While working in the garden a couple of weeks ago, Abraham, the neighbor across the road came over to ask about watering tomatoes. Knowing he didn’t have any plants at his cabin, I asked if he had plants back home. He said he had a couple of plants that were in five-gallon pails and his wife had called asking about watering them as they were wilting. After giving him a few suggestions on watering, I thought that others may have questions as well. Here are a few thoughts on the subject.
- Mulching – Mulch, if you are not familiar with the term, is an organic layer of straw, leaves, hay, coconut husk, wood chips, pine cone pieces, etc. spread on or worked into the top layer of the soil around the plants. This organic matter will decay over time adding nourishment and tilth to the soil. It aids in water retention and you will not need to water as often as evaporation from the soil is reduced. If it has been incorporated into the top layer of the soil it increases air movement into the soil. Seriously, consider mulching if you haven’t done so before.
- Water Slowly – Water must enter the soil around the plant and not run off carrying away nutrients and top soil. Water should penetrate the top 6 to 8 inches of soil to stimulate root growth in this area of the growing zone so the plant has access to the nutrients that the plant can reach. If you don’t have some kind of a drip irrigation system that allows the water to slowly seep into the soil, consider installing/using one.
- Water Regularly – There is no set rule as to how often you should water your plants. Check the soil regularly for a few days to determine when the soil starts turning dry. In some areas you may have to water only once daily whereas in other areas you may have to water 2 or more times a day. If you see your tomato plants wilting mid-day, don’t worry too much as they’ll be back to normal that evening. If they are still parched at sunset you may need to water the next morning. If you see plants are wilting in the morning, it may not be a lack of water but a normal reaction the plant has that minimizes surface area to reduce transpiration from the leaves.
- Do Not Water At Night – The temperature is generally lower during the night-time hours and in conjunction with moisture on the leaves allows for the likelihood of tomato plant diseases. Do not water at night, even if the plants are droopy.
- Water early In The Day – If you are using a hose, watering can or other manual means, do your watering in the early morning hours. Drip irrigation, either above or below the ground surface, as long as the water doesn’t get on the leaves, can occur any time of day.
- Water At The Stem (At the roots) – Again, the idea is not to get water on the leaves. If you do want water on the leaves or that’s your watering method, do so before the sun come up in the morning. If your water is hard, or if you mix fertilizer or other chemical with the water, DO NOT water the leaves. Do not put the water directly on the stem as this could wash the soil away from the stem decreasing support for the plant. Water a few inches away from the stem, where the roots are spread below the plant.
There are a few other considerations when watering but I’ll save them for another time.
Keep your fork