Growing up my father could grow tomato plants without so much as a thought. He’d put the plants he’d bought at the local greenhouse in the ground and several months later he’d have tons of beautiful red tomatoes. Occasionally he’d weed, once in a while he’d water, and on the rarest of occasion he’d prune, but for the most part it was ‘Plant It and Forget It.’
Is that the trick? Is that what it takes to grow beautiful, hearty tomato plants? Please, somebody tell me because from Day 1 I have been struggling to keep my tomato plants alive. I’ve failed miserably, picked up the pieces, started over, and stumbled my way to nearly making it and finally when I thought the hard part was behind me, I wake up one morning and find my plants looking like this:
Research has told me that this is tomato leaf curl. Of the three culprits (disease, herbicides, or environmental) the only one that fit my location and situation is environmental. Of course, this particular diagnosis doesn’t really help because the leaves are curling either because they are getting too much water or too little. This might sound easy enough to determine which one it is, but not really.
The weather here in Michigan has been utterly terrible for a would-be hands-off gardener. Although we have had tons of sun and warmth, there has been little to no rain for over a month. This means watering is my job. Now I watered my tomato plants last year and didn’t really have any issues. At least once or twice a week it would rain, and I’d just fill in by watering every once in a while. Now all the watering is up to me.
What makes this situation even more confusing is that not every plant is affected. In the main garden one or two plants have just mild curl.
On the side of the house there are 8 plants and 3 of them are so curled that it is hard to tell that they are even tomato plants at all.
Other plants that are planted in pots are hit or miss. Some of these are curling, some are fine.
To determine if I was over or under watering I read up on what is the best way to water tomato plants. According to my research if tomatoes are in pots, it is best to completely soak the soil. Watering until the water comes out the bottom of the pot and then waiting until the soil is dry about an inch down before watering again is suggested.
As for ground planted tomatoes, heavy, thorough soaking is best. If moderate or light watering is done daily or every other day, the roots will not grow deeply. Watering heavy 1 -3 times a week is better than watering light 5 -6 days.
So what had I been doing? I was watering everything light to moderately about 4 – 6 times a week. The rest of the plants in the gardens are doing well, just the tomatoes seem to be struggling.
To test the theory that heavy watering would be best I watered the ground tomatoes super heavy three days ago and have left them alone in the 90 degree, sunny weather since. Upon checking them this morning they seem to be doing okay. They aren’t any worse, which to me is success. The three plants that were severely affected by the leaf curl seem to be improving just a little, but I’m not sure if it’s just wishful thinking.
The potted plants I watered heavily and left them until the pots dried up enough so when I put my finger into the soil an inch down it was no longer wet. They have not gotten worse, but I don’t see much improvement either.
So will my plants survive? Who really knows.
Many of the plants have tiny tomatoes and most of them have flowers (less the three with severe leaf curl that are beyond recognition). Without any help from Mother Nature to feed the garden as only she can I’m struggling. Last year and the three years prior to that I never gave much thought to how I should water the garden. It rained, I watered when it didn’t, and the garden grew. Now, with no rain and all the watering left solely up to an amateur gardener, the garden might just fail miserably.
Gardening is not easy, I know that. Last year I dealt with slugs, cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles, early blight, and cabbage moths. All of these however were fairly easy fixes. Sure it took time and a little science and/or luck, but the 2015 garden was pretty much a success. I’m going to keep plugging away, watering, not watering, feeding, not feeding, until the last. I figure the worst that can happen is the tomato plants don’t survive and I have to get our tomatoes from the local farmers. Worse things have happened, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.