Spacing for tomato plants in TN - please help!

AnnClaireJune 27, 2012

Hello fellow gardeners...

My fiance and I have just started learning how to grow tomatoes in containers. We built an 8 foot by 2 foot planter about 45 inches high, drilled drainage holes, put in drainage stones, potting and regular garden soil, mulch and organic tomato food, in layers. We have 8 tomato plants that seem to have about 3 stems apiece. They are currently all planted in the one planter. I have staked them the best way I could. Some are bearing fruit (albeit green as yet). Have we planted them too close together? We are looking for the best fruit yield to eat, can and give away. I am concerned because some people say they should be 2 to 3 feet apart. They are all indeterminate heirloom Southern tomatoes like Arkansas Traveler and Brandywine. Do we need to build a second planter and move half of them over to that one to give them more room? Any tips on pruning without losing fruit bearing branches, or could we be fertilizing better? We live in middle Tennessee, it's 100 degrees some days, they are in full sunlight. I water them twice a day, morning and after dark and they seem to need it! Please help! If I need to move them I will... it cost a ton to build the first planter and if anyone has ideas on a more cost-effective way to build the second it would be great. We went to Lowes. Thank you so much!!!

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dickiefickle(5B Dousman,Wi.)

You have read and already know the answers to the questions you are asking.
You already know they are way to crowded.
You'll need to decide what to do about it though.
That planter would fit 3 plants the best,no pruning except the bottom foot of plant.
Try to score your wood free from craigslist or your local freecycle.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 3:36AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I agree that 3 plants would be best. Some would say 4.

What I don't understand is why the planter is 45" high. You're going to have to stand on a ladder to do any maintenance or reach the fruit. Or is part of the 45" a built-in trellis above the soil? Or maybe the depth of the planter solves some sort of landscape design problem related to a change in grade. How deep is the part of the planter that holds the soil mix?

Rocks shouldn't be needed for drainage; they just take up space that could have been used for potting mix (no actual dirt, please, because it doesn't drain well) and root space.

Any tips on pruning without losing fruit bearing branches

All tomato branches (main stem or lateral branches/suckers) will bear fruit. Any pruning you do will cut down on the number of fruit.

How tall are the plants at this point? When did you plant them?

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 4:06AM
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The last time I grew Arkansas travelers, the vines grew to about 15 feet over the course of the summer. My garden looked like a melon patch.

Your planter would do better with no bottom at all, as it could then wick up moisture from the ground and wick away excess root zone heat. You should have good soil in TN, too.

As far as building another planter goes, the price you pay is mostly for looks. A foot or so tall is plenty of height. Lowes will sell what looks pretty, but some junky old boards or even an old tire will accomplish the same thing. A lot of old-timers use worn-out tires, one tomato plant each. They are usually free, because there is a disposal fee. And if you're wondering, they are not toxic at all. The problem is looks and how much you value what your neighbors think.

If you want it to look nice, buy some new treated lumber, coated deck screws, and cheap metal brackets for the corners. Like tires, treated lumber is also not toxic to your plants. If you really want to splurge, use the synthetic decking lumber. It's pricey, but lasts forever.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 1:05PM
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I plant bush-type tomatoes no closer than three or four feet apart. Interm types I try for four to six feet apart, but like most people I cheat occasionally.

Of the four fellow tomato growers nearby, they all plant too close together IMHO. Most of them don't mulch. None of them trim the bottoms of plants for blight. And none of them seem to want to change their habits when I suggest this is why they don't have fruit in October.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 6:27PM
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Container growing allows for closer spacing because the soil profile is better. For that reason, I would say you could keep 6 plants in your planter but you would have to do some moderate pruning to reduce the number of side shoots. They will also have to be trellised.


    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 11:00PM
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Others are far more expert than I am, but I have grown tomatoes in middle tennessee in a raised bed. I think the problem with crowding is not only about whether the soil fertility will sustain that many plants, as DarJones speaks to, but about air circulation. Middle TN is horrible for blights. Every year I grew I just had to chase time to try to harvest tomatoes ahead of the blight consuming the leaves from the ground up. The more crowded your tomatoes are, the poorer the air circulation, and the greater the chance of blight (at least, thats my understanding, and my experience supported that). Unless I misunderstand the transfer mechanism, I think you can still get blight from the surrounding environment even if you are container gardening.

So my two cents is that planting them farther than an inch apart might give you a better over all yield if it protects the plants you've got.

And if you keep the close planting, be sure to pinch all those suckers!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 9:48AM
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If you have some extra room and no shade or walkway concerns, I would let the outer tomatoe vines sprawl down the sides of the planter if it truly is almost 4 feet tall.

that planter is so massive that you probably used topsoil? It would take an awful lot of bags to fill the back of a pickup truck with an 8' bed.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 12:12PM
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