Mulching and watering tomatoes: expert tips & instructions
When and how often should tomatoes be watered? What are the benefits of mulching tomatoes? We will explain everything there is to know about mulching and watering the tasty red fruits.
In summer, you can basically watch your tomatoes as they grow. They begin to flower and then bear the initially green fruits. During this time, you need to pay a lot of attention to your plants water supply. Tomatoes have high demands when it comes to the availability of nutrients and water, which are not always easy to meet in summer. There are several things to consider when watering and mulching your tomatoes. In this article, we have compiled some tips on how to get your thirsty plants through the hot season.
When and how often should tomatoes be watered?
Tomato plants should be watered regularly, preferably in the morning rather than in the evening. In general, the plants prefer temperate to lukewarm (rain) water to cold and calcareous tap water. During the day, the plants dry off well and are thus better protected against fungal diseases. In midsummer, you should water several times, especially with potted plants, because the soil dries out extremely quickly. If the tomatoes are grown in a greenhouse, the moisture in the soil will last much longer. Therefore, you only have to water the plants every two days with a good amount of water.
It is very important never to water the tomato plants from above, as the leaves should not get wet. Instead, you should water the stem of the plants, just above the ground. Wet leaves – and moisture in general – make it easier for all kinds of diseases to spread. Pests living in the soil can also be transferred onto the plant through the water splashing when using the “overhead” method.
Although many hobby gardeners don’t believe it, adapting your watering to the needs of your tomato plants really does pay off. Our tips on watering tomatoes in summary:
- Water in the morning so that the plants dry off during the day
- Water regularly with lukewarm rainwater
- Never water your tomatoes from above, only water at the bottom of the stem
Generally speaking, mulch is any type of material that covers the exposed soil surface. A distinction is made between:
- Artificial mulch materials such as plastic or gravel
- Organic materials such as plant parts, compost or bark
In this article, we will focus on organic mulch material, as it is more sustainable and more beneficial for the soil.
Why should you mulch your tomatoes?
Mulch made from plant material such as straw, lawn cuttings and the like can inhibit weed growth and help keep moisture in the soil. The organisms in the soil gradually decompose the plant material and release nutrients on which the tomato plants feed. Mulching tomatoes makes them grow better, they are often healthier, and the soil underneath is put under less stress. The thirsty plants require less water, as the mulch material decreases evaporation even on hot summer days. Therefore, mulch actively improves the structure of the soil and protects it from compaction and erosion by wind and rain.
When to mulch tomatoes
Mulching is worthwhile during the entire season. When it comes to mulching tomatoes specifically, it is best to do it in March or April for the first time. If the ground has already warmed up a little, the layer of mulch can store the heat and prepare the soil for the tomatoes’ roots, which are sensitive to cold. Besides, it tends to rain more frequently in spring, which means that part of the mulch can be processed into humus in the soil. The nutrients are then directly available for the tomato seedlings that are planted in May. As soon as the tomatoes are planted, you should regularly add some plant material to the mulch so that the soil is always covered with a thin layer of mulch.
How and with what should you mulch tomatoes?
Depending on the plant material, you should cover the soil with a mulch layer of two to five centimetres. The more delicate the plants are, the finer the material should be. You should leave some space around the stem of the tomato. If the mulch layer is too thick it could rot and make the plant sick. You can spread some not entirely rotted compost around the plant. Work the compost into the soil to improve the nutrient supply and loosen the soil. You can also incorporate some organic material, such as manure or horn shavings.
Stinging nettles, which are usually weeded anyway, are very suitable for mulching. You can either spread whole plants on the topsoil or shred them to make them easier to digest for the soil organisms. As the nettles are gradually decomposed, nitrogen, which boosts the growth of tomatoes, is released. However, you should pass on acidic bark mulch for mulching your tomatoes.
The mulch layer influences the growth of tomato plants in three ways. First of all, less water evaporates, which keeps the soil evenly moist. Stress caused by dryness leads to a smaller harvest. Moreover, mulch can store heat during the day and release it during the night. Lastly, mulch supports the even and natural supply of nutrients which, and if combined with a predominantly organic long-term fertiliser, can ensure a rich tomato harvest.
Fertilising tomatoes during the growth period
A balanced fertilisation is also important for the cultivation of tomatoes. On the one hand, too little fertiliser will lead to a low yield. On the other hand, if you use too much fertiliser, the plants will become more susceptible to diseases and will produce fruits that are less rich in flavour. For this reason, you should use a predominantly organic long-term fertilisers. If you are cultivating your tomatoes in pots, you can also use an organic liquid fertiliser, which you can apply through the irrigation water. This way, you can take preventive measures against deficiency symptoms, such as the leaves turning yellow due to a nitrogen deficiency. If there already is a nutrient deficiency, the organic liquid fertiliser acts especially quickly to replenish the plant.