How Nature Helps You Planting

Consider Variables When Determining Spacing Between Plants

One of the things that you don’t see talked about much is the variables involved in determining how much distance you need between your vegetable plants.

I think it’s a safe bet to say that seed packs give spacing based on what’s done (or necessary) in conventional gardening.

Things are Different When We Work With Nature

Those of us who work with nature have a few more things to consider before we make that final decision.

While it’s true that plants need space to grow, they might not need as much space as you think under the right conditions.

If you prepared your beds when you first started as I recommend —  the soil has been properly loosened to a depth of about 2 feet and the soil life has been provided with compost or other organic materials to feed on, — your garden can easily thrive with intensive (closer) planting.

Deeply prepared soil allows roots to go down rather than having to spread out to the side where neighboring plants reside.

The Last Two Sentences in the Next Paragraph Are Key

And the great news is — deep preparation need only be done once: when you establish your permanent beds. Soil compaction won’t be an issue anymore since you’ll walk on the permanent pathways rather than the beds. And covering the soil will prevent compaction from rain and keep the soil workable.

The result is not only space saving, but time saving.

Take tomatoes for example. The general recommendation for indeterminate tomatoes is 3 to 4 feet apart. I plant them about 1 to 1 1/2 feet apart.

Soil Not Quite Ready for Intensive Planting?

If you think your soil is not quite ready to support close planting, but almost, laying down a layer of compost over the bed before you plant might help.  But it does not replace deep preparation,  feeding the soil with additional organic materials, and keeping the soil covered.

The Small and The Big; The Stronger and The Weaker

Keep in mind as you experiment with intensive planting that some seedlings will be smaller than others and end up not growing as large. If you’ve started enough seed you can just plant the biggest and strongest. If not, go ahead and plant them all if you want, but just keep in mind that there’s always the stronger and the weaker. That’s the seed, not your soil.

Final Thought

If you already have the 3 keys working in your garden, you might want to give closer planting a try.

Pictorial Examples from my May garden:

Broccoli plants


New spring lettuces on May 15th. Two weeks later (today) and these plants are huge! More than doubled in that short time in spite of my harvesting daily.


Young cabbages


Young cabbage plants. Three rows show in this picture. To the left are peas and a stray potato. The bed to the right is potatoes.  The pink with the cabbage is oenothera. The little white flower at the top with the cabbage is cilantro blooming.


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  • Interesting comments and one I have spent a lot of time thinking about. Without much of an answer. Maybe I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing and spend more time looking after what I have. I’ts very true that no matter what you do, some plants next to one another will vary considerately in size and harvest. Kinda like people. Always good to hear from you.

  • Your garden looks beautifully lush! And, I appreciate your comment, “That’s the seed, not your soil.” That’s important to consider. I think we sometimes believe the seeds which sprout all contain the same potential.

  • Ray, might not be the answer we all look for (especially in our youth) but I think the answer is “that’s just the way it is” — some do, some don’t — whether it pertains to people or plants. 🙂

    And in keeping with that line of thought — Patricia – I do think that we all at some time or the other believe that every seed which sprouts contains the same potential. Whether it’s seeds or people we all have different potential. Regarding the seed — that’s why we want to save seed from the best — so we’ll have a better chance of getting more of the best.


  • Theresa,

    I planted three cherry tomato plants about one foot apart, thinking that I would end up pulling the middle one, but took a wait and see attitude. This latest post of yours made me glad I did! I may just prune them religiously and run them up the fence!

    I am so grateful that you continue to keep us motivated and encouraged!


  • Pat, many times a wait and see approach is the absolute best.
    And by the way, most recommendations for spacing on cherry tomatoes is one foot apart. So why not experiment with 6 or 8 inches next time?
    I’m so glad to know that my writing helps keep you motivated and encouraged. Knowing that keeps me writing.
    I’m so grateful for great readers and friends like you!

  • Hi Theresa,
    I’m right with you on this…as you suggested to Pat (above), I always plant my cherry tomato plants about 6 to 8 inches apart. In fact, many times I’ll “bunch” them in clusters of three plants within a one-foot circle. I’ve been doing this for over twenty years and have never experienced any negative effect. I also trim all the lower branches/leaves off my tomato plants to allow more air circulation so they’re not bushy or over crowded. By the end of the season, the plants have grown to a height of between six and eight feet tall. The best part is doing your own thing, experimenting and learning along the way, and NOT following some generic (one size fits all) instruction on the back of a seed packet. If I’ve learned one thing from you Theresa, it’s exactly this…think outside the box and adapt! Always love your posts!

  • It is always a special treat to see your garden!
    Thank you for keeping us motivated and learning.

  • And here I am experimenting with spacing my tomatoes farther apart, because the ones I’ve grown in years past have intergrown and turned into a horrible mass of blight and I end up with piles of half rotting vines and fruits. Then again I have a habit of not making it out way too much. So we’ll see if my habits work better with fewer plants not in contact with each other (I end up with way more tomatoes than I eat by myself anyway and don’t get the energy/motivation to put most of them up either :/ ) I guess I can only work with where I am. My garden has been badly neglected this year sadly, it was way too cold way too late in Michigan and then suddenly it was summer and I was out of town and then quite sick so it’s only now that I’ve even started what should have been mid spring chores like pruning! oh, well… it is what it is.

    I am happy with the results of my straw mulching last year though, and in the front yard where I have been working on getting rid of the grass and cardboarding and (bark) mulching for 2-3 years now my soil has completely changed and I haven’t even dug most of it. It’s mainly for ornamentals though but if the soil is that much nicer right now than in the side yard where my food plants are grown I might keep sneaking a few out there…(last year it was zucchini, the year before it was tomatoes…)

    Thanks for continuing to post and share. Your website has been a consistent influence on how I work and think of my garden since I bought this house 4 years ago. <3

  • Anna D, sounds like a good plan you have to put a few more food plants in the front yard where the soil is so improved.
    Hope you’ll have better luck this year with your tomatoes.

  • Good to hear from you Theresa from a snowy day in central Iowa USA.

    I have my broccoli and Kale plants getting close to going out but it’s just a scosh too cold yet to do that. I appreciate this post as I always learn a thing or two or three or I am reminded and encouraged by your positive posts.
    You may have mentioned this in the past but how wide are your beds? I’m wondering also if you made them all the same width? I realize we tailor the beds according to our landscape and the amount area we are working with.
    All the Best! Jim

  • Hopefully the snow will melt soon and you’ll have perfect weather to transplant your broccoli and Kale, Jim.

    A good rule of thumb is to make beds the width that allows you to reach the middle from either side.

    My beds are about 3 1/2 feet wide. Somehow – over two decades plus, some lessened by an inch or so and some increased by that amount.

    Sending you sunshine and warmer weather Jim.
    Have a great season.

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