Check out that gorgeous tomato plant!  Just two short weeks ago, this little one was newly transplanted, with just a couple of leaves sticking out of the ground.  Today, it is standing tall and strong, with roots as deep as it is tall, and it has me thinking that it’s probably time to dig out the tomato cages and stakes this weekend.  With a weather pattern that hasn’t given us with more than one or two dry days at a time, getting these first few tomatoes in my raised beds off and running was a piece of cake this year – with exactly the kind of even, consistent moisture that they need (and really good soil in the raised beds), I haven’t had to water them since the night I transplanted them.

The tomatoes at the community garden are a different story.

The community garden is tough for a number of reasons:  The soil is pretty sandy and not very rich, so it retains very little moisture after a good watering or rainfall.  Add to that the fact that the community garden has full sun exposure and no neighborhood buildings or trees in close proximity to block the wind, so what little moisture is able to stick around, quickly evaporates on a sunny or windy day.  Last summer’s extremely hot weather and  lack of significant rainfall from July onward only added to the challenge, so for this year’s garden I wanted to come up with something that would help get the water down a little deeper, where the roots would be able to use it more efficiently and it wouldn’t be largely lost through evaporation.

I started with two 3″x10′ sections of perforated drain tile, which I was able to pick up at the local big box home improvement store for $3.05 a piece (the drain tile curls up, so they were easy fit into the back seat of our little car).

Finding perforated tile (rather than the solid style) was the primary objective, as those little slits all around and along the tubing are going to be the key for a good deep, slow watering.  If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the thin slits that are in each grove all the way around the tubing (look right where the shadow begins towards the bottom).

Using a tape measure and a utility knife, I cut the tile into 1′ long pieces, which is about how deep each of my tomato plants were going to be transplanted (it was a looong, cold spring).  It was quite easy to cut and didn’t take long at all to work my way through both sections of tile.

I ended up with 20 pieces (one for every two tomatoes in the community garden plot).

When it came time to transplant the tomatoes, I first spaced out the plants for the first row (one plant every 2′), and then went through and spaced out one section of drain tile between every two tomato plants (centered 1′ from the plant on either side) before I started digging.

Each tomato plant was transplanted as deeply as possible, removing all leaves except the top two pairs, which were left at ground level while the remaining stem was buried below the surface.  Most of the tomatoes were planted 8-12″ deep, which meant I spent a lot of time digging big deep holes, but the trade off is I’m going to have a nice, deep root system, which will also help with keeping the plants evenly watered.

When I would come to the place where a piece of the tile was to go, I would again dig another deep hole about 10″ deep or so.  I let the piece of tile stick up above the surface of the soil a couple of inches to prevent the soil from washing down into and filling up the inside of the tile during a heavy rain.

With the piece of drain tile in place, I started to fill the dirt back in around the tile on all sides, taking care not to get any dirt inside the tube.

The end result is a 3″ wide wells that will bring the water much deeper than I could ever get it by just watering on the surface.  Each well holds just a little over a gallon of water, and as that water soaks in, it is not only slowly draining out the bottom of the tile, it is seeping out of the slits along the side of the tile as well, providing moisture to the soil all along those deep roots.

And so I worked my way through 4 rows (40 tomato plants) with a water well between every two tomatoes (for reference – and a better idea of the big picture – they are the black dots in the tomato rows in the garden layout).  It definitely was a time and energy intensive project, but hopefully it will be well worth it in the end.

Utilizing this kind of deep watering will be beneficial in keeping the tomatoes evenly watered, and hopefully will lessen the occurrence of blossom end rot (something paste tomatoes are especially susceptible to).  It should also simply improve the overall health and productivity of the tomato plants, and in theory, it will become even more efficient over time as I work to build this soil up. If I have good success with this method this year, I may go as far as putting one in between each plant next year, but this is a good start to see if it makes a noticeable difference.  If nothing else, it’s been a great conversation starter out at the community garden!


Update: This post has received a lot of traffic lately, so for those of you wondering how it worked, it was very successful.  I observed significantly less blossom end rot in the paste tomatoes (what did occur was contained to just a couple of varieties and only occurred after periods of particularly wet weather), and I was able to cut my watering time in half (from watering the tomato plants every day to every other day), making the return on this minimal investment pretty significant.   I will definitely continue to use this method for my tomato plants going forward.

20 Responses to Deep Watering for Tomato Plants

  1. Stephanie L says:

    Thanks for linking back to this post as I plan my garden – I think I am going to try this trick this year! We have very very well-drained soil, and BER is always a problem for me in my paste tomatoes, often for my slicers as well. I’m also planning to add some more compost – hopefully more organic matter will hold more moisture.

    • Maria says:

      You are most welcome! The deep watering helped my tomato plants tremendously last year. The addition of more organic material should definitely make a difference, too. Have you also tried adding additional calcium when you transplant your tomatoes to help with BER? I throw in a handful of ground egg shells when I transplant my tomatoes.

      • Mark says:

        Thanks to _?_ exactly for this writeup and graphics.

        This is my 4th year with tomatoes. I had heard of burying a “can” with holes, am planning to try plastic coffee containers with 1/4 inch holes at about 70 ounces of water each. I see I should bury the containers about as deep as I can, which is what I was wondering.

  2. Stephanie L says:

    Yes, in the past I’ve used a commercial tomato fertilizer with calcium when I plant and also side-dress mid-season – I’ll have to try egg shells, that would certainly be more economical!

    • Maria says:

      Sounds like a great strategy! Good luck!

      • Jenny says:

        Ok, so when you use eggshells, do you literally just toss the crushed shells into the hole you’ve dug and then put the tomato transplant on top? A few years back, my dad used chicken manure in his garden, but being the city guy he is, he just put the manure directly into the holes with the plants on top. You can probably guess what happened to the plants! So now I’m super nervous about adding anything to my plants, even if I ‘know’ I’m doing it ‘right’. Even side-dressing makes me stressed- I’ve read things about stirring something into the soil with a fork, but making sure it doesn’t touch the leaves at all, and then be careful with the watering… I’m so confused by it all! :)

        • Maria says:

          Yep, that’s exactly what I do :) The crushed egg shells will release their nutrients slowly enough that you don’t have to worry about it burning your tender plants!

  3. […] Get creative in your gardening efforts this year with a few simple garden hacks.  Make your own newspaper starter pots, re-purpose a gutter as a garden, or deep water your tomatoes with drain tile. […]

  4. Katie says:

    I love this idea! I am thinking about doing something similar with my squash plants but hadn’t thought about the tomatoes. I was just wondering when you water do you only put water into the pipe/perforated drain tile? Thanks!

    • Maria says:

      Hi Katie, yes I typically only water through the drain tile. The exceptions are when the tomatoes are first transplanted out in the garden and on occasion when we have a stretch of hot/dry weather, and then I’ll water a bit at the base of the plant as well.

  5. Eyyupk says:

    Thank you
    I’m so sorry I’m not much for the link to the broadcast, please accept my apology

    • Maria says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you found this post helpful and I really appreciate you providing a link back to this post. Happy tomato growing!

      • Eyyupk says:

        For a certain period of time to your website by posting ads on my site I want to redeem myself to respect and love

        • Sunnynwarmer says:

          I have clay soil, with a lot of compost and gardening soil added each year.
          I fertilize with a fish-based liquid. Will the deep-root watering be too much with the clay soil?
          Thank you!

          • Maria says:

            Great question! There are a lot of variables that could make a difference, but overall I think it could work as long as you are careful with how much and how often you water. One advantage to using the deep watering method in clay soil would be the ability to look down the drain tile and observe how long it takes for the water to drain out – in that regard it could be a useful tool to prevent over-watering. If you do try it out, let me know how it works for you!

        • Maria says:

          Thank you, that is very sweet of you! :) No hard feelings at all – your site has some great information!

  6. Dale Chapman says:

    I am getting hits on my tomato plants that look like something is chewing the skins off.
    Looking for recommendation i.e. Seven dust??? Should I put this on green tomatoes and plants??

    Any response will be helpful. Can send picture.


    • Maria says:

      Hi Dale, How frustrating! The challenge of using any kind of pesticide, even the organic alternatives to sevin, is that they don’t discriminate between the pest and the beneficial insects (bees, ladybugs, etc.) in the garden. That said, I also get that sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get a harvest. The first step would be to see if you can figure out what you are dealing with, as that will determine what course of action will be most effective. For example, insecticidal soap tends to be most effective on soft bodied pests, while dichotomous earth is more effective on pests with exoskeletons. If you would like to send me a photo, I can see if I can help you get to the bottom of it. You can email me at sweetdomesticity[at]gmail[dot]com Good luck!

  7. Sophie says:

    I love this information. Thank you for sharing! I did my first raised garden beds this year. They’re 5’x8′ and 24″ tall filled with trimix (top soil, compost, manure). My soil is so light and not-compact, I worry that filling the drain tile with water will just allow the water to drain quickly straight out the bottom. Is this something I should be worried about? Or will the water still get through the slits in the tubing well enough?

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