Although this site has a terrific Planting Guide loaded with vital information on growing lots of tomatoes for the market, we’re guessing your garden beds are configured a bit differently than the typical 4 x 100 ft. beds on a farm, so we’ve provided this quick guide just for you.
Tomato plants start out as tiny, gangly seedlings but soon grow into large vines or bushes with an abundance of red fruit. When planting your tomatoes in the spring, one of the most important things to consider is the spacing requirements, which will differ based on the size of the tomato plant at the time it goes into the ground, and whether it is a vining or bush variety.
Spacing Tomato Seedlings
If you started tomato seedlings indoors, it is safe to plant them outdoors once the threat of frost passes for your region. Although you may have started far too many seedlings, plant as many as you have space for in the ground, as some may not survive the transplanting process. By planting them all, you ensure that at least some will survive.
When first placing tiny tomato seedlings into the ground, space them at least 24 inches apart in rows that are at least 30 to 36 inches apart. Use a tape measure to mark off the planting locations before you begin digging to speed the planting process.
Continue caring for the seedlings until they reach at least 6 inches high and then increase the spacing between them to 36 inches by thinning them out. To thin the plants, select the smallest or weakest seedlings and pull them up out of the ground. It may seem wasteful, but this process makes the remaining plants much healthier.
Spacing Larger Plants
If you purchase tomatoes from a garden center, they are typically a little larger, between 6 and 12 inches high. When planting these tomatoes, the spacing depends on how large the mature plant will eventually grow to be.
The recommended spacing for standard sized tomatoes is three feet on all sides, if they are the same variety. If you are using a circular wire trellis around the tomato plant instead of a stake, increase the planting distance to four feet on all sides. Roma, grape and cherry tomatoes are smaller varieties and grow in a more vertical pattern. These tomatoes are often grown up stakes, and thus can be planted at distances of 12 to 15 inches apart.
If you are planting different varieties of tomatoes, plant them at least eight feet apart. If you plant them closer than eight feet, they may cross pollinate with each other and create different tomatoes than what you expect.
Bush Varieties versus Cordon Varieties
In addition to the standard spacing requirements, you must also consider whether the plant is a bush variety or a cordon variety. A bush variety is exactly what it sounds like and produces multiple stems from the ground. Cordon varieties are much taller and thinner with a single central stalk and shorter vertical stems.
If you have a bush variety, increase the spacing to four feet apart if they are indeterminate, season-long growers. If you have multiple rows of bush tomatoes, space each row at five- to six-foot intervals. Cordons grow upward and can thrive well planted at distances of 12 to 15 inches apart.
No matter what type of tomatoes you are growing, following the proper spacing guidelines will ensure the plants remain disease-free and have adequate access to sunlight. While it may be hard to resist planting as many tomatoes as possible in the available space, the end result will be fewer plants that produce far more fruit.