Plant spacing is a topic that can often seem a bit confusing for new gardeners. Often, you may read very different spacing requirements for the same crops. You may wonder why one source recommends a particular spacing, while another source recommends something very different. So how can you get it right?
The most important thing to understand about plant spacing is that while suggestions or general rules of thumb can be offered, there are no hard and fast figures when it comes to how far apart your plants will be. In this article, we will discuss some of the different things you have to consider.
Here are some tips to help you get it right when it comes to plant spacing and making the most of your space:
Plant Spacing Depends on Environmental Conditions
Many sources will give you a list of common crops and the spacing they require. But remember, these can only ever be a rough guide. The optimal spacing for your crops and other plants will depend on a number of factors. The first factors to consider are environmental factors.
For example, you need to consider the impact that sunlight levels will have on optimal plant spacing.
In a shady site, leafy plants may require more space than they do when grown in full sun. It is especially important to avoid overcrowding in shady conditions where disease may be more likely to take hold.
But plants grown in full sun conditions will typically need more water, and so spacing may need to be increased to take into account the amount of water each plant will require and how much can be provided by the soil or growing medium.
Another thing to think about is the soil or growing medium. A very fertile and nutrient rich soil, for example, may be able to support more plants in a given area than is possible in poorer conditions.
You Also Need To Think About When a Crop is To Be Harvested
When you plan on harvesting a crop growing in your garden can also determine the best plant spacing for a given growing area. If the plants will remain in the growing area to maturity, they will obviously require a lot more space than crops that are to be harvested at an earlier stage in their development.
One example is lettuces. Plants that are grown for fully-headed lettuce will have to be spaced much more widely than plants grown for cut-and-come again leaves, or for baby leaves. Another example is carrots or beets. These can be spaced very closely for baby carrots or baby beets, but will need to be given a lot more space if you plan on allowing them to grow to a larger size before you harvest.
And When Exactly it is Being Grown
Since environmental conditions are so important when it comes to plant spacing, it is also important to think about whenexactly your crop is grown. Are you sowing a spring crop? Or are you sowing or planting out crops for the winter months?
The time of year can have a bearing on how swiftly the plants will grow. So this will obviously determine how much water and how many nutrients they need. This can inform plant spacing so this is something else to take into account.
Plant Spacing Depends on Your Growing Method
The rules of thumb for plant spacing are usually predicated on following a certain growing method. For example, many of the plant spacing figures assume that you will be using a traditional row growing method. The RHS and other authorities will recommend plant spacing based on this growing method. They will give a figure for the spacing between the plants in the row, and a second figure that explains how far apart your rows should be.
But it is important to understand that you do not necessarily have to follow a row growing method when choosing layout and determining spacing in your garden beds. You could also, for example, consider square foot gardening.
Square foot gardening, as the name suggests, is all about determining spacing based on how many plants of a particular type can be grown within a square foot of growing area. Many sources will list plant spacing requirements based on this growing method – telling you whether you can grow 1, 2, 4, 9, or 16 plants, for example, of a given type within each square foot of garden space.
Intensive growing methods like square foot gardening often recommend much smaller spacing between plants of the same type. But it is important to remember that it is essential to maintain fertility effectively within such a system to make sure that yields are high and do not reduce over time.
Plant Spacing Also Depends on Root Systems and Growth Habit
Remember, the plant spacing guidelines given are usually for spacing between plants of the same type. But the spacing guidelines are not meant to give you rules about how closely plants of different types can be spaced.
Spacing considerations can also go hand in hand with considering optimal plant combinations. Rather than growing just one plant type in one growing area, consider creating polycultures, with combinations of plants that aid one another in different ways, or which share similar growing requirements without competing too heavily with one another.
In polyculture planting, the root systems and growth habits of different plants are very important. You will take these things and other factors into account as you work out beneficial combinations of plants to populate your growing areas.
A guideline, for example, might say that tomato plants should be spaced 30 to 60 cm apart (depending on variety and conditions). But that does not mean that your tomato plants need to be 30 to 60cm away from any other plants.
Tomato plants can benefit from the creation of guilds of beneficial companion plants. When choosing those companion plants, you should take into account their root systems and growth habits, as well as the ways in which they can benefit your tomato plants. These things will determine whether the companion plants will compete to much with the tomato plants. Plants with roots that populate different layers of the soil can benefit tomatoes without competing with them too much for water and nutrients.
Spacing for Optimal Yield
In trying to optimise yield, you may be tempted to reduce the spacing between your crops to cram more of them into your garden. But the best way to increase yield is not necessarily to reduce spacing of key crops. Instead, think about all of the above and making informed decisions based on your particular site. That can be the best option.
Often, companion planting between your main crops can be an effective way to make the most of the space without increasing competition too much. But remember – even when you are companion planting and want to avoid leaving areas of bare soil, overcrowding can be counterproductive. Make sure that you take all of the above factors into account. And think about making the most of time as well as space when planning your garden.
Do you have any tips to share relating to plant spacing? Please share these in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.