Tomatoes are, perhaps, one of the most popular garden vegetables for a number of reasons: beginners can grow them easily, they can be cooked and used in many ways, and they are healthy. As with most vegetables and herbs though, there are some common questions about growing.
How Close to Plant Tomatoes? This depends on the variety of tomato and the type of area in which it is being planted. Indeterminate tomatoes can be planted 1.5 to 4 feet apart. Determinate tomatoes can be planted 1.5 to 2 feet apart.
We have compiled all the information you need to know about planting and growing tomatoes, as well as some important tips and tricks for doing so. Keep reading to find out more about the basics of growing tomatoes, what indeterminate and determinate tomatoes are, how close to plant tomatoes, and how to stake tomatoes.
All About Planting Tomatoes
Before we get into just how close to plant tomatoes, we need to explain a few other things. Read on to explore the basics of growing tomatoes, techniques for planting tomatoes, and the difference between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes.
The Basics of Tomato Growing
Tomatoes are an awesome garden vegetable to grow and have around. Overall, tomatoes grow well in sunny locations in well-draining soil. Tomatoes also thrive in moist soil – they need to have plenty of moisture.
Tomato plants are actually vines, and they root all along their stems. Tomato stems have a tendency to grow upward or outward, and for this reason, they are commonly staked or grown in/on wire cages.
Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes
Two main types of tomatoes are out there: indeterminate or determinate. These terms have to do with the growth habits of tomatoes. The growth habit (determinate or indeterminate) of tomatoes will determine how close to space them – so it’s important to know the differences.
For a more in-depth look at determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, check out our full article How to Tell the Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomatoes.
Determinate tomatoes are smaller and more compact plants than indeterminate tomatoes. They grow to one height, flower, and set out all their fruit in a short period. This means they have a short harvesting time. Determinate types tend to need less support and maintenance than indeterminate tomatoes.
Indeterminate tomato plants tend to bush out to the sides, unlike determinate tomatoes. They may need more room to grow than their determinate counterparts. They continue to grow, flower and produce fruit all throughout the season until they are harmed by frost.
The harvest of indeterminate tomatoes can last 2-3 months, and can produce higher yields, although they may take longer to mature. The opposite of determinate tomatoes, indeterminate tomatoes are larger. These plants need more support than determinate tomato plants and do best when they are staked or grown in wire cages.
How Close to Plant Tomatoes
Now that you know what determinate and indeterminate tomatoes are, we can get to the main question: how close do you plant tomatoes? As previously mentioned, how closely tomatoes should be planted to each other depends on if the tomato is determinate or indeterminate.
When it comes to indeterminate tomatoes, spacing can also depend on how the tomatoes are going to be grown – on stakes, on wire cages, or just sprawling.
For a complete breakdown on how close to plant tomatoes, take a look at the chart below.
|Tomato Type||How Close to Space|
|Determinate||1.5 to 2 feet of space on each side|
|Indeterminate – Staked||1.5 feet of space on each side|
|Indeterminate – Wire Cages||2 feet of space on each side|
|Indeterminate – Sprawling||3 to 4 feet apart|
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.Romans 12:16
Tips on Tomato Spacing
Gardeners may be tempted to space tomatoes even closer together than recommended, but that is actually not a great idea. Tomatoes need a lot of airflow, and spacing them very close together can limit that airflow.
Additionally, keep in mind that rows in organic gardening tend to be closer than in other methods of gardening.
How to Plant and Stake Tomatoes
Now that you know all the important things about how close to plant tomatoes, we can teach you how to actually plant, stake and prune tomatoes. Let’s get to it!
Before planting tomatoes, be sure to keep a few things in mind and prepare. First, tomatoes like soil that is a bit more acidic – a 5.5 pH, to be specific. Doing a soil test before planting tomatoes is a good idea.
If you discover that you need to change the pH level of the soil to help tomatoes thrive, a simple and inexpensive solution is to mix one cup of organic apple cider vinegar with one gallon of water. Use this mixture and spray it in the soil and near the tomatoes.
Additionally, soil moisture is critical when it comes to tomatoes. When planting them, keep this in mind. To get tomatoes in moist soil, it is best to dig the planting holes very deep. Now, let’s get into it!
Step One: Dig the Holes
Once the soil is prepared, it is time to dig the holes to plant the tomato plants. Like we discussed, it is best to dig holes deep. This helps the tomatoes stay in moist soil and further away from the dry top layer of the soil. This also prevents tomato cracking and helps prevent tomatoes from not getting enough calcium.
The stem of a tomato plant may be pretty tall, so keep that in mind as you dig the holes. They really will need to be pretty deep – deep enough so that only a small portion of the tomato plant’s leaves are above the ground.
A tomato plant will grow roots all along this stem, so the more of the stem that is buried into the ground, the more roots will form to gather nutrients and water for the plant.
Step Two: Take the Tomato Plant Out and Plant It
Next, take the tomato plant out of its container. Check out the roots at the bottom. Are there quite a few of them? If so, loosen up the roots a little bit. Free them and untangle them so they can more easily attach to the soil and roam freely in it.
If desired, you can put leaf compost in the hole for the tomato plant before planting it. Compost is very beneficial for plants, providing nutrients for them. I also like to sprinkle in a handful of worm castings and crushed up eggshells to provide even more nutrients to the plant.
Put the plant inside the hole. Again – make sure the hole is deep!
Pro Tip: If you have an extra-long stem to plant and struggle to dig a deep enough hole, you can dig a deep trench instead and lay the roots and stem horizontally into the ground!
Step Three: Don’t Plant the Leaves!
In order to avoid your tomato plants getting blight (a type of fungus), it is important not to bury the plant’s leaves in the soil when planting the tomato plant. Look at any and all of the leaves that are in the hole and beneath the surface of the soil. Remove all of them – yes, all of them! Up until the top of the soil.
Backfill the soil in the hole and voila – you have planted your tomato plant!
A Method for Staking Tomatoes
As we also previously discussed, indeterminate tomatoes will thrive if they are staked or grown on a wire cage. For this example, we will be discussing a simple and inexpensive method for staking indeterminate tomatoes.
First things first, you do not have to stake indeterminate tomatoes if you do not want to; it is all up to you, your preferences and the space you have. Staking indeterminate tomatoes can create more space as they will learn to grow up the stakes.
First, you will need 1×2 inch furring strips. Pinewood furring strips are great; they are hardy and inexpensive. One furring strip is usually 8 feet tall. You will be cutting or sawing these in half to create 4 foot tall strips, so make sure to think of how many furring strips you will need. Rebar and PVC pipe are other stake choices that I have used that work well.
You will also need something to tie the tomato plant to the stakes as they grow taller. I have found that adjustable zip ties and elastic rope work great for this purpose! They are flexible and do not restrict the stems of the tomato plant as they grow.
Next, once you’ve obtained your furring strips and cut them into 4 foot tall strips, and once you have the metal wire handy, take a stake and place it 3 to 4 inches from the base of the tomato plant you are staking. Do not damage the roots of the tomato plant. You may want to place your stakes in before planting if you want the stakes even closer to the main stem.
Stick the stake down a ways in the soil so it’s standing up, strong, and has good support. Next, take the tie material. Make sure it’s long enough to wrap the tomato vine around the stake, and also long enough not to smother the tomato vine. These ties are going to be wrapped very loosely.
Tie the tomato stem around the stake, and tie the material in the back very loosely so the plant has enough room. This will allow the plant to grow up the stake!
Pro Tip: Place the stake on the side where the wind blows from. In most cases, the wind blows from West to East, so I always put my stakes on the West side of plants for the best support.
Trimming Your Tomato Plants
The closer tomatoes are planted to each other the more they will need to be kept trimmed. For any type of tomato, the bottom leaves and stems that are not producing fruit should be trimmed so they are a foot or more off of the ground. This keeps dirt and other mold spores from splashing up on the bottom leaves and provides better airflow for the plant.
For indeterminate tomatoes, you may want to trim the suckers. A sucker is a growth in between the main growing stem and a leaf stem. Each sucker is essentially a new tomato plant and will produce more tomatoes.
It is not entirely necessary to trim the suckers. The more suckers on a plant, the more fruit the plant will produce. However, this takes more energy and requires more nutrients from the soil. You also may receive a greater number of tomatoes, but those tomatoes will probably be smaller in size.
Trimming the suckers will provide more airflow in between closely planted tomatoes and will produce larger-sized fruit.
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