By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source of for growing tomatoes in the home garden.
Watering tomatoes in pots or containers is the most important step you can take for a healthy crop.
Tomatoes in pots, by definition, are in a contained space. Their roots can only reach down so far to find water.
To skip watering (or at least skip checking soil) stresses your plants and puts them at risk. Tomatoes are 95% water. They need a drink regularly in order to replace fluids that are dried out by the elements and by their own respiration.
It’s not unusual to have to water your tomato containers every day.
Check the soil every day. Keep medium evenly moist. When you stick your finger in the soil two inches deep and it’s dry, then it’s time to water.
Water the soil – not the plant. Water on leaves and stems encourages disease.
Use drip irrigation. Try a container irrigation system or a drip irrigation kit for container gardening offered on Amazon.com.
As your plant matures, it needs more water.
Beware – water runs straight through well-draining soil medium. When water drips out of the container bottom, you may think you’re watering thoroughly, but much of the moisture is lost. Saucers help! They catch excess water so roots can later draw it slowly up into the plant.
Excessive wilting stresses plants. When tomato leaves repeatedly wilt in late afternoon sun, move containers to a different location.
Watering is a double-edged sword. You need to water to produce healthy tomatoes. But watering leaches nutrients from containers. Tomatoes in pots can develop fully and produce a strong crop, but only with even watering and regular fertilizing. Be sure to fertilize your container tomatoes often to compensate for nutrient loss from watering.
Look out for blossom-end rot (BER) – blackened tomato bottoms! It’s caused by low calcium uptake associated with irregular watering. Regular watering helps. BER affects plants most readily early in the season when plants are young and have difficulty absorbing calcium needed for proper fruit development. Most potting mixes contain enough calcium. As plants mature, BER usually disappears. To prevent it, you can add lime or crushed egg shells to your potting mix when planting. Fast-acting lime will increase calcium uptake early in the season, too.
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