University of California
UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County
Growing Tomatoes with Less Water
Growing tomatoes during times of drought in Sonoma County may seem to be counterintuitive, but with careful selection, gardeners can treat tomatoes as water camels and not water hogs. Even the thirstiest tomato plant requires only one to two gallons of water per week.
Purchase drought-resistant varieties
- These include ‘Stone,’ ‘Caro Rich,’ ‘Pearson,’ ‘Yellow Pear,’ ‘Pineapple,’ ‘Amish Paste,’ and ‘Stupice.’
- Some varieties may be ordered online but difficult to find from sources in Sonoma County.
- Days to maturity. The earlier a plant yields ripe fruit after planting, the less water it requires. Consult seed packets for details on estimated days to maturity.
- Determinate vs. indeterminate varieties. Determinate tomatoes do not grow more than 3 ft. high and typically yield early tomatoes. Irrigation may be cut back or even eliminated after blossoming. The fruit will be extra sweet when produced on a low-water diet. Indeterminate vines continue growing until cold weather stops them.
- Cherry tomatoes. Growers in the Israeli deserts have found that cherry tomatoes thrive and become even more delicious when they are not over-irrigated.
- The new “blue tomatoes.” Varieties with unusual blue color that comes from the pigment anthocyanin blocks the sun, protects the fruit, and may result in lower need for irrigation.
- Tomatoes grown with dry farming. In years with sufficient winter rains—about 20 in. when soil retains sufficient moisture—some tomatoes are able to withstand the stress of surface water being reduced or eliminated after they are planted in very deep holes. ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Red’ and ‘Yellow Brandywine,’ ‘Sun Gold,’ ‘Sweet 100’s,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ and ‘Chianti Rose’ have proven successful for some Bay Area gardeners when dry farmed.
Point of View
- Keep in mind that the largest tomato probably is not the best tomato to grow during a drought. Taste and quality are more important than size.
- Consult experienced Master Gardener tomato growers at the annual spring Harvest for the Hungry Garden plant sale. These experts can help you determine how many plants you need and how to conserve water while growing them.
- Acknowledge that growing a tomato in Sonoma County takes less water than growing and transporting a tomato from elsewhere. Homegrown tomatoes are not a luxury.
- Understand that one of the biggest problems home gardeners experience with many plants, including tomatoes, is overwatering.
- Harvest for the Hungry
- How to Dry Farm Tomatoes (Contra Costa County)
- Dry farmed tomatoes (Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems)