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Drippers and Sprinklers and Hoses, Oh My!

Learn more about what irrigation tools will work best for your landscape beds.

Learn more about what irrigation tools will work best for your landscape beds. 

You’ve planted your garden and you know you or Mother Nature needs to apply about an inch of water each week (for more on how often and when to water read “Is it Going to Rain?”)  Now how exactly are you going to do that without spending hours holding a garden hose?  There are many ways to irrigate.  Sprinklers, drippers, and soaker hoses are probably the most commonly used tools.

Irrigation tools have changed, adapting to today’s garden and gardener.  The result is watering has gotten a lot easier.  I will discuss a number of different types of watering devices, not slighting any that are not mentioned, but rather focusing on my experience and ease of use.  There are two different approaches to watering a garden, permanent equipment and portable equipment. 

A permanent irrigation system is normally in the ground and often is set up along with a lawn sprinkler system.  The system is set up with a timer and irrigation zones and for the most part is maintenance free; out of sight, out of mind.  This type of system takes the least input from you (once it is set up) but is also the most expensive to install. 

It is important to note that watering a flowering garden is different than watering your lawn.  If your system is an in-ground, pop-up sprinkler system, try and get control of the frequency and duration of water application for your garden.  To do this set your garden beds on a different zone or zones from your lawn zone(s).  Ladies you may have to fight your guy for control of your zones but your garden beds do need a different schedule than your lawn.  Remember, one inch of water slowly applied each week is the rule of thumb.  Rather than water daily for 10 to 15 minutes, just wetting the surface of the soil, it is far better to turn your gardening water zones on twice a week and water for an hour and then leave them off the rest of the week. 

This type of irrigation requires separate fertilizer applications since the irrigation system is usually a closed system (meaning that there is no way to inject fertilizer into your irrigation lines.)  Dry granular fertilizer should be applied at the time of soil preparation, slow release or timed release fertilizer should be applied at time of planting (in hole and around the plant) and water soluble fertilizer applications should be applied regularly throughout the growing season.  For more on fertilizing read “Feed Me, Seymour.”  A permanent irrigation system with regular fertilizer applications is a great way to garden.

Newer systems for applying water in a flower bed using smaller volumes of water are coming on the market every day.  In fact Proven Winners is marketing a very adaptable low volume irrigational system that works as well for flower bed as it does for hanging baskets and upright patio containers.  This system called WaterWise is designed with the gardener and the environment in mind; it uses very low volumes of water with a system of ‘drip irrigators’ rather than ‘spray irrigators’ delivering the water directly to the plants.  The drip emitters limits waste water splashing on sidewalks and driveways, as well as putting the water directly to the soil by the plant eliminating water evaporation and lots of water on the leaves.  Less disease and less water waste.  Currently with the WaterWise system you will need to apply fertilizers similar to pop-up irrigation system mentioned above. 

There are other drip irrigation systems out there also.  They all work on similar principles.  These systems generally apply ½ to 1 gallon of water per hour.  Drip irrigation systems can be turned into automatic systems by adding a timer to your hose.  This timer can be set to turn on your water at specified times and on specified days.  Many variations of timers are available.  Be sure to select a timer that allows you to set both time and day, you don’t want to be locked into watering every day.

Another earth friendly irrigation system is an ooze or soaker hose system.  Soaker hoses today are often made of re-cycled rubber and plastics and are designed to let water ooze through the porous walls of the hose and into or onto the surrounding soil.  Soaker hoses can be placed in the garden permanently either on the surface of the garden or below the soil line.  You simply screw the end of the soaker hose to your water hose and turn it on. 

If you are using multiple soaker hoses it may be beneficial to buy quick connectors for the end of your hose and each soaker hose.  Quick connectors allow you to connect your hose to the soaker hose in seconds without having to twist the ends of the two hoses together.  Quick connects cost less than $10 each (usually only a couple of dollars) and just might save my sanity.

If you are putting the hose below the soil line install it when preparing your bed for planting.  Soaker hoses are commonly used vegetable gardens and they are often buried 6 inches below the soil line.  This way the hoses are in the root zone and the water is delivered without splashing water and soil on the leaves or fruits of the vegetables.  The same system works with flowers. 

When placed on the soil surface they are just as effective as those that are buried, the main difference is increased evaporation and water loss.  Soaker hoses placed on the top of the soil can be added once the planting is finished.  Again, when you water, water well!  With this system you need to apply your fertilizer as mentioned above.   

Portable irrigation systems are just what the name says ‘portable’.  Commonly referred to as hoses with sprinklers attached.  Now, personally, I like this process.  I am one of the strange gardeners that simply love the sound of impact sprinklers working.  I enjoy fine tuning the oscillating sprinkler so that the house doesn’t get wet but the plants 4 inches away from the house are watered and watered well.  Given the opportunity and the time, I will run to use the hand held Dramm or Gardena water breaker and will spend from 6:00 – 7:00 AM watering my garden.  To me it doesn’t get any better than watering and inspecting your garden in the early morning.  I usually have my cup of coffee in one hand and the garden hose along with weeds that I have pulled in the other. 

I like the personal & daily approach to gardening, I love seeing the constant changes of flowers and foliage.  I think I would worry something was terribly wrong in the garden if the automatic sprinklers came on at 6:00AM and I wasn’t there with my cup of joe.  Now I know that all this sounds like I am an old fashion gardening activist, and I do want you to know that I do have my low volume automatic sprinklers with attached fertilizer injector, but I still, whenever possible, water by hand.  

I have my collection of sprinklers (some antique or at least some that have been with me longer than plastic has been around) that I use in different locations around my yard.  My oscillating sprinkler works well on the narrow gardens on either side of my property.  They gently rain on my ferns and perennials and really are easy to use and regulate.  The newer versions actually have the ability to not only change the range of oscillation but also vary the length of the water pattern. 

The big difference between oscillation and impact sprinklers is the delivery system.  Oscillating sprinklers use small holes or jets to gently divide down the volume of water; impact sprinklers shoot water out in a blast and then that stream of water is broken by an impact.  Oscillating sprinklers can deliver water in a rectangular pattern, whereas impact sprinklers deliver water in circular or wedges of circular patterns.  The impact sprinklers are used for the heavy duty irrigation.  I sometimes gang two or three together to water the gardens in the back of the house all at once, letting them run for long periods of time.

Impact sprinklers are great to do broad sweeps of watering, throwing lots of water around and hopefully hitting something that needs water.  You must use them from a distance, because up close and personal, they can blow flowers and vegetables apart, but by late summer you are just concerned about keeping things alive. 

Now I realize that there is a lot of but the most important fact still remains that when you water, you water well.  No mater what system, no matter the type of plants (from moisture loving ferns to xeriscape grasses and succulents) it is far better to lessen your frequency and increase your duration when it comes to watering. 

The Weather Channel is a great source for future weather.  There is no sense in watering if it is going to rain tonight or tomorrow.  If you know it is going to be 90 degrees with bright cloudless skies and there is no rain forecast for 3 days perhaps you should water your garden before you leave town.  Use common sense when it comes to water, sooner or later you will be able to look out in the garden and just feel that the plants don’t need water today.  My grandmother always said that when the plants were just about dry enough to water, that you promise them water today but you better deliver tomorrow.

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