It matters how your water your garden. The plants’ lives and productivity depend on it. So what are the best hoses, sprinklers, or methods? Combining my own gardening experience with some internet research, I remain a big fan of soaker hoses. (Watering cans provide an additional way of watering and are the standard way to water indoor plants… I’ll do another post about them sometime.)
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Considerations for Organic Gardening
What are the hoses made of? You don’t want chemicals leaching into your plants and into you. Here’s a 2016 garden hose report where the organization did very thorough tests. You can download their whole report or scroll to the header called Highlights of Findings. Here’s a quote from that section:
The flexible plastic of PVC hoses frequently contained elevated lead, bromine, antimony, and phthalates. Non-PVC hoses did not contain these contaminants.
Garden Hoses and Nozzles
These are basic workhorses, giving you in-the-moment control. They are invaluable for watering spots where you need to decide how much water to give the plants. The one in the image is lead-free and can be used for water you would drink. And here’s a list of garden hoses at Amazon. With Amazon Prime, getting big or awkward things is no problem.
There are many hose nozzles and that link takes you to a list of them at Amazon. For a nozzle, you want one that you can quickly switch on and off as you are standing there with it, and you want one with varying sprays.
If you’ve never seen a soaker hose in action, it’s a nice sight. Water in little droplets oozes out of the hose along its length and goes directly into the soil below. This is very economical of water. The one in the image is more environmentally friendly than the PVC ones.
To install soaker hoses, lay them down in garden beds before the seeds or young transplants go in. Plants nearer to them may get more water unless you run your system for a long enough time to reach the ones further out. They work in level locations, not so well on hills, as we all know water doesn’t like to run uphill.
Once in place, with the ends clamped off, soakers are easy to use. You just turn them on yourself or use a timer, and then turn them off yourself if you don’t have a timer. If you are doing it yourself, a note under a magnet on the refrigerator door is one way of reminding you, first to water and later to turn it off.
How do you know when you have watered long enough? You can put a trowel into the ground near the hose and see how far down it’s wet. You’ll get a feel for it after a while
The plants nearest the source of the water (usually a regular garden hose connected to a faucet at one end and the soaker at the other) are likely to get the most water. Don’t make your soaker hose lines more than about 100 feet at the most. You can use Y valves so that one part of the garden gets watered, then you switch the valve and the other part has its turn. Here’s one at Amazon. But I admit to favoring totally automatic systems so I can do other things while knowing that the garden is cared for. This means no Y valves for me. We check our system when we lay it out originally and mess with it until all the places being watered get enough water.
Over time, soaker hoses may develop leaks. Does that make them toast? No, you can get an inexpensive hose repair splicer.. Alternatively, you can use a pressure reducer from the start. This can be as simple as a washer that the manfacturer included at the end of the hose. Since home water pressure is greater than the ideal for the soaker hoses, if you use nothing, leaks may develop. This is something to read about when you are looking at online reviews for particular brands.
You can put mulch over the hose if you are mulching the area where it grows, but don’t cover it with your soil, as that might clog the pores of the soaker hose.
If you get hard freezes in the winter, drain your soaker hoses by taking off the end caps and shaking them out as needed. You can also take the soaker hose out of the garden over the winter and hang it someplace. This has the advantage that the hoses may break down gradually from ultra-violet light and you’ll get them out of the light. This could be done with mulch too.
Here’s an article about maintenance and repair of soaker hoses.
Here’s a quote about the effectiveness of soaker hoses and drip irrigation:
Research has demonstrated that drip or soaker irrigation systems, especially those used in conjunction with mulch, increase the plant’s performance. Plants show earlier blossoming, increased growth, and larger blooms. Because the water never touches plant leaves, they avoid many moisture-related diseases.
That was at an article called Drip or Soaker WateringSystems. No mention was made of the specific research but it was a very informative site.
Drip Irrigation Systems
You can get drip irrigation kits or you can design your own system. Drip irrigation takes more work than soakers at first, and you have to be sure your plants are near the outlets. They are the best for using as little water as possible.
Drip irrigation and soaker hoses have a lot in common, as this article at Rodale’s Organic Gardening site points out. I’m writing much less about them than about the soaker hoses because I have a lot more experience with the soakers. But many people love these.
Sprinklers use by far the most water, as more will evaporate than with the other methods. But there are times when they meet a need. Quick to set up, you can adjust the circle they make. Here is a versatile one: Nelson Cast Iron Circular Spray Pattern Stationary Sprinkler Head 50950.
Once we started using garden timers, some years back, we got hooked. They provide for all sorts of choices and depending on how fancy your timer is, you can have different parts of your yard watered for different time periods and on different days of the week. This is particularly useful if there are watering restrictions where you live.
Battery backup means you aren’t resetting everything if the power goes out however briefly. You may want to plug your timer into a surge protector as well.
So things to look for include battery backup, ability to set it for different times and days, runs automatically. The one is this image can do a lot and is well thought of.
Our Watering Setup
.Here in the dry southwest, we don’t want to be wasteful but we want healthy fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and trees. We’re now living in southern New Mexico, in a dry climate until the afternoon rains start sometime in July or so. We are used to this rhythm of the later summer being cooler and wetter, as it was like that both in Colorado where we lived and gardened for about 20 years and in central Mexico where we lived and gardened for 5 years.
This is our first year here. As we started our garden, we had what the previous owners had left behind, a few things we had brought from our last place, and some things we bought.
- soaker hoses in the main vegetable garden
- a sprinker in the area that’s got a few fruit trees and where I planted Hubbard squash
- drip irrigation in a couple of places in the yard
- a timer to come on late in the afternoon every day
- no system set up yet in the greenhouse, so I water with hose and watering can
That’s been working pretty well. When the garden was getting started, we had a lot of hot weather. I went around in the mornings with a watering can and gaveextra drinks to places that looked dry. Once plants got larger and we began getting some rains, I stopped that. We like to install our timer outside but under the eaves of the house so we can get to it in an afternoon downpour and skip watering that day.
If you are on Pinterest, here’s a graphic you can share if you’d like to: