THE DIRT GARDENER THANKS FOR ASKING BUZZ BERTOLERO m a y 2 0 1 6 A L I V E E A S T B A Y 31 I understand that tomatoes don't need much water. If so how often should I water them? There is no simple answer as to how often to water tomato plants. There are far too many variables such as temperature, size of the plants, the soil preparation, and how quickly the soil drains. In addition, vegetables gardens are not well planned out as far as water needs; hence, gardeners tend to overwater. Tomatoes have a deeper root system than other veggies. It's common to find tomatoes planted with squash, cucumbers, peppers and other shallow rooted vegetables. Tomatoes need to be separated from the rest so you can water them efficiently. The shallow rooted vegetables need to be watered more frequently while tomatoes don’t like the constant moisture. It’s fair to say that we fall into a rut and water our tomato plants in August like we did in May. We know to water more when it’s warm but we fail to cut back when it cool, especially those gardens using an automatic watering system. Our summer time temperatures are not constant but vary significantly from week to week. Hence, we need to be flexible with the watering schedule. Here is one method to determine the best watering schedule for your tomatoes planted in the ground with your variables: With new plantings you need to wait a couple of weeks for them to get acclimated and longer for those planted before April 15. Now water your plants thoroughly like you normally would, and mark the date on a calendar. The plants are not watered again until they begin to wilt. The wilt date is recorded along with the average afternoon temperature. A ball park figure will do. The process is repeated two more times. The data is then combined and averaged to form a watering ‘base line’ or norm. This information then answers the question how often do I water my tomato plants? I water my plants ‘X’ (number of days before the plants wilt) minus one to two days when the temperature average is ‘Y’. ‘X’ and ‘Y’ become the norm for your yard. You then adjust the watering schedule based on the norm. When it gets hotter you shorten up the frequency or lengthen it out when it get cooler. Pick any day of the week you like to review the watering schedule for the upcoming week and adjust the frequency. Extended five to seven day forecast are available from any number of sources. As the plant grows, you increase the volume of water to make sure the entire root system gets wet. In containers, tomatoes are watered more often than those in the ground. Depending on the size of the container, tomatoes are watered several times a week. It may be necessary to water them more often with temperatures in the 90s and above. Tomatoes and other vegetables can be watered with recycled water. You do need to keep the maturing vegetables off the ground and wash them thoroughly after harvesting. I have a five-foot tall Bloodgood Japanese Maple in a large container. Last summer, the hot sun burned the leaves and the tree looked terrible the rest of the year. What can I do now to avoid the brown leaves? You protect the foliage of Japanese Maples from tip burn and leaf scorch by applying Bonide Wilt Stop or Cloud Cover to the foliage. I like to refer to them as Chap Stick for plants as they provide a clear protective layer that protects the leaves from excessive moisture loss. Wilt Stop or Cloud Cover are primarily thought of for cold weather protection but they’re just as effective against hot, drying winds. You make two applications about eight weeks apart. Water stress is another contributing factor to burnt leaves that also curl up. I’d suspect that the plant was going dry in between watering. Maples, Citrus, Roses as well as other container plants, suffer when the temperature warm up; hence they require more frequent watering. Many plants that wilt from water stress recover; however, when the leaves turn brown, they never turn green again. Also, older plants suffer sooner than those recently planted. As container plants grow, they displace the soil with roots. The longer a plant stays in the same container the more susceptible it is to water stress early on. I’d have the following suggestions to help water container plants more efficiently. I'd apply EZ Wet from Gro More or a similar product to help with the water penetration. EZ Wet is a soil surfactant that breaks down the surface tension around soil particles allowing water to flow through the root ball instead of rolling down and out the sides of a container. Next, use a long screw driver and create a half a dozen or more spaces in the rootball and insert a polymer crystal such as Soil Moist. When water is applied the crystals hydrate into a clear gel. The hair roots of plants will then cling to the gel and use it as a back up or secondary water supply. With new planting, the Soil Moist crystals are mixed into the potting soil and then you plant. With Soil Moist, EZ Wet and Bonide Wilt Stop, you have the flexibility to vary your watering pattern and keep the foliage pristine all summer long. Q. A. Q. A.
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