Successful tomato growing begins with planning. Throughout the course, you have to make decisions – ranging from which species you’d grow to how they will be watered. These choices should eventually result in the maximum yield.
Similarly, how far apart to plant tomatoes is another important choice to make. Based on the variety, garden type, season of planting, and the growing pattern of the tomatoes, the tomato seedlings are planted at varying distances from one another.
Along with the spacing recommendations, this article will also touch upon various aspects of growing tomatoes. But before that, let’s take a look at the process of planting tomatoes.
Relief Features for Growing Tomatoes
Tomatoes are self-pollinating perennials with off-white flowers. Here are some relief features best suited to tomatoes:
Tomatoes are usually grown in the late spring and early summer seasons. Plantation zone 10 or warmer areas are an exception, where the plant can be grown in fall and winter too.
Want to know when’s the right time to plant tomatoes? This guide summarises when should you plant tomatoes.
They grow best in a warm climate where the air temperatures are in the range of 65 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. A soil temperature of at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit is mandatory. Tomatoes also require 5 to 6 hours of full sunlight in a day. Further, low to medium rainfall is required.
The crop can grow on a wide variety of soils. However, sandy, red loamy, and well-drained soils that are rich in organic content are considered ideal for tomato plantation. Also, tomatoes grow best in soil with a pH range of about 6.0 to 7.0.
Don’t know the pH of your garden soil? This guide on soil test kits should help you determine the relief features.
How Are Tomatoes Cultivated?
Tomatoes are usually grown from seedlings that are germinated indoors and then transplanted into the garden soil. Here are some basic steps involved:
- Seed Starting: Although tomatoes are usually grown from seedlings, seeds are also used to ensure quality seedlings. The seeds are generally sown indoors around 6 to 8 weeks before the average date of last year’s spring frost.
- Preparing the soil: Before plantation, the soil needs to be turned, plowed, and fertilized. Since the seedlings will need a constant supply of vital nutrients, add a mixture of a constant release fertilizer and calcium to the soil while preparing the planting holes.
Pro Tip: Add manure at the same time to enhance water retention.
- Plantation: The tomato seedlings are planted in the garden after around 1 to 3 weeks since the last spring frost. In case of unexpected frost, the transplants will have to be covered for protection.
Pro Tip: Bury two-thirds of the stem while planting to allow better root development.
- Watering: Right after plantation, make sure to water the plants. This will help them settle in the soil in the initial stages.
- Staking, Trellising, or Caging: Depending on the growth pattern of the crop, you will need to stake, trellis, or cage the plants as soon as they are transplanted.
- Mulching: Covering the soil with leaf shreds and straw will help to retain water evenly and minimize weeds.
- Regular Watering: Maintain at least an inch of moisture level in the soil every week. To do this, check the soil regularly and water as per requirement.
Tomatoes planted early season will take about 50 to 60 days since transplantation to ripen enough for harvest. Whereas, mid-season and late-season tomatoes may take 60-80 and more than 80 days respectively.
Need a quality fertilizer to help tomatoes in your garden grow? This fertilizer for tomatoes guide is for you!
Why Does Spacing Matter?
After following all the steps above diligently, anyone would ask, of all other conditions, why does spacing really matter?
Well, here are some reasons:
- Less Competition: Accurate spacing between the tomato plants cuts off any room for competition. This is because fairly spaced seedlings will not have to fight for resources like water, nutrients, etc. Therefore, this will ensure proper growth and yields.
- Adequate Sunlight: As discussed earlier, tomatoes thrive in a warm climate and require ample sunlight. For this reason, planting the seedlings with correct spacing will ensure enough sunlight.
- Disease and Pest Control: Tomato plants are highly susceptible to diseases, mites, and other pests. In this regard, if the plants are close enough, the diseases and pests can easily spread from one infected plant to many others.
- Minimizing Weeds: If the plants are spaced too far apart, it will leave room for weeds to grow. This would not just reduce the growing space and productivity of the soil, but also the overall yield.
Adequate spacing will also allow good air circulation among the plants and make harvesting easier.
How Far Apart to Plant Tomatoes?
Tomatoes require different spacing depending on the plant type, the garden type, and the growth pattern. Let’s take a look at all of those parameters individually:
Tomato Spacing Based on Plant Type
Generally, the recommended spacing for transplantation of tomato seedlings is around 29-35 X 17-23 inches. However, different varieties have different requirements. Two main varieties of tomato are:
1. Determinate Tomato
Determinate tomatoes grow as a bush and can attain a height of up to 4 to 5 feet. The plants are known to grow to a certain size and all their fruits ripen in a significantly short period of time, usually around 2 weeks.
Upon maturation and fruiting, these bushes stop growing and will fruit lesser. Even though they don’t need as much pruning, these plants need to be staked to provide enough support.
Since this variety doesn’t grow much, the plants need to be spaced about 18 to 24 inches apart. Some determinate species are also scientifically modified to remain dwarf and compact. Thus, they can be planted even closer – at a distance of about 12 inches.
If you plan to grow them in rows, you should place them at least 2 feet apart. Also, when growing this type without stakes or trellises, be sure to place them 3 to 4 feet apart to reduce competition for resources.
2. Indeterminate Tomato
Indeterminate tomato, unlike determinate type, grows as a vine. These plants can continue growing in length throughout the season. Also referred to as “vining tomatoes”, they ripen fruit comparatively slower, but for a longer duration of time.
This variety requires proper pruning because it doesn’t stop growing on its own. Further, they require large and sturdy caging because they grow heavy when fruiting starts.
It is highly recommended to cage or stake these vines to encourage vertical growth. That way these plants can be grown as hanging vines, eliminating the need for large spacing. In such cases, a spacing of about 18 inches should be enough.
Place vines that are taller than 6 feet even farther apart, if grown horizontally or without support.
Note: Less spacing is suggested only when vertical growth is promoted.
Ever heard of seeds that can grow throughout the year? This guide on greenhouse seeds will help you out!
Tomato Spacing Based on Garden Type
The spacing between tomato plants is also determined by where they are being planted as well. Here are the recommended spacing criteria for when they are planted in containers, in the ground, or raised garden beds:
1. In the Ground
While planting the transplants directly in the ground, you will have the choice to either make rows or simply plant them at appropriate distances.
In rows, maintain a distance of 18 to 24 inches between consecutive plants. The rows should also be spaced at 36 inches apart. This will not just allow the plants to flourish independently, but will also organize the garden without much effort. Also, there will be just enough space for the grower to work on each plant.
Whereas if you go for random planting, maintain a distance of 18 to 24 inches again, but make sure to leave sufficient space between them.
2. In Containers
If starting tomatoes from seeds in containers, it is advisable to limit the seedlings to one strong plant per small pot. This would not just give enough space and resources for each plant to grow, but will also make them easier to prune, water, and take care of. Hence, transplanting seedlings into pots suitable to their sizes is highly recommended.
For tomato plants that are deemed compact, pots that are 12 inches deep and wide are good enough. To be specific, the determinate type will need an 18-inch pot and the indeterminate tomato will require a pot with a width of at least 24 inches.
If you plan to grow vining tomatoes in containers, 20-gallon containers will be required for vines that are expected to grow about 8 to 10 feet in height. They will still need to be supported with stakes, trellises, or cages though.
Indeterminate tomatoes are best suited for growing in large containers. This is because this variety will benefit from the increased space and depth of soil. It will also be possible to include stakes within the container itself. For instance, certain varieties of tomatoes like Roma need an even wider space for proper growth. Hence, it will flourish in a container.
3. In Raised Garden Beds
Growing tomatoes in a raised garden bed means that they will be planted in a more compact space. Therefore, it is necessary to make sure that there aren’t too many plants in the same bed.
Generally, each tomato plant requires at least one square foot area for ideal growth. Hence, in a 4 by 4 raised garden bed, do not fit more than 4 or 5 determinate tomato plants. Similarly, do not fit more than 2 or 3 plants of the indeterminate variety in the same 4′ by 4′ bed.
Another good enough distancing for most varieties will be 24 to 36 inches. Planting them less than 24 inches apart will lead to overcrowding.
Remember to use trellises, cages, or stakes as per requirement. These will help to increase productivity and maximize yield.
Additional Tips for Growing Tomatoes
Although there isn’t any shortcut to a successful tomato yield, there are a few tips and tricks to make the process easier. Here are 6 things you can do to get an effective yield:
- While planting various breeds together, make sure to place them at a distance of 10 feet. This will rule out the possibility of cross-pollination.
- If a seedling got too tall before you could transplant it in the ground, plant it sideways in a trough or a trench. This works on the principle that the roots of a plant grow along its stem.
This will require much less digging and at the same time, the plant will have access to the top layer of soil. Remember, the topsoil is warmer and richest in nutrients, accelerating growth.
- Bury the stems. Tomatoes are deep-rooted plants which means that they need to develop firm roots to grow well. For this reason, the stems of the plants are buried deep in the soil to induce root growth along the stem. This will make for a stronger plant.
- Water regularly. Tomatoes need a moisture level of at least 1 to 2 inches every week when they are fruiting. The key here is not to water often, but deep enough. Also, when planted in containers, these plants need to be watered more often.
- Use high-quality potting mix for growing tomatoes, but leave enough space for mulch. Mulch is required because it reduces weed growth but most importantly, it keeps low-lying fruits from resting on the ground and rotting.
- Grow the right companion plants alongside tomatoes. They will establish symbiotic relationships that will benefit both plants. Learn more about tomato companion plants here.
Frequently Asked Questions
How deep should a raised garden be to plant tomatoes?
Since tomato is a deep-rooted crop, a raised garden bed has to be around 12 to 18 inches in depth. In case the bed isn’t deep enough, the roots will not develop properly and the plant growth will be hampered.
Should I plant my tomatoes in pots or in the ground?
Tomatoes have deep and intense root systems. Therefore, it is better to plant them in the ground. They should be planted deep enough to have a part of their stems buried in the soil. However, if you can’t plant them in the soil, make sure to get bigger containers.
How do you maximize tomato yield?
Other than ensuring adequate watering, fertilization, and protection from pests, you can set up supports for the plant. Using simple cages, trellises, or securing the stem with stakes will not only save space but will also reduce weeding.
Can other crops be planted around tomato plants?
Yes. It is actually beneficial for tomatoes to be planted alongside companion plants like lettuce, cucumber, radish, asparagus, carrots, etc. These combinations are based on companion planting and they allow utilization of the growing space. Further, the yield of both crops is also maximized.
To conclude, tomatoes need to be spaced accurately to get an effective yield. Too little space or too much space can both be equally detrimental for the plants. Therefore, a grower needs to know how far apart to plant tomatoes to obtain maximum yield and healthy crops.
We hope this article helped provide valuable gardening information and that you will enjoy the planting process. Happy gardening!