Tomatoes are probably the most commonly grown vegetable for home growers. When I planted full-size & cherry tomatoes in my raised beds, I wasn’t sure how many to plant--especially in a 4’x4’ raised bed, which is half the size of my 4’x8’ raised beds.
A 4’x4’ raised bed can accommodate 4 or 5 tomato plants. For USDA zones with longer growing seasons, & for indeterminate tomato varieties, only 2 or 3 tomato plants might fit in a 4’x’4’ raised bed. Determinate tomato plants typically require less space than indeterminate varieties.
Of course, how many tomato plants will depend on the specific variety, whether the variety is determinate or indeterminate, whether you use a trellis to take advantage of vertical space, and other factors.
And if you really want to go gonzo & try growing tons of tomatoes, check out our article on how to grow more tomatoes.
Spacing Out Your Tomatoes
First, it's important to provide your tomatoes enough space so they grow vigorously and aren’t nutrient starved.
If you clump them too close together, they'll run out of room to grow, and there will be competition for the nutrients in the soil.
As a gardener, you also want to make sure you fit in as many tomato plants as possible.
That way, you can maximize production for your garden.
After all, if you could grow 30%, 50%, or twice as many plants in the same area, you’ll typically reap a larger harvest.
So, how many tomato plants can you get into this raised bed while still keeping your plants healthy?
This will vary depending on the type of tomatoes and how large they grow when full-size.
For a 4x4 raised bed, 4 or 5 tomato plants are often the best, especially if you don’t want to take the time to measure them out.
This allows you to place a plant in each corner and one in the middle. This may look a little sparse as you first start, but as they grow and get bigger, the tomato plant will fit in better.
Believe me, 1 or 2 months later, you’ll see that your tomatoes are going to need all the extra space you thought you’d given them--and then some.
For longer growing seasons, and for indeterminate tomato varieties (which continue growing as long as there’s no frost), you may end up with Jack-and-the-beanstalk-sized tomato plants in your raised beds.
If you’re growing in containers, you’ll need at least 12” diameter containers for tomatoes.
Trellising & vertical growing
Tomatoes are actually tropical vines, so trellising them & giving them room to grow vertically will make them more productive, and prevent pests & disease by keeping them off the ground, while providing better air circulation.
As you work on the raised bed, make sure to add some trellises or cages for each tomato plant.
Plus, without support, they'll bend and break under the weight of their heavy fruit.
And that makes for sad tomato plants & gardeners.
Why Do Tomatoes Need So Much Space?
Tomatoes tend to need more space than other garden plants like, say, greens or radishes. That’s partly because they’re “heavy feeders”--i.e., they require more nutrients to produce lots of tomatoes & plant growth.
Plus--and this is especially true for indeterminate varieties that don’t stop growing--they’ll keep growing until the first hard frost.
n USDA zones with longer growing seasons, those indeterminate plants just keep on growing, so you can really end up with a tomato jungle!
Another reason tomatoes need more space is that plants use hormones to regulate growth.
And, when tomato plants are constrained by containers that are too small, the plant produces hormones that inhibit growth.
Where Should I Place My Raised Bed?
Like most other plants, you want to make sure you put the raised bed in the right location. This is critical to help the tomatoes get the nutrients that they need.
Plenty of Sun
The best place for your raised bed is near lots of sunlight. Your tomatoes will thrive on lots of light, so choosing somewhere sunny most of the day is best. The best place is a location that gets a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight each day. Most tomato varieties need 6 hours of sunlight per day.
Easy to Water
The raised bed needs to be somewhere that allows your tomatoes to get plenty of water as well.
Whether this location allows for enough rainwater to reach the tomatoes or is somewhere that will easily enjoy the benefits of a garden hose, always make it as easy as possible to water your tomatoes.
Generally, you should heavily water your tomatoes once every 4 to 10 days, depending on the soil.
Sandy soil needs to be watered more often, whereas dirt should be watered weekly.
The soil should never be soggy.
When Should I Plant My Tomatoes?
Planting the tomatoes at the right time of year helps you to get the best yield out of your crop.
You don’t want to do this too early in the year, or the plants will get too cold and die during a late freeze. But waiting too long limits how well the plants will do as well.
Your current location will be the biggest thing to consider when you try to decide when to plant the tomatoes.
Once you see the danger of any frost passing, you can plant the tomatoes. it's fine to wait a bit longer if you are worried. Tomato plants grow quickly and will do fine if they are even a few weeks late.
If you get into the situation where an unexpected late frost occurs, make sure to cover up the plants early in the evening.
This will help keep them safe when the frost happens and won’t ruin all your effort.
Choosing the Right Soil
Putting the right soil into your raised bed is important as well.
This will help provide your tomatoes with all the healthy nutrients they need so you can enjoy some tasty produce at the end of the season.
Tomatoes are hardy so you can grow them in almost any type of soil you would like. Some things you should consider when picking the soil include:
The best type of soil for your tomatoes is known as loamy soil. This is basically a type of soil that has equal amounts of silt and sand and less clay in it. Sand particles will be the largest. And since the sand is not able to hold onto water or moisture well, it will provide the right drainage and aeration your plants need.
Try to avoid any soil that is dry or made of clay. This one is hard to hold onto moisture and doesn’t allow the plant to get adequate nutrition.
You'll need a pH system to help determine this, and it's best to check on a regular basis. A pH level near 7 is best for tomatoes. If you let it get too high or too low, then it shows the soil is too acidic or lacking in nutrients, causing harm to the plant.
The more nutrients in the soil, the better it's for your tomatoes. You can purchase soil that has all the nutrients you need. If you plan to use regular soil from your own yard, then consider adding some fertilizers and other options to balance out the nutrition found inside the soil.
How to Harvest Tomatoes
After taking care of your tomatoes for the whole summer, it's time to harvest. This is exciting because you get a chance to use the tomatoes, either right away in some salads or another dish, or store them away to enjoy in sauces and other mixes during the winter.
When to Pick
Many people wait until the tomato is a juicy red color before they decide to pick it and use it. This is fine, though it's possible to harvest the tomatoes while they are a mature green. When that is done, you can easily let it ripen off the vine later on.
The benefit of doing this, instead of waiting for the tomato to get bright and red, is that it prevents bruising and splitting. It also gives you some more control over the process of ripening.
How to Harvest
The end of the growing season will be the best time to harvest. Tomatoes are done later in the summer when they get to the green stage.
Tomatoes that are done before this are picked ahead of time, giving them a chance to ripen while making their way to the store. This is why their flavor is not as good as what you'll get by growing your own at home.
It's best not to overcrowd any garden or raised bed you plan to use for your tomatoes. For a bed that's 4'x4', four to five plants will be fine. Adding some trellises in, along with good soil and placing the raised bed somewhere that provides the plants with some good sunlight each day will ensure you get a good crop at the end of the season.