Can You Plant Tomatoes With Cucumbers in Your Garden?
Thinking of growing tomatoes and cucumbers together this season but aren't quite sure if it's a good idea or not? Companion planting can have many benefits, but can also cause problems if done incorrectly. In this article, gardening expert and homesteader Merideth Cohrs examines if it's safe to plant tomatoes with your cucumbers in your garden.
Is there anything that says summer more than eating fresh tomatoes and cucumbers right off the vine? These two garden vegetables are iconic for a reason – they’re both fairly easy to grow and are incredibly delicious! The two make excellent salad companions, but should they be planted together in your garden?
Cucumbers tend to be on the naughty list when it comes to companion planting. This is often because members of the cucurbit family are heavy feeders and can beat out other plants for vital nutrients in the soil. They can also grow quite large and unwieldy if they’re not properly trellised. This can cause issues with shading other plants that require full sun exposure. Tomatoes are also sometimes frowned upon as companions because they grow so wildly.
So what does that mean for your garden? Can cucumbers share a space with your luscious tomatoes? Or are they better left separate? Read on to learn about the specific needs of both veggies to see if they make good neighbors in your garden.
The Short Answer
The short answer is YES! Tomatoes and cucumbers can be grown together successfully, and there are actually some benefits to planting them together. Both plants have similar growing needs when it comes to sunlight, soil conditions, and watering. And if space is at a premium, interplanting the two will allow you to get more out of your garden.
The Long Answer
Figuring out whether you can plant cucumbers and tomatoes together will first require taking a look at their growing needs to see if they are complimentary. Do they have similar requirements for sun exposure, soil conditions, and watering?
Will interplanting the two help or hurt each other?
Companion Planting Explained
Also known as interplanting, companion planting has a long history in organic gardening. The idea is based on modeling how plants grow in their natural habitat. In nature, you see different kinds of plants growing in harmony in the same space.
That interconnected ecosystem works holistically, and many plants help each other thrive more than they would on their own. And, the more plants, animals, and yes bugs in a space, the more resilient plants will be to issues with pests and disease.
Now think of the modern concept of neat sterile rows of single vegetables. This type of monoculture goes against how plants naturally want to grow. It’s understandable why large growers and farmers choose to go this route; it’s all about economy of scale.
But as a home gardener, you can choose to purposefully interplant certain herbs, vegetables, and flowers to create your own complimentary garden ecosystem.
There are many reasons to choose to companion plant. Benefits include pollinator attraction (which helps increase yield), pest and disease management, flavor enhancement, maximizing space and light, weed suppression, and more. It can also be a great space saving strategy when you have a smaller home garden.
When it comes to growing cucumbers and tomatoes, we are primarily focused more on interplanting for similar crop needs. When plants have similar requirements for nutrients, water, and soil conditions, it can sometimes be easier to plant them in the same location.
One thing to look out for, though, is that plants with similar growing requirements can compete for vital nutrients. But if you take the proper steps, your plants will grow beautifully and produce a large yield this season.
When it comes to questions about whether cucumbers and tomatoes can be grown together, it’s helpful to look at a few key things: sun, soil, and water requirements. If these things line up, it’s likely that the two plants should do just fine together.
Fruiting warm season crops like cucumbers and tomatoes need to be planted in an area that receives full sun, meaning at least 6 hours of direct sun each day.
They really prefer 8-10 hours of sun for maximum fruit production. As with most warm season crops, southern exposure is ideal where plants receive light during the majority of the day but are protected from the strongest afternoon sun.
If you’re unsure how much sun your garden receives, go ahead and measure it. Check to see when sunlight first hits the area, if it’s ever shaded by large trees or buildings, and when it leaves for the day. This will give you confidence that your sun-loving warm season cukes and tomatoes will get enough light.
Ensuring that your plants don’t shade each other is another vital concern. We’ll talk about that in the section talking about spacing and placement of the two plants.
Both cucumbers and tomatoes are heavy feeders and require organically rich, fertile, well-draining soil to thrive and maximize yield. To set your plants up for success, add compost to the soil about a month prior to planting by gently digging it in.
If you have homemade compost either from a compost pile or vermiculture, this will be perfect. If not, there are a number of options for organic compost at your local nursery or garden center.
Adding compost prior to planting and fertilizer throughout the growing season will be very important to the success of your plants. Since both require a lot of nutrients to produce fruit, there is the potential that they will wind up competing for resources. You can mitigate this by staying on top of the plant’s nutritional needs throughout the growing season.
The good news is that both cucumbers and tomatoes need roughly the same nutrient levels in fertilizer. Compost or a balanced fertilizer is perfect for early in the life cycle.
Once the plants start to flower, shift to a fertilizer that has only moderate levels of nitrogen along with higher levels of phosphorus and potassium. This will optimize flower and fruit production over the continued production of leaves.
Watering is an area where you’ll need to find a good balance. While both plants need roughly the same amount of water each week (about 1-2 inches depending on your climate and soil type), cucumbers prefer moist soil while tomatoes like to dry out between waterings.
The best way to determine if your cukes and tomatoes are ready for a watering is to stick your finger in the soil (under the mulch line) about 2-3 inches. If the soil is completely dry, it’s time to water. If its still quite moist, give it another day and check again. This should allow you to find a happy medium between the two plants’ specific watering needs.
Soaker hoses or a drip system are the best options for consistent and effective watering. But you can use a hose as well as long as you water in the mornings and focus on watering the soil and not the leaves.
Figuring out how to plant these two veggies together can be a bit of a puzzle. Much will depend on the varieties of each vegetable you choose to plant. Cucumbers come in vining and bushing varieties, while tomatoes come in indeterminate and determinate varieties.
You’ll have your best luck cominging a vining cucumber with a determinate tomato or a bushing cucumber with an indeterminate tomato, but you can really choose any combination based on your needs. Let’s talk about all the planting combinations.
Determinate tomatoes are a bushing variety. They grow to a predetermined height and set fruit all at once. You still need to use tomato cages and stakes with them for optimal support, but they won’t grow everywhere like their indeterminate cousins. This type of tomato will pair well with a vining cucumber because it is more compact.
To interplant the two successfully, plant your vining cuke in the back of your garden bed near a trellis (you can use a fence or any installed trellis system) and the determinate tomato plant in the front (the sunward side).
This will ensure that the sprawling vines of your cucumber do not shade your tomato plant. And because your tomato will only grow to a set height, the cucumber will also be able to maintain full sun.
This planting combination will be the exact opposite of the one we just described. Here, you will plant the indeterminate tomato plant on the back side of your garden bed where it can climb and sprawl as much as it wants to. The bushing cucumber will be planted on the tomato’s sunward side. This will ensure both plants receive adequate sunlight.
This is perhaps the most chaotic of the combinations and the one you will need to pay a lot of attention to. Theoretically, you can train your cucumber vines onto the same supports you use for your tomatoes. This mingling of plants is called diversified planting, which can help with pest prevention.
The biggest concern here is airflow and sun exposure. Remember that lack of air circulation between plants is a major contributor to many diseases and pest problems. But if you are an experienced gardener, this is certainly something you can try.
You can also let your vining cuke grow on the ground in between your tomato plants. The cucumbers will act almost as ground cover in your garden bed and do a great job of weed suppression. The drawback to this is that you will have a much smaller cucumber yield than you would otherwise enjoy if the plant was trained to grow vertically.
Lastly, you can choose to plant bushing cukes and determinate tomatoes together. These will do better if they’re planted side by side, however, since neither will grow tall enough to have access to sun if one is planted behind the other.
Regardless of the combination you choose, giving your plants enough space is really important. This will help prevent any issues with one plant crowding out another when it comes to vital nutrients and water.
Space individual plants 2-3’ apart in rows that are 3-4’ apart. Recommended plant spacing will always vary with the specific varieties you choose to grow. But this general guideline will allow for proper air circulation for individual plants and the garden in general.
There are really only a few potential issues that you may face when interplanting. Let’s take a look at some of the most common drawbacks gardeners go through when trying to successfully companion plant these two vegetables.
Access to full sun shouldn’t be a problem for either plant as long as you follow the guidelines we discussed above. Just remember that your tiny tomato seedlings will grow large very fast and your germinating cucumber seeds will be spreading vines all over the garden in no time at all! Proper planning before you plant or sow seeds will save you a lot of grief as your plants begin to grow and mature.
Since both vegetables are heavy feeders, you will need to manage your soil and water well to ensure they don’t compete for limited resources. This is easily remedied, however, if you practice consistent watering and fertilization throughout the season.
Increased Pest or Disease Problems
Since the leaves of both plants can grow quite densely, it’s important to practice proper spacing between the two to prevent issues with airflow. Staking, trellises and cages will be your best friends when interplanting these two plants.
Practice proper pruning with your tomatoes all season as well. This will go a long way in ensuring good airflow for the plant.
Our recommendation is to go right ahead and plant your tomatoes and cucumbers together. Even in a smaller garden, just a few of these plants can provide you with an incredible yield this season. But generally speaking, it’s best to have a larger garden space for them if planting together, especially in raised beds.
Here are a few quick tips for getting the most of companion planting.
Tomato & Cucumber Interplanting Tips
- Stake and Trellis. Train your cucumbers to grow vertically on a trellis and use properly sized tomato cages and stakes for your tomatoes.
- Soil Management. Ensure you fertilize regularly during the growing season, but especially once your plants start to flower. Since both cucumbers and tomatoes are heavy feeders, this will help both plants thrive and produce a high yield.
- Add Other Companion Plants. Flowers like nasturtiums and marigolds will help both plants by attracting pollinators. Since you will be creating quite a bit of shade in this part of your garden, think about planting lettuces or parsley to fill in the space.
- Avoid Overhead Watering. This is a good tip no matter what you are planting. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation whenever possible to help prevent diseases from spreading to wet leaves.
Now that you know that both tomatoes and cucumbers can be successfully planted together, its time to get planting! Both of these rapid growing veggies will bring an abundance of fruits to you garden with straightforward garden care. With just a little forethought on placement, you will be enjoying a bounty of these summer stapes in no time at all.