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What’s the Best Spacing for Planting Tomatoes?

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Updated 4.18.24

What’s the best spacing for planting tomatoes? As you set plants in the ground, it would be helpful to have a clear idea of how far apart to plant tomatoes. 

The short answer: the spacing for planting tomatoes depends on a couple of different factors. One is the tomato variety. Another is where you’re planting them.

But first …

Does spacing for planting tomatoes really matter?

Yes! Proper spacing when planting tomatoes allows for …

  • Best access to sunlight. Tomatoes love sun and heat. When you have the correct spacing for tomato plants, then light can reach all its branches and leaves.
  • Air circulation. Leaves on plants that are tightly spaced cannot dry out after rain. Excess moisture allows diseases to spread and fester. When plants are too close together, they’re more susceptible to fungi and other pathogens.
  • Peak production. If plants are crammed in tightly, then they compete with each other for nutrients and water. Tomato fruit gets stunted and output is reduced. On the other hand, when tomato plants are set too far apart, then you waste space in the garden and diminish your harvest.

What’s the best spacing for tomatoes in a garden plot?

Expert gardeners can’t agree unequivocally on the best spacing when planting tomatoes. Some tell you to plant tomatoes 18 inches apart. Others say it’s okay to set them 36 or even 48 inches apart. 

Instead of guessing about spacing between your tomato plants, ask yourself this: is the plant a determinate tomato variety or an indeterminate tomato variety?

Check the variety name online or at the garden center. Or simply look on the plant label. The determinate or indeterminate designation is listed with the tomato variety. 

That designation gives you the biggest clue you need about spacing for tomato plants. Here’s why. 

  • Determinate tomato varieties grow to a certain height, producing all their fruit during a two- to three-week period. After that, a determinate tomato plant’s production fades out. Since a determinate tomato has a finite end-game size, you can safely plant them 18-24 inches apart – they won’t continue to sprawl for weeks on end. If your determinate plant is a compact or dwarf variety, spacing for planting tomatoes can be even closer – say, 12–18 inches apart.
  • On the other hand, indeterminate tomato varieties continue to grow and produce fruit all season long. They spread up – and out – until they’re pruned or killed by frost. Even if you choose not to stake or prune indeterminates, be aware that these varieties like to branch out aggressively. Best bet for spacing when planting indeterminate tomatoes: allow 24-48 inches in between each one. 

What about spacing in between the garden rows?

Again, the gardening jury is out on this. Recommendations range between 3 feet to 6 feet in between rows. Consider your work methods and your comfort level when working in the garden. If you need a bit more elbow room – and you have the space in your garden – then set your rows further apart. This allows you to move easily in between rows when weeding, watering, fertilizing, and harvesting. If you choose closer spacing for planting tomato rows, then be sure to stake plants so you can move easily without trampling branches. 

What about when planting tomatoes sideways?

Even if you bury a tomato’s stem sideways to build stronger roots – say, when the seedling is leggy – still allow the recommended spacing for determinates and indeterminates.

What’s the best spacing for planting tomatoes in containers?

General rule of thumb: plant one tomato plant per container. 

A common mistake for spacing when planting tomatoes in containers is to select a pot that’s too small ... or to set too many seedlings in one container. 

That’s a big no-no. Tomatoes have extensive root systems. When they get root-bound, they produce fewer fruit. Varieties that are supposed to grow well in 1- or 2-gallon pots will likely do better in a larger pot. And even small or dwarf tomato varieties do best when one plant has its own container. 

If you have a large container, fill it with one tomato plant and add shorter companion plants for tomatoes like basil, marigolds, or nasturtiums at the plant’s base.

What’s the best spacing for planting tomatoes in raised beds?

Ideally, your raised beds should allow you to reach the center of your plot from either side. That’s why the recommended raised bed width is four feet. With that size, you can set one tomato per square foot of raised garden space

That means if your raised bed is four feet by four feet, you can plant 16 tomato plants.

While that’s closer than spacing in regular garden plot, you can make allowances by cultivating the raised garden bed soil to 12 inches or more.  Add plenty of organic matter, compost, and humus so that plants don’t have to compete with each other for nutrients. And be sure to stake tomato plants and tie new branches faithfully as they appear so plants don’t sprawl, but rather grow upward.

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