Gardeners know that every plant sort of has its own “personality” while it’s growing. Some are easy-going and amenable to less-than-perfect treatment, whereas other plants are total primadonnas that require exacting care for any sort of good results.
Tomatoes tend to fall closer to the latter category, and forums abound with horror stories of tomatoes failing suddenly despite the best efforts of those that care for them.
One factor that makes tomatoes so fiddly to grow is their water requirements, which we will be learning all about today. So, how much water do tomatoes need?
Tomatoes typically need between 1 and 2 inches of water every week depending on the climate, maturity of the plant, and the variety. Tomatoes should be watered consistently to keep fruits intact and also prevent wilting.
Growing tomatoes can be challenging when it comes to water requirements because they are demanding about the frequency of watering and also the amount.
Watering them irregularly can lead to damage, as can giving them too much water or too little!
It sounds bad enough to make you crazy, but once you know a few tricks, they really aren’t too bad and they’re among the most enjoyable vegetables to grow.
I’ll tell you everything else you need to know in the rest of this article.
What’s the Best Time to Water Tomatoes?
Do your best to water tomatoes in the morning and in the evening time, never in the heat of the day.
This will allow them to prepare for warming weather or rehydrate after a hot day respectively, and is also beneficial for getting them on a watering schedule.
Tomatoes are particularly sensitive about the timing of watering, so you’ll want to do it as consistently as possible for best results.
If your tomatoes are drying out or start to wilt, you can give them a shot of water in the middle of the day but do your best to avoid making this a regular practice.
How Much Water Do Tomatoes Need Every Week?
Depending on the cultivar and the maturity of the plant, your tomatoes will need anywhere from 1 to 2 inches of water a week.
Large, mature plants and those are exposed to constantly hot or windy conditions will need more water than those that are small or have better shelter and a milder climate.
You can measure the amount of water you’re giving your tomatoes by using a simple rain gauge when you water near the roots (never the whole plant or from above!) or by simply keeping track of how much water you give them when the plants are obviously thriving.
Don’t wing it: tomatoes are highly sensitive to too much water, as much as they are not enough.
How Often Should You Water Tomatoes?
Typically, they will do best when they are watered on a strict schedule, and if you are starting tomatoes from seed or from small transplants this usually means you’re going to need to water them at least once per day, and possibly twice.
Keep in mind their water requirements, and don’t overdo it!
Moisture meters, rain gauges and carefully measuring how much water you give them is important to ensure a healthy harvest.
Also keep in mind that as tomato fruits start to ripen you’ll want to reduce the amount of water they get, but maintain the same schedule. More on that in just a bit.
Do Tomatoes Like Wet Soil?
Tomato plants like moist soil, but generally don’t want to be sopping wet. But they also don’t like dry soil, and will quickly begin to wilt.
This is part of the challenge associated with tomatoes: you need to quickly zero in on how much water they need daily during each watering that will ensure the soil stays moist between waterings but is neither too wet nor so light that it will dry out.
As long as you can do that, you’ll be well on your way to a bumper crop!
Can Tomatoes be Overwatered?
Yes, they can, and depending on their phase of growth they will suffer from different maladies when overwatered.
During any stage of growth, keeping the soil too wet or allowing the roots to stand in water will quickly promote root rot. Overwatering during ripening can cause problems with the fruits themselves immediately prior to harvest.
What are Some Problems Associated with Overwatering Tomatoes?
Your tomatoes will quickly start to suffer if you are overwatering them. The first things you should look for is wilting, droopy leaves, yellowing of the leaves closest to the ground, a pebbly appearance on leaves, or even dropped leaves.
If the soil has been kept consistently soaked, check them for root rot. Tomatoes are also highly vulnerable to mold if they are watered from overhead; look near the base of stems and on the stalk near the ground.
They’re also special concerns if you give them too much water when the fruits begin to ripen towards finishing.
Too much water will lead to cracking of the fruits and blossom and rot, two things that can absolutely ruin your harvest.
As I mentioned above, and I’m saying it here for emphasis: when the fruits start to ripen you need to maintain your watering schedule but reduce the amount of water they are getting!
How Will You Know if Tomatoes Aren’t Getting Enough Water?
The most obvious signs are drooping, wilting and eventually crisping leaves prior to the development of fruit.
However, you might have noticed if you read the previous section that these are also symptoms of getting too much water, minus the crisping anyway.
To make matters worse, mature tomato plants are notorious for starting to droop a little bit when subjected to a spike in heat or particularly windy conditions.
Accordingly, you cannot immediately grab your watering can when you see these symptoms. Always assess soil moisture levels before you act, because if you get it wrong and give them too much water they will still suffer!
How Often Should You Water Tomatoes in Pots?
Tomato plants in pots or other containers should be watered according to the same guidelines and schedules described above. However, there are some important differences you’ll need to know about.
Containers tend to dry out far more quickly than the ground outside, which means watering might need to be more frequent or you might need to use more water each time.
At the same time, ensure that water is actually draining from the container: if the roots are exposed to standing water or to too much moisture for too long, they will rot and that will probably kill your plant.
Keep in mind that depending on the size of your container and the soil mature tomato plants in a container might need a lot of water every day, up to half a gallon at each watering.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.