When we garden, we also water. There’s no real way to grow plants without water — even the most drought-tolerant plants like agaves and cacti need water sometimes. And with many parts of the world experiencing regular drought conditions, it’s vitally important that we plan how to water our gardens while protecting this invaluable resource. Much of that depends upon the type of watering system you choose — choose poorly, and water will be wasted.
Understanding Your Plants Hydration Needs
When a plant’s roots get dry they stop growing and go into stress mode
- You can see stress modes existing when the plant leaves look slightly wilted or the color of the leaf changes to a darker color.
- When a plant is in stress mode it sacrifices blooms and new foliage to preserve the existing plant
Plants water demand increases when:
- The temperature increases more than 10 degrees over the previous day.
- It’s windy or breezy and no rain.
- When they are planted next to a wall that reflects sunlight and heat.
- If they are planted in a pot and exposed to the elements of heat and wind.
- They are planted in an exposed windy area, such as on top of a hill or corner.
- Plants in pots need more frequent water than plants in-ground.
If any of these conditions are true for your garden, then you need to give a quick check to how the plants are doing and get them a drink of water. If they are wilting in the middle of the day, waiting until the end of the day to water is too late. When they are wilting, the roots are already dry. Get water to the plants immediately; otherwise, you could be looking at some stressed yellow plants later. So let’s go over the different types of watering systems out there — which one is right for your garden?
Waterwise Gardening – Adding Watering Systems
- Soaker hoses: Soaker hoses look like thick black garden hoses with a porous outer membrane through which water oozes. While this type of watering system avoids evaporation, it can be a bit difficult to get the thicker hose to stay flat against the ground. Plan to pin it down into place using “U” shaped garden pins and a heavy layer of mulch.
- Drip irrigation: Arguably the most water-efficient system out there, drip irrigation has a slim tube with emitters attached every so often. The tube is arranged through the garden with emitters located close to the plants. This is the type of system you often see at garden centers because the water gets where it needs to go without a lot of evaporation. This system is best for garden beds and container gardens but is not recommended for turf areas.
- Spray systems: This type of system is what most of us are used to — the pop-up heads that spray water out in a circular or semi-circular pattern and set on an automatic timer according to zones. Spray systems are great for turf and garden areas, but there is a certain amount of evaporation and water run-off to be expected when using them.
- Rotor systems: These are similar to spray systems with the same benefits and drawbacks (evaporation), but they are admittedly useful in delivering water to a large area (broad lawns, golf courses, very large gardens, etc.). However, because the spray pattern moves over a large area, the water has more time to absorb into the soil before the spray comes around again, avoiding wasteful runoff.
- Hand-watering: Now we’re going old school here, talking about the good old-fashioned hose at the end of your arm. This is a perfectly valid way to water your garden (hello, our forebearers did it all the time) provided you do it correctly. Water the base of the plant at soil level rather than just spraying the leaves, and aim for a thorough soaking rather than a light sprinkling. I sometimes leave the hose on a slow drip and set it at the base of a plant for about 10-15 minutes while I prune the salvias, then I go back and move the hose to another plant.
A word about timers: Most automatic systems have a control box with a timer, but you can also set timers up at your spigot. Always be sure your timer is set to go off according to your area’s watering guidelines or restrictions, and ensure you have a rain sensor installed so the system shuts itself off in the event of rain. If you don’t have a rain sensor, you’ll need to be prepared to go outside yourself and shut the timer off when it’s raining to avoid wasting water. Buy any one of these timers or sensors at an irrigation supply house or a home improvement center (though you’ll likely get more thorough and specific advice at a supply house).
How to Save Money When Watering
Too much water and you can kill your plants and you could have a not so friendly water bill. That could make you frustrated and potentially broke. Not a good combination.
So here are a few things to review on knowing how to water so you have the best of both worlds, living beautiful plants and money in your pocket.
Watering in the early morning is best for all plants.
- They have time to drink up before the sun and heat comes and are best suited for the day.
When new plants are planted make sure the water is getting to the roots.
- A light sprinkling of water on the surface from a sprinkler 10 feet away is not enough.
- Get water into the root zone so the roots can grow outwards (hand watering may be necessary)
- Once the roots grow out after 2-3 weeks then a broader area of watering will work.
Established plants need less water then you may think.
- With a developed root system, your plant is likely to absorb every drop of water put down which is great because it’s super-efficient.
- Water planter beds once a week and a supplemental watering during the week. (A usually soaking is 10-15 minutes duration and a supplemental watering is 3-6 minutes.)
- This may not work though if the planter bed is in an exposed all day sunny location and exposed to wind. These two situations may cause you to water every other day and you will need to trial out what works best.
Watering lawns more than 10 minutes is too much.
- The water will run off the lawn and is wasteful when you are watering 10 mins or more
- Keep your irrigation timer set between at 5-10 minute duration
- Increase your frequency of watering in hot weather
- Instead of one time per day at 20 minutes, change it to 3 times per day at 7 minutes (this reduces run-off and increases hydration)
Keeping plants hydrated and learning when they need it and how they need it will save you money and give you the profound feeling you can grow most anything. Keeping our water resource managed well and not wasting it will also culture your sense of stewardship and that is a good thing!