We propose a geometric model to estimate the contribution of substrate surface diffusion to growth of dense nanowire arrays using metalorganic vapour phase epitaxy. It is shown that the nanowire mantle area becomes the most significant collector of growth material when the nanowire diameter is large and the inter-nanowire pitch is small. It is concluded that this growth regime is important for the array geometries typically used for optoelectronic and photovoltaic applications of nanowires. The growth rate under these conditions is also not constant with time, due to the growing nanowire mantle area. This result was confirmed by experiments in which dense arrays of InAs nanowires were grown and the nanowire growth rate was measured as a function of time. © 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.