Watering Tomatoes: When, How Often & How Much - 5 Pro Tips
Watering Tomatoes Is a Science and an Art
If you love gardening, you've probably already asked an expert or yourself this question: "How often should I water my tomato plants?" Don't worry, you're not alone in this quest. This guide has hundreds of people reading and sharing it each day.
Plenty of people all across the globe take to tomato cultivation, not only because tomatoes are relatively easy to grow and sustain; but the fact that they are used in plenty of different cuisines, in a variety of ways - more ways than you can imagine.
In general, thoroughly water newly planted seeds or seedlings to remove any air gaps in the soil. You may have to water daily while the plants are young and depending on the temperature you may have to water twice. As a rule of thumb tomato plants require 1 - 1.5 inches of water a week (explained further down).
4 Facts About Tomato Growth You Need to Know:
- They don't grow anywhere and anytime - Tomatoes cannot be grown everywhere and not all through the year. There are plenty of tomato varieties to pick from. Speak to your local gardening club or neighbor to find out what grows best in the region.
- Sunlight is important - Tomato plants need sunlight in order to grow well. So, make sure that you place your plants in a sunny spot of your garden, not too hot though. Read on to know more about these settings.
- Nutrition - No matter how well you water, if the plants are not receiving the right nutrition, there isn't really much you can do - apart from getting this problem fixed. Check your tomato plants for yellow leaves, as this is a sign of bad nutrition.
- Watering tomatoes - This is definitely a skill. But, it's not rocket science and can easily be mastered. You could even teach your kids and maybe have them grow their own crop this season - it's an amazing learning experience and a chance to bond.
Before we proceed, I would like you to vote and see how often other people across the globe water their tomato plants. You could use the data to compare yourself with others and I'm sure that you will also be convinced that there is no single way to do it right.
But that's nothing to worry about, as through this article I will teach you how to find out what works best for your locality. So put on your thinking cap and buckle up! The journey begins now.
Poll: Watering Tomatoes -- What Do You Do?
How often do you water your tomatoes - It does depend on location, but do share your experience
An overview of what we will be covering:
- 5 Pro Tips on watering tomatoes
- Rain water for your plants.
- Caring for tomato plants when away.
- Using enlivened water.
- Watering tomato seedlings.
- How often to water tomatoes?
The art of watering tomatoes is easy to master. Trial and error is one way to build up your skills. But with the right watering techniques, you can become a pro this very growing season. On following these guidelines you can also develop your very own watering techniques.
- Water Slowly around the tomato plants allowing sufficient time for the water to enter the soil, run away water is just a waste and it steals nutrients from the soil. Let the water soak in at least 5 - 6 inches of soil.
- Water tomatoes only when they really need it. Maybe you need to water twice a day, to begin with, just moisten the soil (don't flood the plant). The roots need air too, so don't drown your plants.
- Water at the stem rather than the leaves. Try not to water directly on the stem of the tomato plant but around it, this encourages roots to spread.
- Water early in the day if you use a hose, bucket or any other manual form of watering.
- Do not water in the night as moist conditions and low temperatures increase the likelihood of tomato plant diseases.
- Mulch acts as a moisture regulator and also a source of nutrition. Definitely give this a thought, if you don't already implement it.
Pro Tip 1: Water Slowly
The main purpose of watering your tomato plants is to ensure that they have sufficient water to sustain themselves and perform their necessary physiological activities.
Therefore, when watering, you don't want to flood the plant, only to have most of the water run off (with nutrients and top soil). Instead, you are going to need to water slowly, giving the water time to actually seep through the soil.
It is recommended that 6-8 inches below the soil is moistened when you water tomato plants as this stimulates root growth in this region, which is directly related to the amount of nutrients the plant can reach.
One thing that you could do is come up with your very own drip irrigation system. It's not at all difficult and can be done at a very cheap price - under $2, in fact! Check out the video below for a sample irrigation system. When you use a drip irrigation system you ensure that the soil is moist all the time, but not flooded - this gives the roots room to breathe.
With reference to the video below: if you don't want the bottle to hang up as shown (which can be unsightly for some) you could also place it below the soil, only keeping the opening above ground so that you could refill the bottle when needed.
Drip Irrigation System for Tomato Plants
Pro Tip 2: Water Your Tomato Plants Regularly
First off, know that there's no exact formula as to how often you should water your tomato plants. This is something that you'll need to work out based on experience. All you need to do is regularly check on the soil a few days and see when it's turning dry.
- If you've noticed it becoming dry really quickly, don't be afraid. Instead, just try something new such as mulching or maybe a new method of watering -- drip irrigation as mentioned numerous times already works best!
- In some regions you just need to water the plants once a day, whereas in other places you could end up watering them multiple times a day.
- There are also a few moist areas where merely watering once or twice a week is sufficient.
If you notice your tomato plant drooping sometime around mid-day, do not worry too much about it because they will be back to normal near sunset. But if they are still drooping after sunset, this is a sign that the ground is too parched and you would need to water. But only do this the next morning. (Refer: Pro Tip 1). There are problems associated with watering tomato plants in the night. (Refer: Pro Tip 4).
Plants drooping in the sunlight isn't always because of a lack of water, it is also a reflex mechanism developed so that the plants minimize surface area in contact with the direct sunlight, which in turn reduces transpiration (loss of water from the leaves, etc.) or in simple terms evaporation.
Pro Tip 3: Water Tomato Plants at the Roots
If you have a habit of watering plants with a hose, it's very likely that you are also watering the leaves of the plant, instead of pointing the hose to the ground around the stem. Some of us have the tendency to water on the leaves as this makes the plants look better ;)
If by chance you do want to water on the leaves, make it a point that you water the plants early in the morning before the sun is up. If your water supply isn't pure - if it is hard water or you've mixed in fertilizer (organic or chemical) I suggest you stop watering on the leaves, as this just damages them, preventing optimal functioning and food preparation when the sun shines.
Important: Watering on the leaves and fruits increases the likelihood of tomato plant diseases. Water on the leaves at your own risk. (Refer: Pro Tip 4)
As already mentioned earlier, when I say watering at the roots, this does not necessarily mean watering directly on the ground near the stem. It's best to do it a few inches away around the stem (form a circle around the stem) as this will not wash away soil near the stem which is very important, especially if you do not have external support for your tomato plants.
You could also use as seen below. They are really helpful in a sense that they let water seep into the ground slowly, you don't need to reduce the flow rate from the garden hose anymore. They also suppress the growth of weeds around the tomato plants. Moreover, they are red and reflect some of the sunlight back onto the plant which helps with photosynthesis as per some studies. Tomato Craters
Pro Tip 4: the Best Time to Water Tomatoes Is at Dawn
As stated earlier, watering on the leaves and fruit can increase the likelihood of some tomato plant diseases. But you may ask the dreadful question: Why!?
It's quite straightforward really, most of the tomato plant diseases are a threat under moist conditions. But this isn't the only necessary condition for the disease to foster and thrive. They also need relatively low temperatures.
So putting two and two together, it is obvious that you shouldn't water your tomato plants in the night, even if they seem droopy. When you choose to water at dawn, the plant has sufficient time to absorb water and begin the process of photosynthesis while at the same time, if by chance water fell onto the leaves, stem or fruit it would dry up before the midday sun begins to burn the plant up through these droplets.
Pro Tip 5: Mulching
In case you do not know what mulch is, it is an organic layer of leaves, hay, coconut husk, wood pieces or pine cone pieces. There are plenty of other forms too, if interested Google it. Since it's organic, it would decay over time and also be a source of nourishment for the plants.
Mulching has quite a few benefits, the main ones being:
- Water retention
- Increased room for aeration when lightly mixed with the top soil
- Source of nourishment
If you mulch your plants well, you're not going to need to water them as often, since the rate of evaporation from the soil is drastically reduced. So, when you mulch you may end up watering just once a day if you were previously doing it twice or more times a day.
If you don't already have mulch, you may want to check this out. It lasts for really long and is my best choice. I do not buy my mulch as coconut husk is easily available, my home being in a tropical location. coconut husk mulch
Rainwater Is the Best for Plants
Rainwater is the best for plants as it's natural and has no added chemicals during the processing stages. Moreover, if you've got hard water in your region, the salts are not the best for your tomato plants or any other plants for that matter.
If you do happen to have a rrainwaterharvesting system at home and an underground storage, one of the best ways to make use of this water is in your garden. Give it a shot and you would see improvements, if you've already been gardening for a while.
Watering Tomato Plants While on Vacation
How do I water my plans if I'm out of town? This a common question you'll come across, as we all need to go on vacation some time or another and we can't just leave our gardens to dry up. Most of us have neighbors who would be willing to help, but not all of us are that lucky.
So the best options would include:
- Programmed Drip Irrigation Systems: These aren't expensive to install and are also very easy to operate and maintain. Therefore, if you go on vacation often or don't have the time to water your garden yourself, you could program it to water your plants everyday at a particular time. Check the video above for a simple super low budget drip irrigation system.
- Placing plants in a basin of water: If your plants are in pots, you can always place the pots in a basin of water. Make sure that the plant is above the level of the water as you don't want to flood it. Water will enter through the exit hole, via capillary action. Make sure there is sufficient leverage between the pot and water as you do not want to flood the roots either.
- Mulch: If you're taking a short trip (3-4 days), you could solely depend on your mulch to keep the plants alive and healthy until you return. Again this depends on the local conditions, but this is a ball park figure that works well in most cases.
Watering Tomato Plants Using Enlivened Water
Enlivened water is an ancient method wherein the water is stirred clockwise, about 40-50 times and then the plants are watered.
While it is an ancient method, modern science has backed this method, as spiraling water gains energy, since it’s in motion. Watering tomatoes with this water does make them grow healthier according to some studies.
I'm not an advocate of this method and I've not tried it out as I find it "crazy", but that's just me. Maybe you've tried it out in your garden or heard about it somewhere? If yes and you have something to say about it, please do leave a comment below.
Watering Tomato Seedlings
Watering tomato seeds and seedlings is a whole different story. Germinating tomato plants from seeds is a very simple process, but you only see the best results when done right. Since this is the first step of the tomato plants growth, you are going to want to make sure your plants get the right start.
How Often to Water Tomatoes?
How often you water tomatoes is a major concern most people face, especially the first time around. It is important to have the soil moist, not flooded. The soil needs to be damp at least 6 - 8 inches below the ground to stimulate root growth. Watering once a day works best for most regions.
In case you aren't sure, begin by watering once a day and go from there. The tips above are definitely going to guide you and would help you make informed decisions rather than random guesses.
If you fail to water tomato plants the right way, it could lead to various issues:
- Diseases, including root loss, blossom end rot, and others
- Reduced fruit production
- Stunted growth
- Decreased resistance
It should go without saying, that knowing how to water tomato plants properly is the most important skill when it comes to growing tomato plants. Adding the right fertilizers at the right stage of growth is probably the second most important, else you would have foliage and not many fruits. I've written a separate guide on fertilizing tomato plants and I suggest you take a look at that to know more.
How Much Water Does a Tomato Plant Need
According to the article published on the website of the Ohio State University [source], tomato plants in the garden require in general 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. But how much is 1 inch of water in gardening terms? This is by far not a standard unit of measure. This is what it means: you're going to need 1 to 1.5 inches of water in a square foot of soil.
A square foot of soil is 12 inches by 12 inches which makes it 144 square inches and the volume would be 1-inch times 144 square inches which is 144 cubic inches to 1.5 inches times 144 square inches which is 216 cubic inches.
But how much water does this convert into? Using this calculator the values I get are 0.62 gallons (2.27 liters) to 0.94 gallons (3.56 liters). I use another simple calculator to convert gallons to liters. Check out the video below to better understand this concept. In hot weather, it is more important that you water regularly.
I bet you're now wondering how much water do they need per day. This is a hard question to answer. Do we just divide the above by 7 days? It does make sense and that's roughly the amount I water my plants. Of course, I didn't begin my measuring. The amount I water is based on my own experiences and the conditions my plants grow in. You could probably begin by dividing the weekly amount to count for seven days and adjust from there.
Note: As a final pointer, I think it is important to mention that you should water your tomato plant thoroughly after a fresh transplant in order to get rid of any air gaps in the soil. Check out this guide for more on transplanting tomatoes.
How Often Do You Water Tomatoes in Containers or Pots?
If you're not certain on how to water tomato plants grown in pots, this is the section for you. First and foremost, I hope your pots or containers have drainage holes. If not, you're going to want to change the pot, else you'd have to be extra careful with watering to make sure that the soil is not too moist or too dry by manually checking it every day.
The thing to keep in mind with pots and containers is the fact that they cannot retain water, so all you should do is moisten the soil. You're going to want to make sure that you do not pour too much water as the excess that drains out also carries with it some essential nutrients. I personally choose to water plants in containers twice a day, once at dawn wetting up the entire soil and once in the evening (just a bit) especially during fruiting as failure to do this could lead to the tomatoes cracking open. Tomatoes crack open when the plant gets water suddenly after a brief dry period.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
How often should I water a tomato plant when there are tomatoes already on the vine?
Water the same as you always did. But once tomatoes are on the vine, it is important that the watering stays consistent. Dry spells followed by a lot of water can make the tomatoes crack.Helpful 22
I’m growing two tomato plants, both in pots. The new flowers seem to be drying up before forming any fruit. Am I waiting too long to water? And I do water at the base of the plant and some of the lower leaves yellow. Does this sound like I’m not watering enough? And what do you recommend for maintaining or adding nutrients to the soil?
It's really hard to say without looking at the plant. Let's try and help you out here:
Are the leaves of the tomato plant drooping before you water them?
If yes, is this during the hours of really bright sunlight? If you answered yes again, do your leaves get back to usual in the evening? If the leaves are getting back to their usual state in the evening, it's just a defense mechanism that the leaves are drooping. However, if your leaves are drooping and they stay that way, it's an indication that the plants need some water.
Also, most plants tend to protect their flowers and fruits, and so the leaves would be affected before the flower. Therefore, I can say with a high level of probability that this is not a watering issue.
Also, I am not sure how experienced a gardener you are. Do not take this to heart if I treat you as a newbie. But, the petals of a flower do drop off before the fruit can grow. If it's just the petals dropping off, don't worry.
Also, all the flowers on your plant should not be dropping at the same time. If all of them are falling off at the same time, it's definitely got something to do with an external phenomenon, watering could be one of them. A lack of nutrients in the soil usually results in a lower quantity of flowers and fruits or no flowers at all. It's unlikely that the flowers will grow and then fall off.
But during the flowering phase, it is recommended that you add phosphate and reduce the amount of nitrogen you feed your plants. Check out this article for more information on nutrition at different stages of tomato growth: http://www.yara.us/agriculture/crops/tomato/key-fa...Helpful 15
My potted tomato plants have done much better since I started watering them every day to the point that I see water in the drip pan. Here in the pacific northwest (west of Seattle, Kitsap Peninsula ) we have had a hot, dry spring & summer. Temps have begun to cool down so should I change my watering regimen?
I do not think you need to. When it comes to containers, this is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to do things. I personally choose to water from the top, the way you are doing it only when the plant is freshly transplanted. But, after the plant has a secure foundation and begins to grow, I water from the bottom by pouring water in the tray and letting it diffuse up the soil, this encourages the plant to grow deeper roots.Helpful 12
I have a pot which allows me to water my tomatoes from the bottom. The soil tends always to be damp. How do I know it’s not too wet?
If you have a pot that allows you to water from the bottom, I assume you have a tray that holds your pot and that it has drainage holes at the bottom? If this is the case, you can not over water because the soil will only absorb water until it is wet and not completely saturated (diffusion). But, I would not want my soil to be completely damp, because I would rather have my tomato plants grow roots deep into the pot in search of water so that they have a strong foundation and don't fall over when they begin fruiting. More importantly, the more the roots spread, the more nutrients they can absorb.Helpful 24
Can I have your opinion on a 1/2 gal/hour dripper for 30 minutes, twice a day for a potted tomato plant growing in Atlanta?
I do not live in Atlanta, so I can't tell you how much water a plant there needs. Also, two pots in the same room with similar tomato plants could need different amounts of water. Find out what works for that pot by watering and letting the water drain out. Do not let water stay in the collection tray. Also, before your next water make sure the top of the soil is not moist. Let it dry out a little before you water again.Helpful 17