Watering Tomatoes in CA

gardenmommy_2010May 2, 2011

I've seen it posted many times that some people only water their tomatoes/veges once a week but today my tomatoes are looking wilted/droopy & I watered just this morning. Now, today is suddenly 85 degrees and up till now it's only been in the 70's. Last year when I asked a neighbor to water the garden during a trip he reported that I was watering too much (daily in July/August/Sept) although when I returned everything was noticeably wilted. How often should I be watering in 80-90 degree heat in Sacramento? Am I supposed to be letting the plants wilt regularly before watering or keep them watered & looking happy? Is it unusual that the tomato plants would wilt so easily today or not unusual since they're not used to our temperature spike? The garden bed does side up to the stuccoed house but I plan on putting 4x8 plywood there to attach trellis netting to for the cucumbers, cantalopes & baby watermelon. Thanks for your advice!

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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

You water when they need it. Do NOT LET THEM WILT - you will get Blossom End Rot after fruit set. Perhaps you need to mulch and water deeply. When I lived in Sacto it was minimum 3x/week in Jul-Aug.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 7:59PM
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Tomatoes are the #1 plant used in self watering containers, because they do not tolerate the too dry/too wet cycle without consequences to the fruit. Not knowing how well your soil retains water makes it only a guess as to how often to water. During the heat of the day you may get minor wilting that disappears with evening cooling. As Dan indicates, don't let wilting tell you when to water. Mulching will help keep the soil cool and lessen evaporative moisture loss. Al

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 9:32AM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

How do you water? Do you give them a quick spray with the hose, or a deep soak?

Do you mulch?

What kind of soil do you have?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 10:37AM
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I have 1 foot raised planted beds. I bought dirt by the yard from a nursery that said it was best for veges. I have the plants on a drip that I'm still perfecting so I usually water w/ the hose but a pretty good drench. I don't mulch although I want to. We're really struggling in this economy so don't want to spend any money. I'm waiting for DH to mow the lawn so I can use grass clippings to mulch. However, I'm tight on space so under my tomatoes I have some spring crops growing. How would I mulch w/ radishes/carrots/lettuce growing underneath. I don't really want to cover these crops up. I'm planning on just mulching in a couple weeks when all the smaller crops are sufficiently out of the ground. I definately want to be "mulched" by the time we hit the higher temps.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 11:53AM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

gardenmommy: If your spring crops are shading the soil below the tomatoes then you don't need to add mulch now. Wait until you pull the spring crops as you are planning to do.

Maybe the tomato's roots just need a better foothold wit deeper roots, and the year is still young.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 12:34PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Raised beds dry out quicker. You'll need to watch carefully. Maybe try an indicator plant near toms.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 1:29PM
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sheila65(z9 Sacramento, CA)

I have raised beds as well and in the heat of summer, we water three times a week on a drip. But I haven't needed to water as much this spring while it's been in the 70s and 80s. Perhaps you are watering too much? I've just been checking the soil daily and watering when it starts feeling dry (not all the way dry, just not as moist)and then hand watering. We'll start the drip when it gets warmer.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 3:19PM
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sheila65(z9 Sacramento, CA)

By the way you can mulch with newspaper. My mom's trick, and it works great. No worries about the ink - most papers use soy based ink now. Just put the papers down flat around the plants. Help keeps the weeds down, too! Or you can buy a bale of straw from a feed store - they aren't very expensive and one bale has a LOT of straw because it's so compressed. The straw has the added benefit of breaking down over the summer so it can be tilled into the soil later and add humus to the soil. Also, did you fertilize? This can be important in raised beds because nutrients can wash out of the soil. I use Tomatoes Alive from Garden's Alive (I'm an organic gardener) but Fox Farms and E.B. Stone have good veggie fertilizers and can be found at most nurseries.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 3:26PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

I water a lot to get the little plants going. They toughen up as they grow more and more roots and need less water. When they are little baby plants water away. Did you plant them deep so that they will grow a big root system?

A tomato guy told me if they wilt in the heat but perk up as the sun goes down, they are getting enough water. If they don't perk up as the sun gets low, then they need more water.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 4:51PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

I remember when I lived in Sacto The Bee had - yearly - top tomato tips from the old-timers that grew a billion lbs of toms. Sacratomato was a mecca for toms and everyone knew someone in a club or 10 people that grew toms like crazy, and everyone had toms and their own tricks. The knowledge was everywhere!

What happened? Did the bad air and crowding drive the natives away?


    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 6:52PM
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I have 22 tomato plants in my garden that I transplanted there from six to three weeks ago. So far I haven't watered them using a hose even though we have only gotten one decent rain during that period.
So far I have only been hand watering them using either a watering can or a bucket. I have a big 55 gallon drum, and every second time I water I will put maybe half a cup to a cup of some kind of soluble fertilizer like urea, calcium nitrate, magnesium sulphate, potassium nitrate, miracle grow, or zinc chelate in it and fill it with 54 gallons of water and use that dilute solution to water my plants, and if using a watering can I sprinkle it right on the leaves to foliar feed them, whatever doesn't stick drips onto the ground and is absorbed by the roots.
It was 104.7 yesterday and my plants didn't wilt. Maybe because I mixed a lot of steer manure with my clay soil when making the planting holes.
But as the weather gets warmer and my plants get bigger and need more water I will have to start using a hose as it will be too much work to hand water anymore.
BTW, about a third of my plants already have tomatoes on them, and one Stupice even has a few ripe tomatoes on it.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 11:55AM
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I am in Davis, near Sacramento, these tips may be common knowledge but nobody has mentioned them yet and they help a lot in hot weather. The problem comes when the soil temperature is getting very high and the soil is already moist, at this point you get soggy roots and a hot plant, which is a bad combo. It will be less of an issue if you can trellis them to shade the ground around the base from the afternoon sun.

1. You can dig a long slender planting hole and plant the tomato at about a 30 degree angle of elevation from the ground. The idea is to provide horizontal surface area for rooting by burying as much stem as possible at a shallow angle. The tomato will self correct upwards and this gives you a massive amount more surface area for initial rooting, roots can run downwards from 6 inches or more of the stem instead of forming from the bottom of the inital root ball.

2. Especially effective when planting in a hole described above, bury at least a half inch past the first set of leaves, these will grow downwards and turn into major roots and give the plant a nice boost in water availability in a week or two when they establish.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 11:35PM
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napapen(ca 15)

I hope that the soil beneath the soil you brought in was dug and broken up. It may be you have a layer of hardpan and the roots are not able to get down to the lower levels. Tomatoes are one of the deepest rooted vegetables you will grow. I check my depth of water by putting a rebar rod in the ground and see how deep it goes.

I quit watering my tomatoes in late August last year and they lasted until frost in November.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 4:02PM
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