Take a large plastic bottle – cut off the bottom end about a half-inch from the bottom.
Take the screw-cap top off and with a hot needle, poke a hole in the top. Note that a drill is usually too large.
Put the top back on the bottomless bottle – and dig a hole about 8-inches deep right beside your tomato plant.
Set the bottle into the hole – pierced cap end down. Backfill it and fill the bottle with water through the cut-off bottom end.
The pierced cap will slowly leak the water into the soil and will provide a few hours of regular deep watering. If they leak out (emptying the bottle) within an hour, the hole is too large. You want a steady and very tiny trickle of water.
The trick is to make one of these bottle waterers for each tomato in your home patch and fill them up once a day. This will keep the ground uniformly moist (but not soggy) and will allow the tomato plant adequate moisture.
There are quite a few drip irrigation systems on the market, and here are a few things you really want to think about.
If you have a well? Get a filter at the beginning of your system if you live in the country. You’ll be surprised how much “small sediment” can quickly clog up a drip system.
That’s assuming you’re using a by-pass so you don’t filter garden water. If you’re taking it after the filter, you’ll find your filters will clog much faster.
Distance Apart for Tubes
Drip irrigation usually only covers about a foot or so on either side of the hose. This means if you have a 4-foot wide bed, you’ll need two runs (down and back) to properly irrigate. A single run will not provide enough water.
It’s far better to have the hoses closer than too far apart – so if you have to err, do it on the side of close.
Drip irrigation systems are also quite useful in creating an excellent soil moisture level without losing much water to evaporation. The only problem with them is they do tend to clog up and you’ll have to check them out daily or your plants will quickly suffer.
A drip irrigation system flow rate can be calculated by knowing the flow rate of each emitter and then counting the emitters. Or, by immersing the entire system into a 5-gallon bucket and timing how long it takes to fill up the bucket.
If you use overhead irrigation nozzles, water in the early morning so the sunshine has a chance to dry out the leaves. Watering in the evening will bring on fungal problems as the leaves will stay wet all night. (remember that damp and dark create homes for fungus to grow)
And no, watering during the day doesn’t “burn” the leaves. That’s an old wives’ tale.
And definitely, use a form of rain gauge to figure out how long to run the irrigation system. A rain gauge will work quite nicely to tell you how many inches of water you can apply with your irrigation system in an hour. Most gardens do nicely with approximately 1 ½ inches of water per week.
If your hose puts out 1 inch of water in an hour – you need to put 1 ½ hours of water onto your plants. Split this amount into two ¾ hour segments equally spaced over the week (say on a Tuesday and Friday – or Saturday and Wednesday)
Rather than purchasing an expensive rain gauge, I use an old yogurt tub and mark (using a permanent magic marker) every half-inch up the container for a few inches. When I start the sprinkler, I time how long it takes to put a half-inch of water into the container. And that’s my base time. Double that time for an inch of water etc.
Hand-watering The Garden
The last resort but a relaxing one is to hand-water your plants. I say last resort because hand watering is usually not as consistent as a sprinkler or drip system. You tend to water more at the beginning and less as you get closer to finishing. You tend to overwater some plants and underwater others.
Having run a nursery with many different workers doing the watering, I can tell you that these variations do make a difference when spread out over a growing season. I use sprinklers in my gardens (I’m also a lazy gardener who wants super yields too).
However you do it – do not let your plants wilt or suffer from moisture stress if you want a good garden.
There is a very simple rule when it comes to applying water to container garden plants.
Always water so that at least 15-20 percent of the water poured in the top comes out the bottom.
Having done this, do not water again until the surface of the soil is just dry to the touch.
Until your finger comes away dry from touching the soil, the plant does not require watering.
This system of watering ensures that the entire soil ball is wet so tender young roots do not go begging for moisture. If the soil ball is wet right to the bottom of the pot, the roots too will grow to the bottom of the pot.
Deeply rooted plants are invariably healthier and better able to resist stress than are the more shallowly rooted ones. A thorough watering also ensures that all excess fertilizer salts are always being moved to the bottom and right out of the pot so as not to damage the tender young feeder roots.
“Another reason why plants kept in rooms are generally unhealthy, is, that they are watered in a very irregular manner.” Ladies Companion to the Flower Garden 1858
When Your Container Goes Bone Dry Because You Forgot To Water
Should the soilless mix dry right out, it will pull away from the sides of the pot as it shrinks. This will allow the water to run quickly and easily down between the pot wall and the soil ball. This, of course, isn’t doing any good to the plant in the process.
The remedy with these types of shrinking soils is to sit the pot in a tub or pail of water for at least an hour to allow the soil ball to absorb all the water it can handle and expand again.
If the container is too large to move into a tub, then very slow and often-repeated waterings will accomplish the same thing. I have often had to trickle water over some of the larger containers three or four times, with a half-hour between waterings, to convince them to rehydrate and soak up moisture.
“A great many ladies kill their plants by extreme kindness; that is, they keep on feeding them until the plants get too much water, when the roots rot and the plants die.”
Heinrich The Window Flower Garden 1887
The secret to this container watering, whether it be inside or outside potted plants, is to learn restraint.
If you touch the soil and your finger comes away damp, then do not add more water. Too much water will kill a plant almost as fast as will too little. If your finger comes away dry – then and only then do you water.
Mr. Heinrich did not mean to be particularly sexist when he refers to the ladies killing their plants by “extreme kindness”. The fact is that at the time of writing, maintaining the container gardens was very much a proper ladies form of gardening.
Women, at least those who would purchase and read a book on container gardening, did not work out in the fields. They gardened on a more refined scale in a container garden.