spacing of veg plants

What I’ve Learned About The Spacing Of Veg Plants

Moving my vegetable growing from an allotment into my smaller back garden has taught me a lot about effective spacing.

Initially, I was excited about cramming as much in as possible, and whilst the idea of productive, creative growing in a small space is inspiring, I’ve realised it isn’t as easy as lumping stuff in willy-nilly.

Where I’ve tried to squeeze plants too close together, negotiating my way around the patch has proved difficult and plants face a precarious existence in the face of my size nines.

I took the photo a couple of weeks ago, and hopefully, this will give you an example of what I’m talking about. In the space on the right-hand side I’ve got 3 fruit bushes, 3 courgette plants, a row of squashes, raspberry canes, potatoes, 3 cucumber plants, and a lone sweetcorn.

The suppleness of a yoga expert is required to move freely, and flexibility is not something I am particularly blessed with! With my balance, the risk of wobbling onto a delicate seedling is rather high…

Don’t Underestimate the Space Required!
At the same time, I’ve underestimated the space that some veg occupies. Although I’m grateful that my pink fir apples are looking healthy and verdant, the plants have spread nearly 4 feet across, taking up space I’d planned to use for more crops. Understanding space requirements is important if the patch is going to be used to its maximum.

Paths and Hard Soil
Another problem is the lack of natural paths, which has led me to walk all over the patch on a daily basis. Subsequently, the soil is rock hard on top and the surface is more suited to parking the car on than growing veg. Sowing seeds direct has become impossible and even planting out seedlings is difficult. Delicate second crops, such as lettuces, have struggled when I’d expect them to be fine after transplanting.

The harder the soil, the more the water runs off too, so the plants don’t necessarily get a good soaking each time I venture out with the watering can.

Plus Points
However, things aren’t all bad. In fact, there are one or two big plus points. For starters, the area in the photo has hardly needed any weeding, as the plants have shaded the ground and suppressed the weeds.

The shading has helped retain moisture too, so I haven’t needed to water as much as I did on my big, open allotment plot.

I did worry that planting so close together would increase the chances of mildew and blight, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Maybe this is because the summer has been so dry, but in the future, I need to watch that the plants are far enough apart for decent air circulation.

Next Year’s Plan
As the nights draw in and harvest curtail, I’m already thinking about how I plan my plot for next year. The biggest changes I want to make is the addition of good, wide paths and clear marking of beds, rather than one big veggie free for all.

Getting the spacing right is a delicate balancing act, but as I’ve found out this year, well worth doing.

The tape measure awaits…

12 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned About The Spacing Of Veg Plants”

  1. I have limited growing space for edibles, due to having to fence off an area from herbivores. I too know the “cram as much in as possible” approach, and I’ve taken to just forcing my way through the jungle when I need to get past.

    One word of advice: in smaller spaces, easily extend out into pathways. Compaction is always a problem, but two things that work really well: planks to walk upon and distribute your weight, or loads of mulch. I prefer the mulch method, as walking on 6″ or more of wood chips is quite nice (except in bare feet).

    1. Hey Alan.

      There is something endearing about a jungle. My little boy has certainly enjoyed being carried through it!

      I can imagine the mulch being nice – looks good too. And will compost into the soil eventually too.

  2. This post is particularly relevant for me now I am in the same situation as you. My veg garden at home is all in four raised beds with bark pathways inbetween. I think the temptation will be to ram them full of plants and not get anything of a decent size – I think I will be trying for quality not quantity next year with lots of additional plantings in containers that needn’t necessarily be in the veg part of the garden. Exciting and maybe frustrating times ahead methinks!

    1. Hi Elaine,

      Yes, I think I’m going for a quality not quantity approach too. Its funny, as part of the small space is exciting, but there have been times when I’ve missed the size of the allotment.

      Another thing is having to look at it every day. The allotment could be scruffy and it didn’t matter to me, but being down the end of the garden I’m erring towards towards attractive as well as functional.

  3. Hi Jono,
    Enjoyed this post.

    I’ve gone the other way, from cramming in on my garden raised beds to similar (too) close spacing on the allotment.

    Next year I’ll try to follow the spacing guides on the seed packets a bit more.

    However I have discovered that the squashes/courgettes next to the fences like to grow upwards and keep the fruits clear of the soil.So I’ll grow these and my peas this way next time.

    Yes.Single rows of potatoes need more space than quoted.
    I’m going back to planting three close rows and earthing them up as one as it seems to work better and saves space.

    Although the summer has been warm and dry ,things seem to have gone very dank now and the veggies are starting to rot off up here in the North..

    1. Thanks David.

      In the photo you might see that I’ve erected a structure for my squashes and cucumbers to grow up. I’ve had mixed success with this. Some of the plants have grown up them and saved a fair amount of space. The key is finding the vines early and training them.

      I think next year I am going to try some dwarf peas as a space saver. I’ve had success with this type of French beans and I see you can buy dwarf runners now too.

  4. I’ve learnt a few sharp lessons about spacing this year as well. I ended up with a wild and scary mass of courgettes, cucumbers and squashes. At home I have raised beds, so I can at least walk around them, but I always had more plants than space until I got the allotment last year. I think things always take up more space than you imagine. But I have found that it’s handy to squeeze in the odd lettuce plant in spaces as they become available.

  5. Hey CJ – yeah, you’re right about always underestimating the space. I’ve got all sorts of pots with no homes!

    But then that is exciting too – like you say, squeezing lettuces etc in is a challenge and certainly taxes the brain.

  6. I have to say take a look at the square foot / metre (depending on how you like to roll!!) gardening. I have a small back garden type setup and this year I tried it and have got a lot more out of the patch that I thought.

    It still looked like I had too much squeezed in but as the year has gone on its actually worked out quite well.

    Just spent the evening planning next years squares and what goes in each 🙂

  7. Funny you should say that Ryan, I’ve just taken delivery of the Square Foot Gardening book.

    I’ve also been geeking out over the past few nights, trialling the software. Very addictive!

  8. My veg garden is about 1.8 meter X 7.5 meter. In there I cramp everything and his pals. This year I spaced my tomatoes 500mm apart but it seems as if I needed 1.5 meter spacing. I have flooded the veggie patch with good compost. Some compost were homemade and I had Tomatoes sprouting up everywhere even in my flower beds. I will have enough tomatoes to last me two years if I could only keep them fresh for so long. Wish I could post some photos but sadly Technology and I know about each other but is not on a first name basis.
    I live in almost the southern most tip of Africa at the seaside and the constant wind and salty air do take its toll but I am still very happy with my veg patch. Even though I enjoy the benefits I dont do it for the money (saving) but just because I LOVE to garden. I’m a pensioner and have the time at my disposal.

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