How Many Tomato Plants Can Fit in a Raised Bed?

How Many Tomato Plants Can Fit in a Raised Bed?

An article by Travis Key from Lazy Dog Farm

One of the questions we get most frequently this time of year involves plant spacing in raised beds. Gardeners across the country want to know just how many tomato or pepper plants they can squeeze into the raised beds in their backyard garden. And while there isn’t a one-size fits all rule for this, we’ll try to help you determine how many you can fit in your raised beds.

Square Foot Gardening

You may have heard of the “square foot gardening” technique which involves breaking your raised beds into 1 square foot blocks for planting. This technique provides guidelines for how many plants of different vegetables you can fit within each square foot block. While this is a great technique for beginner gardeners to understand plant spacing, I find that this method tends to crowd plants a little more than I like.

When followed strictly, square foot gardening can make harvesting difficult because there’s so much plant foliage in the bed. It also makes it tough to foliar feed or apply of organic pest controls for worms, aphids, etc. Because the plants are so crowded, getting the entire leaf coated on each plant is tough.

I also think plant spacing will vary depending on what type of tomato plants you’re planting. We can’t assume they’re all going to require the same amount of space.

How to Space Tomato Plants

Tomato plant spacing in raised beds will be largely determined by the varieties you’re planting and the type of trellis you’re using. If you’re growing indeterminate tomato varieties in cages or another type of wide trellis, you’re going to need to give them a significant amount of room. These indeterminate varieties will sprawl and eventually get very large. I’d recommend a 3’ plant spacing or wider if using cages with minimal pruning.

One solution to get more plants in your beds is using a “drop string” trellis technique that requires pruning and keeping the plants more manageable. The basic concept here is to have a pipe hanging above the plants with a string running down to each plant. Tomato clips are used to attach the stem of the tomato plant to the string, supporting the plant as it grows. Because this technique requires more constant pruning, the indeterminate plants don’t get as wide. As a result, you can then space these indeterminate plants 1.5’ to 2’ apart along the row in your raised beds.

We’re big fans of determinate tomato varieties which don’t get very tall and produce loads of tomatoes at one time. These varieties work better for gardeners in southern climates who are not able to grow tomatoes throughout the summer. We use the “Florida weave” trellis system for our determinate tomatoes, which is the same system that the commercial field tomato growers around here use. This system includes wooden stakes or t-posts placed between every 3-4 plants and string woven between the plants to support them.

The Florida weave is a great trellis system because it supports the plants on all sides and allows the tomato plants to lean on one another. As a result, a closer spacing makes a better Florida weave. You’ll want it to look like a continuous hedge row of tomato plants as the season progresses. With determinate tomato varieties and this technique, you can also use a 1.5’ to 2’ plant spacing.

Raised bed sizes can vary greatly, but let’s use the example of a 4x8’ raised bed. In this bed you could plant two rows of tomatoes, which are each 8’ long. If using cages or another wide support system, you can probably fit 6-8 tomato plants in that bed. If you’re using a drop-string trellis or using determinate tomato varieties, you can probably fit 10-12 tomato plants in that bed. As you can see, the number of plants will vary depending on the varieties and techniques you’re using.

How to Space Pepper Plants

Pepper plant spacing is much simpler than tomatoes because we don’t have indeterminate and determinate pepper varieties. Most pepper plants don’t get more than a few feet tall, although I have seen some chocolate habanero plants get 5-6’ tall in our in-ground garden. But pepper plants typically don’t need as much space as tomato plants.

You can play it safe and put pepper plants 2’ apart, or you can get aggressive with it and go with a 1’ spacing. A closer spacing can sometimes help the plants remain upright as they lean on one another, much like the example of the determinate tomatoes above. The closer you place them, the harder it might be to find the peppers at harvest time. But you will be able to grow more peppers in each bed if you go with that 1’ plant spacing.

Test the Limits of Your Garden!

It’s important to note that different gardeners are comfortable with different levels of “crowdedness” in their raised beds. Some gardeners prefer to keep their beds nice, neat, and organized. As a result, they often prefer a wider plant spacing. Other gardeners can’t resist planting as many plants as possible and their raised beds often look like jungles by mid-Summer. Nothing is wrong with either way but test it and see which way you prefer. I tend to prefer a neater and more organized setup, but everyone’s brain doesn’t work the same way.

Thousands of gardeners have been tuning in to The Lazy Dog Farm YouTube channel where Travis covers a variety topics ranging from how to successfully start seedlings to how to make a flavorful hot sauce that packs a punch. Accompanied by his wife Brooklyn and their two boys, the gardens on their 2 acre homestead in southwest Georgia are always filled with a wide variety of vegetables that are enjoyed fresh or preserved for later.

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