Tomatoes are one of the most popular home garden crops. These plants thrive in warm, humid environments and can even be grown indoors during colder months. When grown outdoors, tomatoes require frequent watering to maintain production levels. These plants are also very sensitive to water stress, which can lead to wilting, yellowing leaves and a reduced yield. If you’re new to growing tomatoes or need some helpful pointers, here is how to water tomato plants properly.
Check the soil before watering.
Before deciding whether or not to water your plants, it’s important to know the soil conditions. The best way to check soil moisture is to dig your fingers several inches into the soil and feel for moisture levels. Ideally, the top inch of soil should be slightly moist. If the soil is completely dry, you will need to wait until the soil has had time to absorb enough water to become moist. If the soil is soggy or waterlogged, you’ll want to avoid watering because it can cause root rot and other diseases. If you’re growing your tomato plants indoors, you may need to water them more often than in the ground since soil tends to dry out more quickly in containers.
Don’t overwater your tomato plants.
While paying attention to soil moisture levels is important, the folks at backyardgardenersnetwork.org said that overwatering tomato plants is a common mistake that can lead to many problems include: fungal infections, blossom end rot, tomatoes splitting, and poor flavor. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings to prevent over-watering your plants. This will help prevent disease and wilting by keeping the roots healthy and oxygenated.
The best plan to water your tomato plants depends on your climate and whether you’re growing them indoors or outdoors. Tomato plants are generally water-hungry during the flowering and fruiting stages. This is when pollination occurs, which leads to the development of fruit. You’ll want to water your plants more frequently to keep their root systems properly hydrated and encourage robust growth during this time. Once the fruit has formed and ripened, your tomato plants will be less water-hungry and can focus energy on ripening their produce.
Determining if your plants need to be watered
Even if you’re following the advice above and waiting for the soil to dry before watering, plants sometimes need water, even when the soil is dry. Some signs include wilting leaves, drooping vines and a general lack of vigor. If you tap the side of the plant with a finger and it sounds hollow, it’s time to water. You can also use a soil moisture tester to check the soil. Once you dig a hole in the soil and remove the tester, the color on the dial will change and indicate the soil’s moisture level.
Use rainwater for watering.
Rainwater is a great alternative to municipal water, which requires treatment before it can be used on your plants. While using rainwater is a great way to reduce your water bill and protect the environment, it can be harder to control the consistency of the water. Use rainwater collected in a barrel or a large container for best results. Avoid collecting rainwater from leaves, gutters or shingles since it may contain contaminants like dust, fertilizers and other debris.
Add organic matter to improve moisture retention.
Adding organic matter like compost or aged manure to the soil can increase the moisture retention of your soil, which is helpful for areas with extremely dry summers or poor soil conditions. You can also add organic matter to the top layer of soil to help keep it moist. Make sure to maintain regular watering practices while using soil amendments to ensure your plants receive adequate moisture. You should also avoid adding large quantities of freshly-gathered materials to the soil, which can rob it of necessary nutrients. Instead, combine fresh and aged materials that have been well-composted to provide the best balance of nutrients.
Maintain airflow around the plant
You should maintain airflow around your plants to help prevent diseases like botrytis and powdery mildew. Diseases thrive in moist environments with low airflow and can quickly infect a plant once exposed. To keep disease at bay, clean your plants from the top and water the soil, not the leaves. Avoid using overhead watering systems like sprinklers, which can collect water on leaves and lead to fungal growth. You can also use large, open pots to allow airflow to circulate plants in containers.
Rotate Your Tomato Plants
One of the best ways to prevent root rot and other soil-borne diseases is to rotate your tomato plants yearly. Placing your tomato plants in a new location each year can reduce the risk of transmitting diseases from one season to the next. You can also rotate your other gardening plants to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. If you’re growing your tomatoes in the same place yearly, pests and diseases may build up and thrive in your soil. Moving your tomato plants each year and cultivating a new area can reduce the risk of pests and diseases.