How to Grow Tomatoes During a Drought

Watering is critical to the development of nearly all tomatoes. Standard tomatoes require about an inch of water weekly slightly more in sandy soils. In desserts, high heat regions and areas under the thumb of the drought conditions, this is not really all that feasible.

Tomatoes that will mature early are one option, short season tomatoes that can be harvested before the bleakest dog days of the summer heat have a full opportunity to scorch them into oblivion. 70 days maturity at most.

Early Maturing and Drought Resistant Tomatoes

  • Early Girl Tomato an indeterminate hybrid matures in 50-52 days.
  • Juliet Tomato, a hybrid determinate grows in clusters and Matures in about 60 Days
  • Celebrity Tomato Hybrid, determinate, 70 days
  • Sweet 100 Tomato Hybrid, indeterminate cherry 65 days
  • Chocolate Cherry Tomato Matures in 70 Days. The darker pigmentation blocks many of the suns harmful rays thus reducing the need for water and blocking sun scald.
  • Burbank Slicing Tomato. Heirloom, determinate, 70 days
  • Garden Peach Tomato matures in 70 – 80 days from transplant. Its light pigmentation is a negative in dealing with overbearing sun light but it will tolerate partial shade which tends to neutralize the intense sunlight factor.

The best of the pack is the Porter tomato developed by a Texan named V. O. Porter, to endure the brutal heat and humidity that Texas is known for. Porter tomatoes are drought hardy and crack resistant. They produce a fair yield of small ping pong size meaty tomatoes.

The biggest drawback to Porter tomatoes is the flavor. Under the best of conditions Porter tomatoes are juicy, sweet and succulent. Under the worst conditions – worst being a complete drought, arid, hot and dry they survive just as they are programmed to, and their seeds survive as well, but the flavor takes a nose dive. They can at times be very acidic and grainy.

Other tomatoes that are drought resistant to varying degrees include Pearson, Amish Paste and pineapple tomato. Blue tomatoes are less likely to crack and split and will resist sunscald. The blue hue blocks many of the sun’s harmful rays thus reducing the need for water.

Larger tomatoes are not always the best choice in a drought. Smaller varieties such as currant, cherry and plum will use less resources and produce better.

Disease resistance is another, although less significant factor to consider. Many blights are more prevalent early in the season or in higher heat.

Tips and Techniques

There are several fairly easy tactics to help tomato plants prosper so long as you plan it out in advance:

Prepare your beds by adding large amounts of organic material and compost several inches deep. Work it into the soil well, it will help supply much needed nutrients to the plants as well as enhance the moisture retention quality of the soil

Add another 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch around the base of plants to help with moisture retention.

Trim the lower leaves off your tomato plant before planting and when you place the plant in the hole cover the spots with soil where the leaves had been. Roots will develop from these “scars”.

It is believed – although not proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, that adding aspirin to the water when you plant tomatoes will enhance their ability to cope with drought as well as disease resistance. “The basic premise is that salicylic acid (the original active ingredient in aspirin) triggers plants to activate their version of an immune system, leading to an improved ability to fight off disease and fend off stresses like drought or cold.”

Dusting the roots with mycorrhizae is another well advised option when planting. Mycorrhizae are a naturally occurring beneficial fungi that attach themselves to plant roots creating a symbiotic relationship.

Mychorizae penetrate the root systems of most plants in nature. They are helpful in providing improved uptake of water and nutrients from the soil.

They help protect the roots from harmful pathogens and disease and help to reduce the effects of mineral build up on plants.

Trichoderma is another beneficial fungus that colonizes root systems. They prevent harmful fungi from entering the same root system, stimulate root development, and improve the plant’s adaptability to environmental stress.

Dry farming is a technique which can help reduce water usage when need be. Water your tomatoes as you normally would when they are young. Once the fruits set stop watering them completely. You’ll end up withe smaller tomatoes with an intense flavor. This tactic does not work well under extreme heat conditions – extended dry periods above 90 F.

Silicon is proven to enhance drought and heat tolerance in plants. No – I am not talking about putting silicone caulk on your plants! Silicon is a very abundant natural element that is present in all soil, in fact it comprises nearly 1/4 of the Earth’s Crust.

It strengthens the cellular walls, improving the plants tissue strength, overall health, vitality and productivity and is advantageous to drought tolerance in plants. It can be applied as foliar spray or as a soil addendum. See – Silicon for Drought Gardening