There are many different strategies for growing a successful and abundant garden, but ultimately it all depends on maintaining consistent soil moisture. When soil temperatures warm up in the late spring, all plants want to take advantage of the warmth and remaining soil moisture to grow, grow, grow. But when the soil moisture departs with the onset of summer, lush vegetative growth comes skidding to a stop as plants hunker down to conserve water.
As gardeners, we know to water our gardens during the summer, but often it is done inefficiently with hand watering. When we choose to hand water with a hose, we are responding to signs that the garden needs water- wilting plants, dry soil. However, by the time plants are showing signs of drought, they can already be entering their water conservation mode and stopping their vegetative growth. This can be a big issue for annuals like flowers and vegetables, which will stunt if allowed to dry out early in the season (think tiny broccoli heads). Even for young perennials like fruit trees, if they are allowed to fully dry out, they will stunt and stop growth for the season.
This is where drip irrigation comes in to save the day. By providing consistent moisture to the root zone, we can allow plants to take advantage of the summer warmth and grow … and grow and grow! Think giant broccoli heads, verdant flowers, and fruit trees that grow several feet in a season. Drip irrigation is also much more targeted and conservative in its water application, which means you waste much less water on paths and weeds compared to hand watering. I have found that a vegetable garden with properly applied drip irrigation can produce twice the harvest while using less water than hand watering.
Setting up a drip irrigation system can be daunting — there are so many products to choose from, and often hardware stores carry whacky supplies. First and foremost, don’t buy a soaker hose! A soaker hose is notorious for uneven watering, it breaks down quickly, and is a hassle to repair. There are far superior products that are cheaper, last longer, and are simple to repair. In short, there are three different drip products to use, depending on your application:
• Half-inch emitter tubing. This poly tubing has built-in, pressure compensating emitters that provide consistent water delivery across a landscape (even hilly terrain). This tubing is perfect for all perennial beds, orchards, and landscaping in general. Easy to fix, and very durable. Since the emitters are built-in, there is nothing to knock off with tools or weed whackers.
• Quarter-inch emitter dripline. This highly flexible poly tubing has built-in emitters, but it only works in shorter lengths (up to 15-feet). This tubing is best for small raised beds and containers. Do not use this tubing in the general landscape, as weed whackers gobble it up like spaghetti. Use a simple pressure reducer when using this product (30 psi)
• Drip Tape. This cheap and easy-to-use product is best for large vegetable gardens (with rows over 10-feet long). The secret to success with drip tape is to buy the thickest available (15 mil), and never fold it up for storage. Use a simple pressure reducer with this product (10 psi)
Once you have the proper drip tubing for your garden, the second secret to irrigation success is to make it automatic. Again, the goal is to keep the soil consistently moist, so this means setting up a frequency for your automatic irrigation that maintains soil moisture without overwatering and wasting water. Your index finger stuck knuckle deep into the soil is the tool of choice to assess moisture- it should feel as moist as a wrung-out sponge. In free-draining soil like containers or raised beds, this might mean several short pulses of water throughout the day. In heavier soils like clay, this might mean deeper watering three to four times per week.
There are a range of options to make your irrigation system automatic- from simple battery timers to wired systems that you can program and control from your smartphone. Battery timers don’t last as long as a wired system, but they are easy to use and install yourself. If you are worried about the possibility of a battery timer getting stuck on, try using two battery timers in line with each other — that way one acts as the backup “failsafe” for the other.
However you design your irrigation system, it is bound to impress you with the resulting verdant growth of your garden! Keep it simple, and sit back and enjoy all the time you save from not having to drag around hoses.
For further information or assistance with your drip system, feel free to contact me at 360-726-2919 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Easy to use drip supply website, www.dripworks.com.