How to Save Your Tomato Plants From the Summer Heat


By Suzy T

Tomatoes are easy to grow making them very popular with home gardeners. They are a sturdy crop and can withstand fluctuations in weather conditions but when prolonged summer heat hits, it not only stresses people and power grids, it also causes problems for your tomato plants. If you plan ahead and follow these important tips, you and your tomato plants can weather the next heat wave without wilting in the sun.

Tomatoes thrive in warm, sunny weather but even the strongest tomato plant can be stressed if the temperature hovers above 90 degrees for too long. Several tomato plant problems become much more common in hot weather including blossom end rot, splitting, cracking and spider mites.

Blossom end rot begins as a light-colored area on the blossom end of the fruit which grows and darkens as the tomato ripens. Chemically, blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium which enters the plant with water through the roots. If the roots are dry, water and calcium can't enter the plant.

Splitting and cracking develop in the skin of the tomato, usually after the tomato has grown to full size and is nearly ripe. It is caused by a sudden surge in growth and then a sudden lack of moisture. A prolonged moist period, perhaps from a stretch of rainy weather or excessive watering, will cause the plant and tomatoes to grow rapidly. When a heat wave hits and that abundant moisture is no longer available, the tomatoes develop cracks.

Spider mites love tomato plants and heat. They attack the plant leaves resulting in a random yellow, web-like pattern on the leaves. A garden dust will usually control them. A steady supply of moisture will usually keep them away.

The common denominator to these problems is lack of available moisture.

So how much water does a tomato plant need? A mature tomato plant requires at least one inch of water per week. That translates into about three to five gallons per plant. This is a total amount which should include water you provide AND any rain Mother Nature supplies. A simple rain gauge from your local garden supply store can help you measure both of these amounts.

The best way to give the plants your share of the water is a slow, steady application to the roots at least once per week. Drip irrigation directly to the soil using a soaker hose is ideal. Pouring a 5 gallon bucket of water at the base of each plant is not recommended. Maintaining a layer of at least 4 inches of mulch at the base of the plant will help retain the moisture in the soil and prevent the tomato plant roots from drying out.

In very hot weather, when the temperature regularly reaches above 95 degrees, especially if the humidity is low, the plant will need more water. Watering every 3 to 4 days is a good idea instead of just once per week. The objective is to keep a regular supply of moisture in the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches. The soil should be moist but not wet. Avoid overwatering. It will not do your tomato plants any good. Soil moisture meters are available from your local garden supply store to assist you with this. A metal probe is inserted into the soil and the meter will tell you how wet or dry the soil is.

It is also important to remember that the best time to water is early in the morning. If you water during the day, the summer sun will evaporate a lot of the water you apply. If you water later in the evening, the tomato plants will be wet overnight, greatly increasing the chance of fungus to develop.

Providing enough water to the part of your tomato plants underground will help the part of the plant above the ground survive the worst of summer heat.

Visit the author's free, illustrated reference, 10 Common Tomato Plant Problems, for more detailed information about growing tomatoes.

Suzy T is a mom of three from New Jersey (yes, the Garden State!) and is an avid gardener. Growing "Jersey" tomatoes, in particular, is one of her favorite summertime hobbies. Please visit Suzy's Garden for more great information and articles about everything related to gardening, crafts, cooking and more.

Besides being a full-time mom and gardener, Suzy is also a teacher's aide in a special needs class, a great shopper and part-time writer. She is also an advocate for the rights and needs of disabled children.

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