Grandma99
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Enough water?

I have two types of containers: 16"x16"x22" H air prune fabric pots and 2' x 3' "self-watering" plastic pots. I have indeterminate tomatoes, sweet red peppers, butternut squash in them. I am VERY new to outdoor plants.

Question: how do I know if the roots are getting enough water? I keep straw across the top. I stick my finger into soil 2-3" and it feels cool/moist. Does that mean that the roots have enough water? I use Mel's mix which is 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 peat but how do I know when to water them? I want to be sure they get enough! I am always worrying about them. :roll:

I mean ... how does soil dry out? Does the bottom dry out first or does the top?

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applestar
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Re: Enough water?

Interesting that you would ask the question in reference to these two very different containers.

- I prefer exploring with a finger as you are doing or with smaller containers and hanging baskets, heft test — feel the soil and heft weight after full soak watered and remember as baseline, then water again when moisture is not detected to the touch or weight feels light

- soil dries as water seeps down via gravity, so at basic level/concept, top would dry first as bottom would become more moist, and bottom will remain moist until the end

- However, when plants are in full growth, they will suck up all the water. If the plant is root-bound and the container is full of roots, the roots grow up the sides to the top and could turn the potting mix into dried out block. The plants will need more water as they grow and even more water when they begin to fruit and develop the green fruits.

- typically, a container with little plants just planted may need to be watered every other day
- it’s not unheard of for them to need to be watered once a day when the leaves span as wide as the containers
- and they may need to be watered 2x a day —morning and evening when fully grown and fruiting. If the container turns out to be too small for the plant or number of plants, 3rd watering may become necessary.

= BUT, air pruned fabric pots by their very design exposes all 4 sides (or cylindrical side) to air and will proceed to dry from outside-in. It will dry out faster than regular containers and much much faster than self-watering container of any kind.
— personally, I would place the air pruning fabric pot in a shallow water reservoir and keep it filled.

= what kind of self-watering pot do you have? I call the kind with wicking posts/columns of potting mix and false-bottom with holes or mesh that separates/creates air-space between the bottom of potting mix with the water reservoir is called “sub-irrigated pot/planter” or SIP. The air space insures that the constantly moist potting mix does not suffer from anaerobic (lack of air) conditions and suffocate the roots. It is essential that SIP is correctly planted.
= These containers are designed to keep the potting mix be constantly moistened and should never allow the reservoir to go dry. Wicking column will remain moist longest. Bottom would dry last.
— If the potting mix and wicking column/mechanism dries out, then the ability to wick/transfer water to the potting mix may become broken, and even if water is added to the reservoir, it will fail to be absorbed/wicked up to the potting mix. It’s essential to keep some water in the reservoir at all times.
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Grandma99
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Re: Enough water?

The 2x3 planters are Fairfield sub-irrigation. You have completely answered my questions - WOW!!! On the air pots, I also feel the sides and bottom. The sides can feel dry but the bottom always feels wet. They are sitting on wire shelves so the bottoms breathe as well.

Next year, I'll do as you say about setting them in containers so I can water from the bottom! Everyone who sees my plants which were 8" tall six weeks ago is blown away at how they've grown and the leaves have never curled. The Sun Gold and Chocolate Cherry are already almost 6' tall with baby tomatoes on them (size of cranberries) and they are covered with blossoms. I am so excited! My sweet red peppers are the size of bananas (2-3 per plant) but a bit fatter than a banana. Nothing on the squash yet but I'm training them up trellis and the leaves are already over my head! I LOVE LOVE watching them grow!

So ... can I OVERWATER? Since extra water on the Fairfield runs out holes in the side and drains freely from the air pots, can I overwater? I plan to install drip irrigation (maybe) next year too! I appreciate you so much! :D

imafan26
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Re: Enough water?

I grow indeterminate tomato (1 per pot) in 18 gallon sips with a 5 gallon reservoir and about 10 gallons of soil. The roots always end up in the reservoir by the end of the season and I fill the reservoir daily. Full grown plants will soak up about 4 gallons a day.

I don't use fabric pots. The one that I had was smaller, it dried faster and it needed to be watered a lot. It was a little cumbersome to fill and keep it standing. Air prune pots are fine if you have enough soil volume for the plant you have to keep the roots happy. I found fabric pots have even more roots on the bottom trying to get into the ground. The soil does dry out faster but the core and bottom does stay wetter longer. Since most of the growing roots are around the outer edge, it is probably contributing to somewhat shorter plants than the conventional pots that I have.

I do grow 1 indeterminate tomato in 18 gallon plastic or resin pots. I do have extra holes on the sides of the pots for drainage and they are watered daily. They do not wilt midday as long as the full grown tomatoes are watered daily and I do not get BER. These pots are on the ground and at the end of the season the roots are out of the pot and in the ground too. The roots in the ground are probably also keeping the plant from wilting midday.

I keep a lot of plants in pots long term on the ground. In reality, many of them go to ground. I can usually tell because the plants will look exceptionally large for the size of the pot and they don't wilt easily if I am half a day late watering. Even the citrus trees in the 20 gallon pots have to be moved every once in a while to keep them from sending roots into the ground and I have a few escapees.
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applestar
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Re: Enough water?

Images that came up for Fairfield don’t indicate there are aeration holes/grids in the false bottom, and with enclosed reservoir, I’m not sure if anaerobic conditions are fully prevented. Instructions also imply roots need to grow down into the channels with holes (for water entry) to access the water, rather than the potting medium actively wicking the moisture up to the roots and throughout the mix. So there is that.

Also, if by chance the drain holes get clogged/blocked, yes you CAN definitely overwater.

I’m guessing not as likely for the grow bags.
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Grandma99
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Re: Enough water?

Hey imafan26, great information! I only have a 10' by 26' foot paved patio so I've added cattle panel and am growing most things vertically but I have cherry tomatoes in the Fairfield planters. The butternut squash is growing 6" a day and is already 7' tall (baby plants 6 weeks ago) and the cherry tomatoes also are looking great so I must be giving them enough water (knock on wood).

Since this is my first ever garden, I figure ANY produce is success and, thanks to you and this forum, I may have a bounty. I love checking each morning to see what's new. What a miracle!

Applestar, I guess I'll just try to adjust to the planters; I can't afford to buy new ones. It is good to understand how they work ... I read the directions as you did and it just didn't make much sense to me either! Thank you again for all your help and I'm pinning up the watering post for future reference! :D

imafan26
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Re: Enough water?

Larger pots are always better, not only for large plants but some plant groups. Larger pots will dry out faster than a lot of smaller pots. The other advantage of having plants in pots, even large plants is that I can move the pots. I have already had to move a zucchini plant because it spreads out so far that it competes with the tomato for space. The zucchini also attracts fruit flies and white flies faster almost as fast as the hibiscus so I want to keep the bugs off the tomatoes longer.
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TomatoNut95
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Re: Enough water?

I avoid clay pots for anything except for cactus. Clay pots absorb the water from the soil and dry out faster.

Grandma99
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Re: Enough water?

TomatoNut95, thank you. I shall avoid clay pots!

Imafan26, great information! Since I'm physically restricted, I went with pots I would be able to handle (10 gallon grow bags). Also I am renting and wanted to be able to take my garden with me if I move. I also wanted to cover the side of my trailer with greenery to help keep it cool in the summer. :-)

I have also raised the air pots 8" (they are on bricks under metal shelving) so they would get better air circulation for air pruning and easier for me to reach. Unfortunately, I think I've overcrowded them (please see image). Everything is growing TOO WELL!

I'm afraid to over-water (1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat, 1/3 compost) but they are producing tons of fruit and, although the top soil stays moist, I'm afraid they need a lot of water, as Applestar explains about their roots sucking up all the water. I may switch from watering daily to twice a day. This is my first garden attempt and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed but I'm HOOKED!

added: They all also have layer of straw over them as mulch.
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TomatoNut95
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Re: Enough water?

@Grandma99, your little garden looks very good! Great job! I used growbags this year to. Five gallon sized for tomatoes. I have to water them practically everyday. I have hard-as-rock clay soil so whatever I plant has to go in a pot or my raised garden. I am so sick of spending a fortune on potting mix and garden soil.

This fall I will be doing a renovation on my raised bed. Removing all that old nasty dirt and switch to mostly organic. I know some people who I can ask if I can get buckets of their nice, soft sand. It's embarrassing to ask someone else if you can dig up their dirt, but I don't care.....I hate my clay.

Grandma99
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Re: Enough water?

I might have damaged my cherry tomatoes, TomatoNut95. :eek:

I had been reading about number one newbie mistake is overwatering. I had been watering these in the Fairfield planter daily but decided to skip a day. That next morning, I woke up to the bottom half of both plants completely wilted LIMP and their leaves curled up! I quickly watered them. I sure hope I didn't damage them.

I had also tried to cut out some of the 'suckers' as I've read I should but it was too difficult to reach inside - everything I considered cutting had baby tomatoes on them! I have bungee cords offering some support. And, on another thread, I've talked about fertilizer and I have some stakes AND pellets (organic) coming. I don't really understand how that 'self-watering' concept in these planters is supposed to work; I'm treating them like regular planters.

I thought you might like to see my first attempt at gardening (the other set of plants on my patio), attached. I did a soil test (I'm trying to learn) and it says al the planters are 7.5 so I'll be giving them a drink of epson salts to up the acidity a bit (in addition to fertilizing them as discussed in another thread). Being a plant parent is nerve-wracking! :roll: Next year, I'll put one cherry tomato in each Fairfield Planter, Imafan26!

added: the next morning after watering them, they seem fine but are they?
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TomatoNut95
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Re: Enough water?

Looks ok to me. Oh, and unless you're short on space, no need to cut off those 'suckers'. That decreases your harvest. Only cut off side-shoots if you wish to control your plants size. Besides, the less foliage your plant has, the more likely your fruits can get sunscald from too much sun exposure.

Grandma99
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Re: Enough water?

TomatoNut95 said, "the less foliage your plant has, the more likely your fruits can get sunscald from too much sun exposure." I DIDN'T KNOW THAT!! Thank you so much for the heads up!

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TomatoNut95
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Re: Enough water?

No problem. I've had my peppers do that. I have a bell pepper right now with a big brown patch on it; the fruit has no leave coverage. I'll go ahead and pick it before it worsens. It is so hot here, it's sad. And NO rain this week.

I do hope your fruits will not experience fruit split, my black cherries did that unfortunately during the, drought-then-to-much-rain time earlier. Some tomatoes are more prone to it than others I believe. My Mystery split pretty bad, whereas my Bradley did not.

Grandma99
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Re: Enough water?

The indeterminate cherry tomatoes in the black pots (2nd picture) again had their leaves go completely limp and all their branches hung down. And I had watered 24 hours before until water came out the drain holes in the bottom of the planters. So frustrating! And then I watched a video which really hit home:

https://youtu.be/qhTMUcSc8fU

The thing is ... I had purchased a moisture meter when I bought the plants but had never used it. I might be watering TOO FAST to where ALL the soil isn't getting wet but running through instead. Whatever the reason, my plants, including the ones in the fabric 10-gallon pots need to be watered daily and temperatures are mid- to high-80's F (they are in full sun 6-7 hours a day).

I'm pulling out my moisture meter in the morning. Fingers aren't accurate. I was SHOCKED at how deep tomato roots can go! :-)

ADDED: I have been drawing up design and learning drip irrigation and soakers. Once I get those in place, I'll still test with meter to see if it is moist clear to the bottom of the planters in several places. And I too will keep my fingers in my pocket!

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TomatoNut95
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Re: Enough water?

Tomato roots do go very deep, which I do believe five-gallon containers aren't big enough. However, it's all I had this year. And filling up containers is too expensive for me. @Grandma99, maybe you could try growing Tiny Tim tomato. Very short plants at only a foot tall! The cherry sized red fruits are great tasting! And no big pots for this one, but it will need a type of support as they get top heavy, at least mine does. I have to lean it against something.

Grandma99
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Re: Enough water?

I actually have them on my list for next year. :)

Many grow indeterminate in 10 gallon pots and planters my size but most that I've seen use single stalk method. I didn't know about that technique when I started and mine are supporting a LOT of foliage which surely requires far more water. They are laden with fruit which is also beginning to ripen.

I'm also wondering if the mix dried out and is now having trouble getting wet again, since it is 1/3 peat moss and it DID dry out before. I read that, once it dries out, it can be difficult to get to completely wet again so I plan to water, wait 30 minutes then water again and maybe even once more just to be sure the peat is completely wet. I also wonder if there simply isn't that much soil left to even hold the water or whether the roots are filling the pots. Also, my mulch is breaking down and I need to add another layer - the soil is beginning to show through so it is drying faster (from my understanding).

Heck, I don't even mind watering twice a day if eventually needed - I just don't want the major wilt and then watering which, from what I've been reading, causes splitting. Thank you for the reminder about the dwarfs - good to know Tiny Tim is a good variety; I had it on my list!

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TomatoNut95
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Re: Enough water?

Peat moss is terrible. You are 100% correct- it dries out quick. I was a dummy and made the mistake of putting some in my raised garden, which I believe contributes to the soil drying out and being hard as rock.

That's great about the Tiny Tim! It is a great little plant! Oh, and if you ever consider trying Micro Tom(the six inch tomato plant) I don't really recommend growing it to eat unless you don't mind eating bitter fruit. I tried that variety this year, and was quite disappointed in the fruit flavor. Strong, but slightly bittery. Tiny Tim is totally WAY better! I can't remember if I put that one on my thread or not if you want to see it. TomatoNuts Tomatoes and Peppers under the Tomato Progress forum spot.

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applestar
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Re: Enough water?

If I have UNDER potted and I can’t repot the plant because the upper growth is too much to manage or I don’t want to disturb the fruiting plant, what I sometimes do if the planter is expendable is to cut off and remove or break the attachment between the base and the side or drill a bunch of holes in the bottom if I can, then ease a 2nd planter of fresh potting mix UNDER the potted plant (usually need a 2nd person).
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Grandma99
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Re: Enough water?

Thank you! That is good to know and might have worked for the 10-gallon grow bags but not the Fairfield 2'x3' black plastic planters holding the indeterminate cherry tomatoes sitting on cement patio. However, I will certainly keep that technique in mind for future needs! Thanks again, Applestar! :D

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