When many of us think about growing tomatoes, we think about managing pests, proper pollination and how to handle our abundant harvests. All of this is valuable, yet something often overlooked that has a major impact on both the health of the plant and the fruit it may yield is spacing.
Although it depends on the type of tomato - determinate or indeterminate - and your planting method, a good rule of (a green!) thumb is to place tomato plants about 18-24 inches apart.
It may feel like your plants are very far apart at first, but you’ll be glad you spaced them this way once your tomatoes start to grow as the distance between them can highly impact your harvest and any potential disease spread.
When plants are too close together, the leaves tend to stay damp making it easy for disease to flourish and spread. You’ll need proper spacing to avoid wet leaves touching and to allow the sun to do its work drying! Additionally, insect infestations are more likely to occur when tomatoes are grown too close together since it’s easier for them to move from plant to plant.
As with all plants, there’s a competition for resources in your garden, yet tomatoes are extra greedy in their need for water, nutrients, and sunlight. If you place plants too close together, they may experience stunted growth. And if they do somehow grow large, they may not be able to produce as much fruit (or the fruit may not fully ripen). Another way overcrowding can negatively impact yield is by limiting pollination since it will be harder for helpful pollinators to get to the flowers on your tomato plants! Pro-tip: This Raddish blog post will help you know exactly when to pick tomatoes!
Accessibility: Try to keep rows of plants about four feet apart allowing you to access plants for care and harvesting.
Determinate tomatoes yield all of their fruit in a short window of time, and grow to just to a certain height. Because of this, they do well in containers or on wire cages.
Indeterminate tomatoes continue to yield for up to three months, until the first frost of the year. These plants do well on a trellis so they can continue to grow, but wire cages and even ground sprawl work too. If you opt for the latter options, we recommend increasing the spacing even further (2 feet for trellis, 3-4 feet apart for ground or cage). Tip: The variety of tomato may impact spacing needs as well, so make sure to read the seed packets you buy; most of them give specific recommendations!
Now that you have spacing sorted, you may be looking for other tomato gardening resources. Check out our blog post on “when to harvest” or head straight to the Raddish tomato grow guide here!