Tips for Watering Tomatoes

Watering tomatoes properly will help keep them productive and healthy.

Here are some tomato growing tips for watering tomato plants when they need it, how they need it and in the proper quantities.

When to Water Tomato Plants

A healthy, mature tomato plant will use lots of water.

On average, tomatoes need 1 to 2 inches of water per week.

If Mother Nature isn’t cooperating in providing that much water in rainfall, it will be up to you to make up the difference.

But don’t water your tomato plants every day.

As with many other types of plants, it’s best to water less frequently and more deeply.

Instead of watering plants with frequent, light waterings, give them a good soaking every few days or so. (The frequency, of course, will depend upon how much rainfall you’re receiving).

Giving the plants a good, deep soaking will encourage them to grow a much more vigorous root system than if they were receiving frequent, shallow waterings.

Over-watering can also contribute to plants putting on too much vegetative growth – which means fewer tomatoes for you. Too much water can even cause the plants to wilt, making it appear as if they are suffering from a lack of water (that’s fooled me a time or two!).

Judge when to water your tomato plants by the top inch or so of soil. Allow that top inch to get pretty dry before giving the plants their next soaking. Monitor closely, though; you don’t want that top inch to be dried out for days before giving them water!

Techniques for Watering Tomatoes

If at all possible, avoid using a sprinkler for watering tomato plants. Soaking down the foliage of your plants provides an open invitation to a number of potential diseases, including tomato blight.

In fact, if you can manage it, try to avoid even splashing dirt onto the plants during the process of watering them. Allowing soil to splash onto the plants can help to accelerate the spread of diseases caused by pathogens in the soil.

Using a drip irrigation system with emitters at each plant is an ideal method of watering tomato plants (or other plants). You can also use drip tape or soaker hoses to attain nearly the same benefits.

These methods will deliver water to the tomatoes without flooding or splashing, will conserve water (a BIG issue in some urban areas), and will direct most of the water to the tomato plants (no point in giving the weeds any more of your water than necessary!). 

Don’t Forget About Mulch

If you can, consider mulching your tomato plants. Mulch is sometimes thought of as primarily a means of controlling weeds, but it actually provides a number of benefits.

It helps to cool the soil, helps to prevent soil splashing on the plants during rainfall, prevents soil erosion and also helps to conserve water. An organic mulch (as opposed to a plastic mulch) will also help to keep up the level of organic matter in your soil.

Numerous studies have shown that mulching tomato plants will help to reduce water usage AND increase yield. Great motivation for mulching!

Oft used mulching materials include grass clippings (be sure that the grass was cut before setting seeds), wood chips and shredded newspaper. I wouldn’t recommend hay, because odds are good that any hay you get hold of will be loaded with weed seeds.

I once spread out nearly a ¼ acre of hay mulch from some old round bales that someone was giving away. That nicely mulched plot looked great for a little while. Then it rained, and the millions of weed seeds in that hay sprouted. Soon, that plot was nothing but a sea of weeds.

Lesson learned! 

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