How to Space Tomato Plants

tomato plant spacing

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Tomatoes are one of those plants that won't tolerate overcrowding, so the best way to ensure a healthy crop is to give them the right amount of space. This is especially important when planting tomatoes in rows. Viruses, such as early blight, and insect pests, such as aphids and hornworms, are notorious for multiplying and decimating an entire row of tomato plants. Proper spacing is key for catching potential problems early on. It also ensures good air circulation and will give you the room necessary for moving around the plants to tend your crop.

Growing the perfect, ripe, juicy tomato is a goal for gardeners everywhere. This takes more effort that many other garden vegetables because tomatoes also can be fussy about soil, temperature, light and water, and are susceptible to diseases and pests. But, with 10,000 varieties available world-wide, there is a tomato plant for everyone no matter the size of your garden or growing space.

Space According to Tomato Type

Tomatoes grow on vines. Even plants described as compact, or bush are vines that just produce more bulk than length. Almost all vining plants tend to grow rapidly which means it's important to understand the growth habit of your chosen variety. How big will it get and how heavy will the vines become with ripening fruit? When deciding how far apart to plant your tomatoes you should consider several factors. How many plants do you plan to grow and where do you plan to grow them? Your first decision will be whether to grow a determinate or indeterminate variety, or both.

Growing Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomato plants produce many fruits that ripen all at once. Depending on the length of your growing season, you may enjoy more than one harvest as these tomatoes tend to ripen in flushes. This type of tomato has a bushy, more compact growth habit and the fruits are popular with commercial growers and home canners. Varieties produce the paste type tomatoes used for sauces and also a good selection of mid-size round fruits. Most dwarf plants and some cherry hybrid plants fall into the category of determinate tomatoes.

Spacing For Determinate Tomatoes In Rows And Raised Beds

Despite their bushy growing habit, at maturity full-size determinate plants can still spread to 2 or 3 feet. They won't, however, grow 8 to 10 foot vines that need to be managed with complicated support systems. When a number of plants are grown in rows in the ground or raised beds, place them 30 inches apart leaving 4 feet of space between rows. Dwarf varieties can be planted a bit closer at 24 inches apart but 4 feet of space between rows is still recommended to give you plenty of working room. If you are working in wide enough raised beds, you will likely have more success growing several tomato plants in the same bed if you add some kind of support.

Tip

All tomatoes except for varieties grown in hanging baskets will benefit from staking. Support for heavy, fruit-laden branches helps to prevent the vines from cracking and breaking and keeps ripening fruit off the ground.

Growing Determinate Tomatoes In Pots And Hanging Baskets

Tomatoes are self-pollinating with both male and female flowers on each plant. This means you can grow just one tomato in a pot or hanging basket and still harvest fruit. The size of the pot or basket is a much greater consideration in these instances than how far apart to place your plants. For growing patio tomatoes look for determinate varieties described as compact or dwarf. Cherry tomatoes do well in pots and hanging baskets and even determinate dwarf cherry tomatoes are available. Choose large pot or basket for each full size tomato plant at least 18 inches in diameter. Dwarf cherry tomatoes can be grown in pots 7 inches in diameter. Choose the 20 gallon size if using grow bags.

Growing Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomato vines can grow up to 10 feet long. These are the vines that produce the large fruits, often called beefsteak, that can weigh 2 pounds or better. Fruit size includes everything from these giants down to the tiniest 'Jelly Bean' cherry variety. Many heirloom tomatoes also fall into the indeterminate category although there are a few exceptions such as the popular 'Amish Paste'. Indeterminate plants produce fruits that are harvested as they ripen individually over the growing season.

Spacing For Indeterminate Tomatoes In Rows and Raised Beds

Many indeterminate plants require staking and some type of support system is recommended for all tomatoes of this type except for cherry varieties grown in hanging baskets. The long vines of indeterminate types will need some extra space so place your plants 36 inches apart in rows 4 feet apart. If you are growing your tomatoes in a raised bed, you can try planting a bit closer together but some judicious pruning may also be needed to support production and increase air flow through the vines.

Growing Indeterminate Tomatoes In Pots And Hanging Baskets

You may be surprised to learn that quite a few cherry tomato varieties are indeterminate, producing dozens of bite-sized fruits in clusters on long vines. This makes them ideally suited for hanging baskets. If you are tempted to try to grow a beefsteak variety of indeterminate tomato in a pot, you will need a very large pot. Still, you will likely have better success with a mid-size variety. Even then, pruning might be required to keep the vines from spreading out of their container. A 24-inch diameter pot or basket is recommended for each plant.