Choose the Best Garden Watering Systems

Save water, grow food crops through drought and heat, and spend less on your summer water bills by using soaker hoses, drip irrigation, rainwater storage.

| April/May 2015

  • Drip Irrigation Systems
    Crops grown in long rows are prime candidates for drip irrigation systems, which can save a lot of water over the course of a gardening season. Just be sure to keep areas between plants and rows free of weeds, or the weeds will steal water away from your crops.
    Photo by Jerry Pavia
  • Drip Tape
    Ramp up watering efficiency by using drip tape even in your raised garden beds.
    Photo by Janet Horton
  • Drip Irrigation Tape
    You can set the drippers or emitters on your drip irrigation tape at different intervals based on how far apart your crops are spaced.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • Thick Mulch Weed Control
    Apply thick mulch to control weeds and to increase the water-holding capacity of your soil.
    Photo by Jerry Pavia
  • Overhead Irrigation Benefits
    Overhead irrigation benefits crops with wide root zones, such as winter squash.
    Photo by Flickr/Denise Krebs
  • Trench Irrigation
    To try simple trench irrigation, use a hoe to form trenches alongside crops, and then set a hose in the trench to fill it when your crops need water.
    Photo by Dreamstime/Dleonis
  • Buried Reservoirs
    One way to direct water to root zones is to water into buried reservoirs, such as old milk jugs with holes poked into them.
    Photo by Karen Duke/DaisyDukeFarm.com
  • Spinach Plant Roots
    Vegetable crops’ roots can reach surprising depths. This 10-week-old spinach plant has already hit 4 feet. As your crops begin to mature, water deeply and less frequently so roots grow strong and reach down farther.
    Photo by John E. Weaver and William E. Bruner
  • Pepper Plant Roots
    The roots of this nearly mature pepper plant reach 4 feet deep. Avoid shallow watering, which can prevent crops’ roots from reaching their potential.
    Photo by John E. Weaver and William E. Bruner

  • Drip Irrigation Systems
  • Drip Tape
  • Drip Irrigation Tape
  • Thick Mulch Weed Control
  • Overhead Irrigation Benefits
  • Trench Irrigation
  • Buried Reservoirs
  • Spinach Plant Roots
  • Pepper Plant Roots

This gardening season, with climate change causing higher temperatures and desperate droughts in multiple regions, many of us will experience weeks or even months in which sparse rainfall won’t keep pace with the sun’s hot rays. To keep your crops’ thirst quenched, try some options outlined in this roundup of water-wise gardening strategies, from familiar garden watering systems — such as soaker and drip hoses — to a lesser-known system called “partial root-zone drying.”

The best watering methods will depend at least partly on planting arrangement and crop type. Planting leafy greens, onions and other shallow-rooted plants in blocks rather than rows will simplify watering, especially if you water by hand. With crops that occupy more time and space in the garden, such as beans, peppers, sweet corn and tomatoes, better options include using soaker hoses, drip irrigation or carefully managed ditches. Even with regular rainfall, crops that require a relatively large amount of water to thrive, such as beans and sweet corn, will almost always need supplemental irrigation.

Weeding and Mulching Boost Watering Efficiency

A water-wise garden is no place for weeds. According to research from Michigan State University, a combo of good weed control and adequate mulch can conserve up to 1 inch of water per week during toasty summer months. Left uncontrolled, however, some weeds, such as crab grass and lamb’s-quarters, will slurp up more than 80 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of plant tissue.

Fundamental organic gardening practices that improve soil and limit weeds will set the stage for efficient garden-watering systems. If you add compost or rotted manure to the soil each time you plant, as well as use biodegradable mulches that break down into organic matter, your soil will retain moisture better. In general, the more grass clippings, leaves, coffee grounds and other organic materials you add to your soil, the less likely your crops will be to suffer from moisture stress. Another reason to be mad for mulch: Even before it breaks down into organic matter, a thick layer of mulch applied around plants will help by cooling and shading the soil, thus keeping your garden from drying out quickly after a watering or rain shower.



Soaker Hoses and Drip Irrigation Systems

I have long been an advocate of the 25-foot soaker hose, which weeps water evenly along its length, as if it were sweating. Soaker hoses work especially well for closely spaced crops and intensively planted beds. You can make your own soaker hoses by collecting old or leaky garden hoses from your friends and drilling small holes into them every few inches. Just cap or clamp off the male end of the hose.

Drip irrigation systems distribute water at regular intervals through a network of hoses or tapes with slits, pores, emitters or drippers. They work well for rows of crops spaced at varying intervals (you can set the emitters at wider spacing if you’re watering a crop planted farther apart), and perform best on relatively level ground, because pressure changes caused by sloping ground would result in uneven watering. If you have a large garden, look for systems that use inexpensive drip tape (brands include Aqua-Traxx, Chapin and T-Tape). The tiny holes in some emitters and drippers can become clogged with soil particles rather easily, so at least one filter needs to be screwed into the water line between the faucet (or reservoir) and the distribution lines of most drip irrigation systems.

Mary Kathryn
1/4/2019 8:48:47 AM

Clay pot irrigation with ollas has an advantage over milk jugs and other submerged watering containers because it is the only medium (clay) that works by soil moisture tension. That is where the porousness of the clay allows for the water to be drawn through the walls of the olla when the soil gets dry. This allows a system that never over waters or under waters the plants. This also accounts for the up to 70% savings in water use. All plastic containers work by gravity. The water simple comes out of the holes continually until the container is empty. This can over water a plant, possibly rotting it. It does not conserve water. Also, the plastic can break down in the soil over time. Since clay is natural, if you know the source of the clay, you can feel comfortable knowing the soil stays healthy with a clay olla.


Mary Kathryn
1/4/2019 8:48:46 AM

The advantage of a clay olla vs another buried watering vessel, such as a plastic jug, is that the olla is the only buried watering system that works by soil moisture tension. That means the as the soil dries out, the water is pulled through the walls of the olla and makes the soil moist again, as needed. This never over or under waters the plants. All the other vessels in the ground work by gravity, so the water leaks out wether the plants need water or not. This can cause the plant to rot and/or water only until gravity has completed its job. The clay ollas are porous, which allows the savings of up to 70% in water use. Gravity fed plastic containers can not offer that.


Randy
4/18/2016 11:24:19 AM

Very Interesting article. We sell a self-watering garden system that eliminates all hand watering, digging and weeding. Check us out on www.farmdaddy.com! We truly feel it is the easiest way to grow a garden!







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