How far apart to plant tomatoes in your garden depends on the type of tomatoes you are growing and, to some extent, on how much space you have. A good guide for the typical home garden is as follows: Indeterminate (cordon or vine) tomatoes should be spaced around 15 to 18 inches (38 to 45 cm) apart; determinate (bush) tomatoes should be planted around 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) apart; and dwarf varieties of tomatoes should be planted 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) apart.
Spacing tomato plants
There is some debate about how far apart tomatoes should be spaced. The distances quoted above are taken from my go-to source on vegetable growing – “Grow your own Vegetables” by Joy Larkcom. These are really minimum distances and assume that you have limited space in your garden for your tomato plants. Dan Drost, vegetable specialist at Utah State University says that generally tomatoes need a little bit more space and advises that they be planted 2 feet apart, with rows 2-3 feet apart.
Some commentators suggest tomato plants should be at least 3 feet apart but, interestingly, there is a fair bit of research to suggest that spacing greater than 12 inches (30cm), seems to make little difference to yield or quality of ripened tomatoes at maturity.
In any case, there are two main reasons to make sure that you do space your tomatoes at the minimum distance apart for their type.
Firstly, tomatoes are hungry plants and, in good soil, they will develop a fairly sizeable root ball. Obviously, tomatoes planted too close together will be competing for the same water and nutrients and their growth will be limited as a result.
Secondly, tomatoes can be subject to blight, which is an air-borne fungal disease that can especially occur in humid conditions. Sufficient spacing between tomato plants encourages air flow and combats humidity. It also helps limit the speed at which blight can spread between plants.
Spacing of indeterminate tomato plants
Indeterminate, or Cordon, tomatoes are the ones that are typically trained upwards on a stake or on wire supports. As the name suggests, these types of tomatoes will continue growing upwards as long as you allow them to. To a degree, this growth habit determines how far apart to plant tomatoes of this type.
Gardeners typically stop the growth of indeterminate tomatoes once 4 to 6 flower trusses have set fruit. We also pinch out the suckers or tomato sideshoots so that all of the energy that the plant draws from the soil and the sun goes into producing the fruits that we desire. Because indeterminate tomatoes are trained upwards and restrained in their growth, they can be grown slightly more closely together than determinate or bush varieties of tomatoes.
As indicated above, indeterminate tomatoes can be grown 15 to 18 inches (38 to 45 cm) apart. If grown in rows, the plants should be staggered.
Spacing of determinate or bush tomato plants
Bush tomatoes, grow outwards rather than upwards. Because of this, we do not remove the suckers or sideshoots from bush tomatoes as these are the source of the tomato fruits themselves.
Because of the bushy habit of determinate tomatoes they require a little bit more room and should be spaced slightly further apart that indeterminate tomato plants. Thus, bush tomatoes should be planted around 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) apart as a minimum.
Spacing of dwarf tomato plants
Dwarf tomato plants are very small, compact varieties that usually grow no more than 8 inches (20cm) high. They are good for containers or the edges of vegetable beds and do not require staking or pruning. Dwarf varieties should be planted 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) apart.
How far apart to plant tomatoes in a raised bed
Tomatoes can do well in a raised bed as raised beds usually allow plants to spread their roots quite deeply to draw up water and nutrients from well below the soil surface.
Tomatoes planted in raised beds should be treated like tomatoes planted in the ground as far as spacing is concerned. So, follow the guidance above for the different types of tomato plant.
How far apart to plant tomatoes in growbags
Growbags often have cut-outs for three plants to be grown in them. It is indeed possible to grow three tomato plants in one growbag – I know, I have done it reasonably successfully. However, because tomatoes are heavy feeders, it is really preferable to limit growing to two plants per bag.
How far apart to plant tomato plants is an important question because of the impact on yields and susceptibility to disease if plants are too close. However, if space is limited and you meet the minimum of 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45cm) between plants you should find that your tomato growing is still a success.
More on Growing tomatoes
Here are our other posts to help you with your tomato growing:
- Pricking our tomato seedlings – how to do it with video instructions
- Why do tomatoes get black on the bottom (blossom end rot)?
- Pinching out tomato plants – pruning side shoots
- Tomatoes not turning red? Here is what to do ...
Martin Cole has been an avid gardener for more than 20 years and loves to talk and write about gardening. In 2006 he was a finalist in the BBC Gardener of the Year competition. He is a member of the National dahlia Society.
He previously lived in London and Sydney, Australia, where he took a diploma course in Horticultural studies and is now based in North Berwick in Scotland. He founded GardeningStepbyStep.com in 2012. The website is aimed at everybody who has been bitten by the gardening bug and wants to know more.
Gardening Step by Step has been cited by Thompson and Morgan, the UK’s largest mail order plant retailer, as a website that publishes expert gardening content.
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