Trouble with watering tomatoes from below

chambersAugust 31, 2014

I had all kinds of problems with my tomatoes cracking last season, so I decided to switch tactics and try to water my containers from below. My grape vines and citrus trees have taken to being watered from below, but both my tomato plants are undersized compared to what I'm used to, production is down and they have shown significant yellowing, which I read as a sign that they're just not getting enough water.

I was hoping you all would be kind enough to confirm that my tomatoes are indeed not getting enough water, and perhaps be kind enough to provide some suggestions in how to successfully water container tomatoes from below.

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aniajs(Z6 Reno NV foothills)

Watering from below meaning adding water to the saucers?

Yellowing could indicate any number of things, so better to check your soil moisture daily. Tomato plants can wilt down in the heat of the day if it's a warmer day, but if they stay limp towards the evening that's a pretty good indicator they need water. The yellowing and underproduction could be nutrient related as well. Or it could be the soil. Then there are the fun diseases particular to tomato plants.

If it is a lack of water... Tomatoes need to take up a lot more water than woody plants like grapevines and citrus. So while the later could probably survive the slow rate at which water moves up the planting medium the tomato plants needed water at a higher rate than the water could be pulled up. Plus the water in the saucers would tend to evaporate fairly quickly due to the shallow depth of the saucers. You might try putting the pot and saucer in a larger pot to insulate the pot and slow the pan evaporation rate. A layer of mulch on top of the soil will slow the rate at which the soil dries out.Or maybe a deeper saucer to increase the volume of water available? But keep in mind that soil that is consistently waterlogged can rot your plants (or weaken them enough for a disease, or affect the availability and uptake of nutrients). That's the drawback to watering from a bottom reservoir.

In my experience cracking happens when soil moisture fluctuates too rapidly and causes the fruit to grow faster that the skin around it. Inconsistent soil moisture is arguably the main challenge with container gardening. It's harder to control in containers because they heat up and dry out so fast. Also some varieties are just more prone to cracking than others. Bigger heirlooms seem especially prone. So try to insulate your containers because those black plastic containers just suck up the heat (which is fine early on but can stress the plant in the high summer). There are a lot of useful tips on the container gardening forum here.

No doubt there's a lot I didn't say that the resident experts will add, but the above is what I've learned from my limited experience.

This post was edited by Aniaj on Sun, Aug 31, 14 at 16:59

    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 4:53PM
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Well stated, Aniaj. All good points made and I'll only add that in a potted plant it is very hard to get all those variables correct.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 5:51PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I can see that for that pot size , your plant has too many branches. I suppose the root system confined in that small space cannot fully support all that.

Container growing, believe or not, is more difficult than doing in the garden. There is soil compaction issue, watering issue, fertilizing issue, support issue.

What kind of soil you have in there ?
What kind of fertilizer are you using,? at what strength , how often ?
How often do you water ?

BTW: Are you in Nevada, HEAT ZONE 6?. That is another factor for yellowing and drying lower leaves. In hot climates, growing in small pod becomes even more challenging. The next time try using like 10 -12 gallon container and keep the numbers of stems under control.

Plants are smart. When the cannot support all the foliage, they start cutting nutrients to the lower leaves. An you see they are yellowing and dying. This is a typical problem in container growing.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 5:51PM
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Thanks all for your comments. After reading Aniaj's advice, I'm not convinced it's a problem with water. I water my outdoor plants once, sometimes twice a day, and the thing is, my tomatoes are just not drinking that much . . . maybe only a 1/2 gallon a day. Compare that with my grapes from this season and my tomatoes from last season which went through about 1 1/2 gallons a day. The soil around my tomatoes is usually somewhat damp to the touch too.

I'm wondering if it's straight out and out heat; that maybe watering from above does more to cool of the plants than watering from below. But I'm from Boston where it usually tops out in the low 90s.

My fertilizing has been different than last season too. I usually start the season with a rich mix, and then fertilize very rarely as the summer wares on. I was worried that too rich of a mix might increase the soil temperature, but i think year I also used Osmocote time release. Would you guys suggest changing my fertilization habits?

    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 7:41PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I water my outdoor plants once, sometimes twice a day,..

That tells me:
-- There is not enough soil in the container OR
-- The soil does not retain moisture.

-- When you water that volume of soil that often, the nutrients are washed down with the excess water coming out of it. I think then you should add fertilizer (@ 1/3 strength) every third time that you water, the way you have said.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 2:45AM
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Thanks Seysonn, yeah, I water a lot, as much for heat as anything, but I didn't think the nutrients would wash out since I'm watering from below. Guess that's not the case . . .

The last thing that put it together for me is that my young grape vines and citrus trees are absolutely flourishing, and neither of those need much in the way of fertilization when they're small. Meanwhile my tomatoes, which need a lot of fertilizer are struggling. I think I need a stable fertilization regiment.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 1:35PM
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