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Guilty of planting too close together? Overcrowding invites disease, slow growth and difficult harvesting. Learn what to use to space out plants properly.

properly spaced plants

We’ve all done it.

Try to cram that extra plant or two into a space that is simply too small.

Maybe it’s a raised bed where you are growing your own vegetables. Or a container garden of herbs or salad ingredients.

In any case, overcrowding plants leads to a few problems:

  • Disease: not leaving enough air space between plants can lead to moisture-related diseases such as mildew. And disease that affects one plant can more easily spread to other plants if they are touching leaves.
  • Stunts growth: plants know if there is competition for moisture, food and air. The stronger plants will outgrow the weaker plants and the latter will not grow well or even die which will affect your harvest
  • Hard to harvest: when plants are too close together, harvesting becomes difficult. And who hasn’t missed picking a zucchini only to find a baseball bat sized monster waiting for them!

So how do you avoid overcrowding? By learning to space plants properly and using some simple tools and tips.

Check the seed packages carefully

Seed packages have a wealth of information printed on them. However many gardeners don’t check them. And some companies simply don’t have much info on them, other than the type of seed and a pretty photo.

I really like the seed packages from West Coast Seeds. Here is what the back of the packet looks like. As you can see it gives detailed instructions of how far apart to plant the seeds, how far apart the rows should be and the depth:

back of leek seed packet

And as a bonus they print a handy ruler on the side of their package (in cm as we are in Canada!)

Consult a seed catalogue or book

If your seed package doesn’t contain enough info, you can also turn to a seeding catalogue, either from the same seed company or from another company that has the same varieties of seeds.

Again I’m mainly familiar with the seed catalogue from West Coast Seeds. They have a main description for each type of vegetable with the following info:

Seed catalogue leek planting instructions

And then each seed variety may have some additional info, although usually there are no differences in plant spacing.

Use the Seeding Square

making holes with seeding square

If you’re doing square food gardening or just want to plant in squares instead of traditional rows, having an easy-to-use guide makes it so much easier. 

I’ve seen some handmade guides out of plywood or cardboard, but those are not long-lasting and do take some time to create.

Instead an inventor here in BC where I live has created an inexpensive tool called the Seeding Square. It comprises of a colourful square of bright rigid plastic that is easy to clean. Included also is a dibber that makes accurate holes and a funnel to make it easier to put seeds into the holes. 

You use the colours printed on the square and an included chart to determine how many seeds (or transplants) per square foot you can plant for a given vegetable variety. And the holes are properly spaced to avoid overcrowding but still maximize your space.

Kids will have fun using this! As you can see above, my daughter used it for the first time to space out her carrot seeds and also to make holes to space out her lettuce seedlings.

If you’re interested in giving the seeding square a try, check out my product review (and get a special bonus if you order with my affiliate link: Seeding Square Product Review

Use a trowel with increments etched on it

When you are planting seeds or transplanting seedlings, you’ll usually have your trusty trowel with you. Rather than having to bring an extra tool, use your trowel to space out your plants.

trowel with etched increments

Some trowels actually come with increments etched on them. This is mainly to plants seeds and bulbs at the correct depth, but I often use it to space out transplants and larger seeds.

You can also use the trowel to space out rows if your trowel is approximately 12” (30cm) long as many crops require this row spacing.

If your trowel doesn’t have etchings, you can also use the handle. Use a permanent marker or some bright paint or etch some notches using a file. 

Use a yardstick

marking rows with yardstick

If you can find a traditional wooden yardstick (they used to give them away an lumberyards, hardware stores and furniture stores many years ago), you’ll have a tool that is easy to use to space out seedlings and seeds.

Find one that is a bright colour so that you don’t lose it in the garden!

It’s simply a matter of laying it down next to the row and use the increments on the yardstick to space everything out.

Just be sure to give the yardstick a good clean afterwards otherwise the wet soil stuck to it will quickly rot it.

Use string to keep rows straight

marking rows with string

If you have problems keeping your rows straight, you need some kind of guide.

Simply use a piece of string tied to stakes spaced the correct distance apart. If you want to get fancy, you could even tie short pieces at regular intervals so that you can space seeds and transplants properly.

When you are done, just roll up the string with the stakes and keep it for next time.

Use your rake to space rows and keep rows straight

In order to have a smooth seedbed and to rake up any debris, you need a standard garden rake. It’s one of the 10 Must Have Gardening Tools for its versatility.

Once you’ve used the rake for preparing the soil, you can then use it again to keep rows straight by laying it just next to where you need your row.

You can also either mark some increments on the rake handle or file notches to use it to space seeds and transplants.

The other advantage of a rake is that you can use the width of the head to move the rake over a certain distance to mark the next row. You will need to measure the head to see how long it is. Row spacing doesn’t have to be exact, so long as it is within an inch or two (several cm) of what is recommended.


So now you can confidentially go out into the garden and space out your plants properly for a better harvest and less problems!

Do you have any other ways you use to space plants? Share your tips in the comments!

If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below.

Wishing you all the best!

Marc Thoma Signature

Marc Thoma

Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC

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Marc Thoma

Marc is the founder of Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead. He has more than 15 years gardening experience and is working steadily on creating his own urban homestead, trying to be more self-sufficient by growing most of his own vegetables and fruit.

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