I like to grow tomato plants in my container garden but they do need a lot of water to grow well. I wanted to go on vacation so I researched how long the tomato plants can survive without water.
Tomato plants can go without water for 36 hours when planted in a container or garden soil. You want to avoid doing this because it causes stress to the plant which affects its growth. You can use a self-watering container or drip-irrigation system to prevent this problem.
Like most fruiting plants, tomatoes need a lot of water to thrive. They’re not very drought tolerant, so regular watering is a must.
This post will help you understand how often your tomato plants need water and how you can water them in the best way possible.
How Long Can Tomato Plants Go Without Water?
Generally, tomato plants require one to two inches of water every week. Consistency is key when attempting to keep these plants healthy.
For some plants, you can provide a healthy drink to meet its weekly requirements if you’re going away for a few days.
That’s not the case with tomatoes. You see, these plants are sensitive to over-watering, too.
Providing too much water at once can lead to a host of issues. Over-watering could lead to fungal problems and diseases like blossom end rot.
The trick is to water tomato plants consistently throughout the week. So, what does that mean if you’re not able to water them regularly?
Well, tomatoes can still survive a bit when they’re thirsty. Like all plants, tomatoes will store some moisture in their cells. How long those reserves will last depends on a few different factors.
Containers vs Garden Planting
Plants grown in containers tend to be a bit more flexible than those grown in the soil. That’s because you can invest in self-watering pots.
A self-watering pot has a reservoir that keeps the soil moist. As a result, the tomato plant can still access the moisture it needs without direct watering.
Another big perk of containers is that you can move them to reduce water evaporation. More on that in a bit.
Generally, potted plants will start getting into trouble once they pass 36 hours without water That’s with a standard container. If you use a self-watering container or provide some deep hydration before you leave, the plant may survive for three to seven days.
Now, plants in the garden are a different story. You will need to water the plant a couple of times a week to prevent the soil from drying out. Chances are, your garden soil has continual exposure to sunlight.
As a result, moisture will evaporate quicker, depriving the tomato plant of water. It’s best to not go more than 36 hours without watering your tomatoes. If you’re unable to do that, consider utilizing drip irrigation to keep the soil hydrated.
Another thing to consider is sun exposure. Plants in direct sunlight are going to need more frequent waterings than those in the shade.
Direct sunlight evaporates water, leaving behind dry soil. Whether the plant is in a container or your garden, don’t let it go without water for more than four days if the plant receives a lot of sunlight.
The plant will start experiencing stress after 36 hours. By the four-day mark, it will be dead.
Finally, there’s the condition of the soil. Some soil mixtures have a higher retention capacity. That means that the soil does a better job of holding onto moisture.
Soils with some clay content are most effective. Meanwhile, sandy mixes tend to evaporate quicker.
After a slow and steady rain, traditional loam soils in gardens can hold water up to 14 days! If the rain occurred over the course of a day, your tomato plants can easily survive 10 to 14 days without water.
However, sandy soils will dry up in as little as two days, leaving you with thirsty plants!
How Do You Know When Tomatoes Need Water?
There’s no hard and fast rule about how long tomatoes can go without water. Far too many variables come into play.
To be successful in your gardening endeavors, you must be able to read your plants. Knowing how to identify signs of thirst can help you strike the right balance and avoid over-watering or under-watering.
Here are some ways to tell that your plants need more water.
The easiest way to monitor hydration is by checking the soil. Tomato plants have roots that run about two feet into the ground. Thus, your soil needs to soak that water in for proper hydration.
If the soil is dry and cracked on the surface, there’s a good chance that the roots of the plant are parched.
Feel the soil with your hand. Ideally, the soil should be loose and easy to move. Compacted soil that’s brittle to the touch is a big red flag. You need to act fast to save your plant.
Stem and Leaf Condition
Next, you’ll want to take a look at the leaves and stems. Pay close attention to color and texture.
Healthy tomato plants will have firm stems that are green and smooth. Tomato stems are naturally weak. They can also get pretty leggy depending on sun exposure. Despite those issues, the plant will remain green and healthy.
If they are discolored or brittle, it means that your plant isn’t getting enough water.
Quality of Fruits
The tomato fruit is about 95 percent water. When the plant isn’t getting enough moisture, it will leach off the fruits. This results in a wrinkly and shriveled appearance.
Ideally, the fruit should be plump and smooth to the touch. When it’s not, give your plants a drink!
When is the Best Time to Water Tomato Plants?
Using the tips from the previous section, you can get a better understanding of when your plants need a boost of hydration. But when should you water them?
As mentioned earlier, tomato plants need one to two inches of water a week. You should spread this requirement out throughout the week through daily waterings.
In some cases, you might even have to water your plants twice a day!
The best time of day to water your plants is at dawn. This is when your plant is most receptive to water. It gives the plant ample time to absorb the moisture and start the photosynthesis process.
Watering at night is not recommended. The water will not have a chance to evaporate, which leaves the plant water-logged. This could increase the plant’s chances of experiencing disease or pest infestation.
Sometime in the afternoon, check the moisture levels of the soils. In the height of summer, it’s not uncommon for the water to evaporate so quickly that the plant can’t take advantage of it.
In this case, you may want to consider a second watering. Keep this watering light. Remember, you don’t want the water to sit overnight and cause trouble.
If the moisture content is fine in the afternoon, you might be able to reduce the frequency of your waterings. In moderate climates, you can water your plants once every two or three days.
Always check the soil before you water the plants to make sure that you’re not over-watering.
What is the Best Way to Water Tomatoes?
How you water your plant matters just as much as how often you do it. These plants are sensitive to moisture conditions, so you need to do things just right to see the best results.
Slow and Deep Waterings
The trick to keeping tomato plants healthy is to water them slowly and deeply. What this means is that you’re gently providing a lot of water.
Instead of showering the plant with your hose, take things a bit slower. The goal here is to allow the water to soak deep into the soil where the roots of the plants can access them.
Using a hand pail or slow-flow hose, water the plant at the base. Avoid pouring water on the foliage. Watering the leaves can cause fungal diseases.
Take your time and allow the water to fully soak into the soil. Don’t let the water pool.
If you have a lot of tomato plants, it may be worth trying drip irrigation. Drip irrigation techniques have a lot of benefits.
For one, it waters the plant very slowly. You don’t have to worry about over-watering or unnecessary pooling.
Secondly, it keeps the soil moist throughout the day. Drip irrigation systems provide a constant supply of water to make up for evaporation. yet, it’s not enough to bog down the plant.
Ultimately, drip irrigation lets the plant drink slowly during prime growing hours.
There are a few ways to set up a drip irrigation system. The easiest is with a soaker hose. Just position the hose at the base of your plants and turn the faucet on. The hose does all the hard work.
Alternatively, you can use a PVC drain pipe. Best for multi-season gardens, the pipe will hold up well to the elements while still providing the same results as a soaker hose.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.