Some watering solutions

June 30, 2021

By Richard Burke

Tomatoes, zucchini and ponytail grass in pots watered by solar-operated drip system

Over the years we’ve tried to accommodate a garden/yard and its ongoing needs with our own need to get away for a few days here and there camping. 

We installed an underground sprinkler system that first had top-spraying nozzles, because a lot of lawn needed attention. But, as we replaced more lawn every year with garden beds, top watering did not meet requirements of flowers and vegetables.

Soaker hose connected to underground lines winds through plants

A simple modification – installing a riser to replace sprinkler heads that could connect to a soaker hose – was the answer. The soaker hose (with connectors) we bought at Home Depot or Lowes. It’s flexible and gets snaked through the beds near each plant. It’s advertised as using 70 percent less water than spraying and keeps water off the leaves. 

Valves connecting four zones to waterline and timers.

All needed to be operated by timers and, again, trial and error helped us figure how long various plants need water. Tomatoes, for example, prospered with a few minutes a day. The bit of lawn that remains gets half an hour every three days or so top watered early in the morning. (During the hot spell, we have manually adjusted the frequency a bit.) Roses are supposed to have deep watering once a week, but ours get the half hour every three days over a soaker hose.

Hanging pots are guzzlers but solar pumps hooked to rain barrel keeps ‘em wet.

One of the slickest solutions is a solar pump available through Lee Valley from a UK company, Irrigatia. It pumps water from a rain barrel and through a ¼-inch hose delivers it to drip heads placed at the base of up to 24 plants. We now have four pumps which water about 100 plants, including tomatoes, zucchini, dahlia, lilies, coneflower, ligularia and Siberian bugloss. 

With the latest installation, pots hanging along the fence no longer need for us to drag the hose and wand nozzle out to quench their thirst. The pump can be adjusted to five settings with increasing amounts of water. Generally, the plants need a setting which drips the water for 10 minutes every three hours or so (not after sundown.)

Tomatoes watered from rain barrel, right, through solar pump, top

Installation takes some planning, but it’s well worth it. The pumps need to be taken in over winter and reconnected next year, but I’ve left the lines and drips out and they’ve survived just fine. Same for the soaker hoses. As for the underground lines, it takes a few minutes before a hard freeze to blow out the lines.

All the systems have evolved over 15 or so years. The underground system and timers are on seven zones in the yard. Four are operated from a timer in the basement that distributes water through the outside water pipe and four valves, complete with the electronics that turn water on and off. Another two zones work from an outside, battery-operated timer, which gets programmed from my IPhone and is connected to the east-side water tap. Another line from that tap connects to another battery-operated timer in the back garden.

There’s no need to do it all at once. It helps to bite off a bit at a time. We added to ours or modified it almost yearly but it now seems to be about right. We’re covered from the burb at the boulevard to the back vegetable bed.

It’s not totally trouble-free – adjustments are needed from time to time. But, it certainly beats dragging around hoses and watering all plants and grass in the yard the same way.

And, it does allow for the occasional getaway. Off to the campground.

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