Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

How Close to Plant?

These tomatoes were planted about as close as I would ever attempt. The results of this planting will determine whether or not next year’s crop is planted this way or not. The advantages of close planting are mainly from better utilization of space, but for tomatoes, it also means that they support each other. Staking is only needed for the plants on the outside edges. Disadvantages include less air flow which could mean greater potential for disease, and more difficult to pick from the inner plants.

My guess is that this will prove to be too closely planted, but it’s an experiment, so it’s not always supposed to work. No matter what a book or web site may say, you never really know what will work for your situation until you try it yourself.

Gardening is experimenting. I take notes and adapt as needed.


  1. Stephen Clay McGehee


    When this photo was taken, there were 6 tomato plants in this group (3 across). We ended up taking out the two in the middle and replanting them in another part of the garden. The middle plants were not getting enough sun to be productive, and there was far too much crowding. Even with only 4, it is pushing the limit and I’ll be doing something different next time. We have to almost burrow in through the branches to get to the tomatoes in the middle, and I worry about disease from the leaves not getting dry enough due to poor air circulation. Any bugs that get into the inner section will be virtually impossible to eradicate. As I have pointed out previously, plant spacing involves a lot more than just what the ground will support.

    We tried to add “wrap around” tomato cages, but even the smaller plants were far too large to do anything with. We’ll just let these go as-is and see what happens.

  2. Wyandotte

    So each tomato plant has how many square feet now?

    I too am struggling with how much space to give each tomato plant. I go thru this “agony” every year and end up giving each one a fair bit of space (c. 5 sq.ft. & deep, high-organic-matter friable soil) – and having fewer plants, and they grow well.

    Has this ever happened to you – you plant or seed in great, well-drained soil. You fertilize. Yet volunteers come up in some awful part of the yard or garden, always past the proper date, with soil way too sandy, drainage not the best, not as sunny as you’d like – and the plants end up producing more high quality produce than you could ever expect under such awful conditions. It happens to me all the time, esp. with tomatoes. Can’t figure it out. This has also happened with “Rose” Chinese Radishes. They are supposed to be harvested when about 5-8″ I am told. Well, they have been known to appear in some useless part of the garden where weeds struggle and everything’s drowing and yes, once again, I have these wonderful, 2-lb. 12″ radishes. Tasty as the young small ones, too. Not punky or coarse at all. Same with some flowers.

    Maybe we’ll never figure this out. Maybe all the gardening rules are for commercial growers, who of course need to be able to control things.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I’ll have to go out there and measure it. My standard way of spacing out plants is to use two wooden sticks that are marked out in 6″ increments. Depending on the plant, I plant a row going across the 4′ wide garden. I then use that same spacing going lengthwise for however many plants I want to plant. They are basically laid out in a grid in either 6, 12, or 18″ spacing. The first plant is usually 6″ from the edge, no matter what the final spacing is going to be.

      You can see how I use the sticks here –

      I’ll come up with a chart that shows how I space them out, and make that into a blog post. It certainly wouldn’t be a “this is how you need to do it”, but a “this is how I do it”.

      The soil here is so incredibly poor that I haven’t had much in the way of volunteers popping up. They usually don’t survive if they aren’t in a place that has had some good soil amendments. Now when I have a compost pile that gets neglected for a while, we’ll often have tomato plants sprout out of that. They are often excellent tomatoes!

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