Much as I enjoy my garden, lugging the hose from fruit garden to flower bed to assorted shrubs around the yard is a real drag. By August, my motivation goes on vacation and my wilted garden shows it.
But there is a practical and economical way to keep plants from becoming parched: Install a leaky-hose, drip or trickle irrigation system. Properly designed, these systems offer many advantages over the hose and sprinkler and are especially effective for clearly defined beds or garden rows. Once in place, irrigation systems require less work. They’re also environmentally sound–irrigation systems use less water to keep plants properly moist, and their low water volume and pressure won’t erode slopes or sensitive soils. Plant diseases are reduced, too, because trickle irrigation systems do not douse plant foliage the way sprinklers do.
The names leaky-hose, drip and trickle irrigation often are used interchangeably because they share similarities. Typically, each runs on low pressure and requires only a moderate volume of water. And, for the typical home garden–flower or vegetable–the systems usually hook up to the backyard faucet. But there are a few key differences in the mechanics of how and where each delivers water. The leaky-hose system is a porous garden hose that seeps a constant 2-foot swath of light moisture. This system works well for regular flowerbed soakings or down a row of brambles or shrubs where precise water placement isn’t critical. A drip system allows for slightly more targeted delivery of water. Water typically is fed through a bi-wall flexible hose with small holes punched at 6- to 12-inch intervals.
This system is ideal for plots of small vegetables or fruit, especially lettuce, carrots or strawberries, planted in double rows with the hose running down the middle. Trickle systems perform wonderfully among fruit trees, rows of tomatoes or other large plants with spaces between them that you want to keep dry (so weeds don’t grow as well). But trickle systems also add a small step up in complexity. Like the other systems, the main feed is a small-diameter hose, usually single-walled. Small emitter-nozzles that deliver anywhere from a fraction of a gallon to several gallons of water are fitted into holes punched into the hose. To customize the water-delivery pattern, you can punch your own holes and determine the placement and distribution of the emitters. Hoses with preset emitter spaces also are available.
Installing these irrigation systems is as easy as laying out a garden hose. The great part is you only have to do it once, rather than once a week. You can buy trickle irrigation kits to fit a predesigned garden size, but it’s easy enough to buy the individual hose length, emitters, couplings and end caps, then customize the layout to your garden. For even more convenience, you can also add timers and fertilizer applicators. Maintenance is minimal, too. For water with a high mineral content, remove the end caps and flush the system when the growing season is over. If rodents are a problem in your garden, remove the irrigation hose, drain it and store for the winter. It will be easy to lay down again in the spring, and watering your garden will no longer seem like such a bore.
Stella Otto is the nationally recognized author of The Backyard Orchardist and The Backyard Berry Book.