Are my tomatoes too crowded?
June 11, 2009 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Newbie gardening: Are my tomatoes too crowded?

My tomato plants have grown beyond my wildest expectations! Now the entire garden plot is a thick mass of vines, and the cherries and larger varieties are appearing aplenty. However, I'm wondering if they're TOO crowded--many of the tomatoes aren't getting direct sun because they're buried in the mass of vines. Will this prevent them from ripening well? Should I go in and thin things out a bit? If so, any suggestions as to how to do so?

I'm filled with red-pride at my first crop--help me not screw it up!
posted by slipperynirvana to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The usual way is to stake them higher: make them more vertical so they sprawl and tangle less.
posted by rokusan at 5:40 PM on June 11, 2009

Tomatoes need to be about 24" apart. They should be staked or caged in a heavy-duty cage (most of those ring cages are pretty flimsy - but they do make heavier ones, or you can make your own from concrete reinforcing wire).

They need very sturdy supports because the fruits get heavy on those plants.

Here is a description of staking/caging along with some advice on pruning.

Good luck! Watch out, though, once you have your very own fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, it becomes an addiction!
posted by Ostara at 5:46 PM on June 11, 2009

Keep them separated for good airflow to help prevent diseases and pests. Prune them aggressively; Ostara is right re. spacing about 24". Here's an article on pruning that I refer to every year.
posted by webhund at 6:35 PM on June 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

Do you mean the tomato plants, or the actual tomatoes are not getting enough sun? The actual tomatoes don't need to get direct sunlight is my understanding - just the alternating heat of day and coolness of night. But the tomato plants as a whole each do need to get direct sunlight.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:40 PM on June 11, 2009

As webhund mentions, the biggest danger you'll probably face is lack of airflow and proximity which means your plants are more susceptible to catching each other's diseases and pests. Blight is really nasty in cramped quarters and one of my biggest problems growing in patio areas. Water consumption also can be a small issue if you don't have good soil or irrigation. Sunlight is the least of your worries.

Your plants get very large depending on conditions and breed - like 3 ft. in diameter and 4-5 ft. high. Bush-style tomato plants will grow into each other, even when properly spaced. This is okay if you're vigilant. If you are getting too much vine though, you need to check the nitrogen content of your soil and change/stop your fertilizer regime (if you have one). Giant tomato bushes tend to under produce on fruit - I learned this lesson the first time I grew a shrub size Roma bush thanks to waaaay too much Miracle Grow.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:15 PM on June 11, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help, people!
jabberjaw, The plants themselves are all getting sun, but many of the tomatoes are buried down in the thicket. Sounds like this is a-ok.

What I'm getting from all this is some aggressive pruning would be helpful, to give more airflow, etc. I have staked and caged some, but I clearly underestimated the size my plants would grow into and now they're overflowing what I have. I don't want to re-stake for fear of damaging the roots, so I think I'll do some pruning and see if I can rig any additional supports. Overall so far so good though--red tomatoes appearing all over the place! Thanks again!
posted by slipperynirvana at 7:26 PM on June 11, 2009

Like everyone's mentioned...staking and pruning is always a good idea. Ideally this would begin early in the plant's life, pinching off suckers and trellising or providing a cage while the plants are still managable.

That said, you'll be fine. It'll be a pain in the ass to get in there and harvest, and you'll sort through a lot of rotten fruit - but there will be plenty of quality tomatoes. I used to embrace the wild garden look in my community plots, and things always worked out fine. Enjoy your tomatoes - I'm envious!
posted by pilibeen at 7:39 PM on June 11, 2009

Don't wonder about the fruit getting sun. You can pick them green and ripen them in a brown bag if needed or keep them by a window. The real problem is your plants fighting for nutrients from the soil. Last year I didn't stake my tomatoes until it was too late and they turned into one massive tomato hedge row. I still have more tomatoes than my family could eat. Aunts, uncles, grand parents, friends all got sick of bags of tomatoes. If you are worried about them I would cage them and feed with Miracle Grow for tomatoes. It's like this red crystal stuff. Put a scoop full in a watering jug, mix, and spray close to the roots.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:53 AM on June 12, 2009

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