How Far Apart to Plant Tomatoes in a Raised Bed

Tomatoes in raised bed

Growing tomatoes in a raised garden bed is a great idea. Raised beds help get plants off the ground a little, and gives you more control over the soil and other nutrients your plants will get. However, when it comes to growing any plant, but especially for tomatoes, it’s important that you allow enough spacing for that plant to grow. 

A traditional tomato garden requires that all tomato plants are spaced two feet apart. Since a raised garden bed is more compact, each tomato plant needs a minimum of one square foot per plant for optimal growth. Using a trellis or tomato cage lets tomatoes grow vertically, and the richer soil in raised beds can accommodate closer plantings.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • how to space your tomato plants in a raised bed, 

  • how to pick out the right type of soil to make your plants thrive for great produce, and 

  • how to plant to ensure your harvest is amazing--even if it’s your first time using a raised garden bed. 

How to Space Tomatoes

The amount of space that you give to your tomatoes will depend on how much room you have in your garden. Naturally, more space is better because it provides your tomato plants with more room to grow--with less competition for nutrients. Of course, we also want to make sure we can fit in as many plants as possible to maximize productivity. 

It’s important to space your tomatoes properly to make plants that are healthy and productive. Each variety of the plant will need different spacing requirements. 

A good rule of thumb to follow for most tomato varieties is to plant them 24 - 36 inches apart. This helps give them plenty of room to grow and flourish, even with the big vines they produce.

Many beginner gardeners like to push the plants together and try to put them a little closer together than recommended. If you space tomato plants less than 24 inches apart, this can increase the likelihood of diseases & pests, and can lower tomato production. Crowding tomato plants reduces air circulation, resulting in a higher likelihood of disease, which--at worst--could kill your tomato plants. 

Tomato Plant Spacing In A Raised Bed

Since raised beds have richer soil than open gardens, tomato plants can be grown more densely: each tomato plant should have 1 square foot of space. 

Remember to use a trellis or tomato cage to support the tomato vines and to encourage vertical growth.

When creating the raised bed, you may want to consider how many plants you want to grow, then work out your raised bed dimensions from there. Just because space is a little limited in a raised bed doesn’t mean that you can squish together your tomato plants. 

For a raised garden bed, you’ll need to add in a minimum of one square foot for each plant you want to grow. You may want to include a little more space to allow for a trellis or another support so your plants can keep growing as the vines get heavier. 

If you already have a raised garden bed designed and ready to go, you can simply measure out how much space you need for each tomato. You can decide if the whole bed will be tomatoes or if you plan to divide it up into a smaller section with tomatoes in one, and other plants and vegetables in another. 

No matter how much space you give the tomatoes in the whole garden, you still need to space out the plants by the right amount. Measure out a square foot per each plant, and then that’s how many tomato plants you can grow in the raised bed. 

The Best Soil Conditions for Your Tomato Plants

When it's time to start growing your own tomato plants, you must make sure they get the right type of soil. Not only is spacing the plants at a good distance important, but you also must make sure they get the best soil conditions to stay healthy. 

Compared to a few other vegetables that you may add into your garden, tomatoes like to have soil conditions that are a little bit acidic. This means that when you test the soil, with the help of a handy tool like this top-rated soil pH meter; you need to keep the pH level somewhere between 6.0 and 7.0 for the tomatoes to stay happy. 

In addition to checking the pH level, you should consider adding some organic matter to the soil to help your tomato plants out. These plants like to steal a lot of nutrition from the ground to grow strong, so adding in the organic matter on occasion will make a big difference. 

When to Plant Your Tomatoes

This is going to depend on a number of factors, including where you live, when the first frost will come, when the plant will reach its maturity date, and even when you purchase the plant. Considering all of these will make a difference in how healthy each plant will be when you harvest. 

The Maturity Time

Each tomato plant will have its own maturity time. You need to consider how long it takes the plant to mature and when it's ready for harvest. Some tomato plants will be ready within 50 days in good weather, and others take closer to 90 days. As long as you have enough time for the plant to reach its maturity time before the first expected frost of the year, it's safe to grow the tomato plant. 

The First Frost

If you don’t plant your tomatoes early in the year, you need to be careful about when the first frost happens. For those who start in May or June, you will have plenty of time to plant and harvest the tomatoes before the weather gets too cold. On the other hand, if you wait until July or August, you will need to be a bit worried, especially if the frost is expected to come in early that year. 

Check online to see when the first expected frost is for your area. Remember that it's hard to 100% guess this, so the frost could potentially come earlier. Then consider how many days you have before that frost to determine whether it's safe to even plant the tomatoes yet or not. 

Your Location

Some areas have a longer summer than others. If you live up north, you may only have a small window to plant the tomato and get it harvested in time. For those who live in the south, there is a little more leeway, and in warm years, you may be able to get two crops in one right after the other. 

Each area is a little different, so you will need to consider when your spring starts, after the frost is gone for good, and when fall starts again and the frosts will come back. Your goal is to get the tomatoes planted and harvested between these two times for the best results. 

How You Purchase Your Plant

Naturally, if you purchase seeds to plant in the dirt, these will take longer to grow than purchasing a tomato that is already a little vine. For those who live in colder temperatures without as long of a winter, going with a tomato plant that has already started growing may make the most sense to hurry along the growing process. 

Conclusion

It's important that your tomato plants always have plenty of spacing to stay healthy & productive. It's best to give them a minimum of one square foot per plant in a raised bed, though having more space is preferable if you can. This spacing allows for the roots to grow, adequate airflow between the plants to prevent disease, and more tomatoes per plant.

About the author

Greg Volente

Greg Volente holds a Naturalist Certificate from the Morton Arboretum, worked for The Nature Conservancy leading environmental education programs and doing natural areas restoration, and worked in the soil science research & testing lab at Michigan State University. Besides gardening, he's an avid wildflower enthusiast, and loves botanizing, hiking, and backpacking.