Square foot gardening is particularly well-suited for those with limited mobility or small gardening spaces. The raised beds and organized grid make it easier for individuals to reach and tend to their plants without the need for extensive bending or stretching.

In essence, square foot gardening reimagines the traditional approach to gardening, emphasizing efficiency, productivity, and accessibility, making it an appealing and practical choice for gardeners of all experience levels.

 Advantages of Square Foot Gardening for Tomatoes

What sets square foot gardening apart and makes it an ideal approach for cultivating tomatoes? The advantages are manifold. From maximizing yields in confined spaces to minimizing the laborious tasks of weeding and maintenance, square foot gardening offers a tailored solution for urban dwellers, balcony gardeners, and anyone with limited gardening space. 

In the upcoming sections, we’ll explore the best tomato varieties suited for compact gardens, guide you through the meticulous planning of your square foot garden, and provide insights into soil preparation, tomato support structures, and caring for your tomato plants. From addressing common challenges to offering preservation tips, this guide is your go-to resource for mastering the art of growing delicious tomatoes in a limited space.

Before we discuss what kinds of varieties may be appropriate to use in square foot gardening, let’s examine what types of tomato plants exist: indeterminate versus determinate.

What is a Determinate Tomato Plant?

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.

What is an Indeterminate Tomato Plant?

Unlike determinate tomato plants that will reach a certain height and then stop growing, determinates continue to grow….and grow… and grow! In fact, they can reach at least 10 feet tall! In contrast to determinate tomato plants, 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, especially if you plan on canning any of your harvest.

Now that there’s a basic understanding of determinate and indeterminate plants, you’ll know what to look out for when you’re looking at the plant tags at the store.

[RELATED POST: What is the Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomato Plants?]

Overview of Tomato Varieties Suited for Compact Gardens

Not all tomato varieties are created equal, especially when it comes to limited space. Understanding which tomatoes thrive in compact gardens is crucial for a successful harvest. Below is a list of tomato varieties that do well in compact spaces to get you started.

Helpful tip: Check out the tag on the plant. It usually tells you whether it’s an indeterminate or determinate variety. Buying from local farmers or nurseries is also helpful because they usually know the different varieties compared to the big box stores.

Examples of varieties that are either compact or micro plants for small spaces:

  • Bush Early Girl – we’ve always loved growing Early Girls. They’re a compact determinate variety that gets fruit that’s up to 6 or 7 ounces in size. They grow up to 3 to 4 feet tall. 54 days to harvest.
  • Bush Beefsteak – great for bigger tomatoes to enjoy on food like hamburgers. It’s a compact, determinate variety that grows fruit that’s 6 to 8 ounces in size. 62 days to harvest.
  • Tiny Tim – True to its name, it’s a rather small variety that only gets up to 12 inches tall. It can be planted in either containers or hanging baskets. It produces fruit the size of a cherry tomato. 60 days to harvest.
  • Tumbling Tom – compact variety with high production/yield. It’s an ideal variety even for hanging baskets as the plant cascades in vines! 70 days to harvest.
  • New Big Dwarf – a compact, determinate variety that grows up to 2 feet tall. 60 days to harvest.
  • Early Wonder – Determinate variety of tomato that produces 6 ounce fruit. 55 days to harvest.
  • Clear Pink Early – Determinate, compact plant that has long trusses of smooth, pinkish-red fruit. 58 days to harvest.
  • Sungold – a compact plant that gets yellowish-gold cherry-sized fruit.

More compact and determinate varieties normally have earlier harvest in comparison to indeterminate varieties. Indeterminate varieties are usually ready later in the growing season. To extend your harvest throughout the growing season, consider getting different varieties that have different harvest dates.

[RELATED POST: How to Grow Tomatoes in Pots]

Conclusion: Maximizing Your Tomato Harvest in Small Spaces

In concluding our exploration of square foot gardening for tomatoes, we’ve unveiled the transformative potential of this innovative method. From compact balconies to raised beds, square foot gardening offers efficient, productive, and accessible solutions for all gardeners.

Square foot gardening has the ability to reimagine gardening. Efficiency, productivity, and accessibility are at the heart of square foot gardening in comparison to traditional methods. Principles like the grid system and intensive planting simplify maintenance, making gardening enjoyable for everyone.

For urban dwellers and balcony gardeners, square foot gardening maximizes tomato yields while minimizing tasks. From determinate to petite varieties, the diverse options cater to various spaces and preferences.

This guide serves as a roadmap for your square foot gardening journey. Whether crafting a small plot or a raised bed, the principles adapt to fit your space. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands in the soil, and let the exciting adventure of growing lush tomatoes in small spaces begin! Happy gardening!

This was a post all about square foot gardening for tomatoes.

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