Dynamic plant spacing in tomato results in high yields while mitigating the reduction in fruit quality associated with high planting densities

Margarethe Karpe, Leo F.M. Marcelis*, Ep Heuvelink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


High planting densities achieve high light interception and harvestable yield per area but at the expense of product quality. This study aimed to maintain high light interception without negative impacts on fruit quality. Dwarf tomato was grown at four densities in a climate-controlled room—at two constant densities (high and low) and two dynamic spacing treatments (maintaining 90% and 75% ground coverage by decreasing planting density in 3–4 steps)—resulting in ~100, 19, 54, and 41 plants/m2 averaged over 100 days of cultivation, respectively. Constant high density resulted in the highest light use efficiency (LUE; 7.7 g fruit fresh weight per mol photons incident on the canopy) and the highest harvestable fruit yield (11.1 kg/m2) but the lowest fruit size and quality. Constant low density resulted in the lowest LUE and yield (2.3 g/mol and 3.2 kg/m2, respectively), but higher fruit size and quality than high density. Compared to low density, maintaining 90% ground coverage increased yield (9.1 kg/m2) and LUE (6.4 g/mol). Maintaining 75% ground coverage resulted in a 7.2 kg/m2 yield and 5.1 g/mol LUE. Both dynamic spacing treatments attained the same or slightly reduced fruit quality compared to low density. Total plant weight per m2 increased with planting density and saturated at a constant high density. Assimilate shortage at the plant level and flower abortion lowered harvestable fruit yield per plant, sweetness, and acidity under constant high density. Harvestable fruit yield per plant was the highest under dynamic spacing and low density. Under constant high density, morphological responses to lower light availability per plant—i.e., higher specific leaf area, internode elongation, and increased slenderness—coincided with the improved whole-plant LUE (g plant dry weight per mol photons). We conclude that a constant high planting density results in the highest harvestable fruit yield per area, but with reduced fruit quality. Dynamic spacing during cultivation produces the same fruit quality as constant low density, but with more than double the harvestable yield per area.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1386950
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2024


  • dry matter partitioning
  • dwarf tomato
  • dynamic spacing
  • light interception
  • light use efficiency
  • planting density


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