As a gardener, you will learn the hard way that suitable irrigation is crucial for developing productive crops. As summer sets in it is important to water your garden regularly to keep you plants healthy. More importantly, you need to learn how to conserve water and make the best decision for your garden.
Keeping your plants well irrigated aids in healthy foliage growth and the production of large yields. During heat waves, it is crucial to water your garden following a precise schedule. This will help your plants stay strong enough to combat pests and diseases. Knowing the water needs of your plants is also important and it will help you keep your plants properly watered.
How to water your garden properly
Before we look at various irrigation options, we first have to understand what happens when we add water to soil. The most important characteristics of a healthy soil is pore diversity. The pores are the spaces between soil particles that can be filled by water or air. As you can imagine, large pores allow water to drain freely through the soil. Between these large pores, there are tiny soil particles held together in crumbs, but root hairs, organic residue or fungal hyphae.
When it rains or when you water your garden, the water travels down through the large pores and wicks up into the tiny soil particles. A good watering implies that water advances through and beyond the root zone by force of gravity alone.
Asses your garden plot
The size of your garden and overall growing space will determine the irrigation arrangements you need. For small gardens, you may only need watering systems that stretch across a few pots or raised beds. However, a large garden requires a more complex setup. Besides calculating the size of your garden, you need to also think about the time you have to spare to water your garden. If gardening is not a full time job for you, extensive setups might be needed.
Taking this into consideration can help you make the best decision in terms of buying and setting up an irrigation system. You have to water your garden wisely to conserve power, water and time.
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Know your options
There are many options to water your garden, but not everything will work for you. Depending on the crops you grow and local weather conditions, you may need specific setups. If you are dealing with scorching summers, it’s worth investing in equipment that monitors moisture levels in the soil. This helps you adapt your watering schedule and distribute water accordingly. For most gardeners, there are two main options when it comes to watering. Drip irrigation systems and sprinklers. Besides those two, I will also describe my experience using an ancient irrigation system, the Olla.
Water your garden using sprinklers
For my lawn and ground covers, I’ve used various types of sprinklers over the years. You have the option to buy simple hose attachments or you can buy computer controlled systems that are installed permanently on a plot.
This is perhaps the cheapest sprinkler you can buy and besides being portable, it’s quite easy to install. When you water your garden using an oscillating sprinkler, you can adjust it to sweep from one side to the other. It can do so either partially or fully. The water pressure also conditions the reach of the watering, the more pressure, the farther the reach.
This sprinkler can rotate through a full or partial circle and it can spray over a distance of up to 40 feet. You can adjust the droplet size for a more significant coverage. To run these types of sprinklers your water pressure must be at least 15 psi. You can feed your impact sprinklers using garden hoses or polyethylene tubing.
I’ve used micro sprinklers for my small garden since it covers a small 5 foot radius and it can operate on low water pressure. To cover a larger area, you will need many small heads. They are especially useful for seedlings as they deliver a finer mist compared to the other types. I have to warn you that these are not recommended for windy zones. You cannot properly water your garden using these if wind is a constant problem for your region.
The Pros and Cons of using sprinklers
- These can quickly relieve heat stress over large areas.
- Sprinklers water the entire soil and support the entire soil ecosystem.
- They are useful in dry areas and can wash dirt from leaves. This increases photosynthesis and keeps plants green.
- The wind is your main enemy when using these. It will cause drift and evaporation before moisture hits the ground.
- Not suitable for all plants and will cause foliar disease due to excessive leaf wetting.
- Mulching is needed to avoid watering the weeds.
Water your garden using drip and trickle systems
The drip tape is basically a flat hose that delivers water along its length through tiny holes. It is used for straight rows and it’s placed on the soil surface. Some gardeners also cover it with plastic mulch to prevent weeding.
Emitters are just like microsprinklers and are connected to a poly hose that runs through your garden. This setup can be used for garden beds, but also for container gardening. There are different types of emitters with various flow rate that can deliver ½ gallon per hour.
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The Pros and Cons of using Drip systems
- This is perhaps the most efficient watering method for traditional gardening.
- You can install a drip system for any type of garden. The job is straight-forward and you can customize the system as you wish.
- A drip system requires a regulated water pressure, usually between 10 and 15 psi.
- Diverse plantings require separate zones. Automation may also be required based on the water source you are using.
- Regular maintenance is required to check for leaks, clogs or separated fittings.
Water your garden using the Olla
I first heard about the Olla (pronounced oy-yah) from a close friend who lives in Texas. He told me he discovered this watering system while visiting Northern Africa on a business trip. The Olla is a simple low-cost solution to water your garden.
It is an ancient technology that can be described simply as a clay pot. I’ve used it for container gardening and I can tell you it works great. The clay pot is buried in the soil next to the plans you want to irrigate. To water your plants, you simply add water to the pot and it does all the job for you. The clay pot is designed to slowly release the water to the plant roots over time.
To put it to use, bury the pot next to the plants you want to water and cap it with a fitted cap or a stone to prevent mosquitoes from using it. After that, you just need to keep it filled.
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How does the Olla work?
The unglazed clay of the pot only releases water upon demand, when it senses negative pressure (suction). It doesn’t just seep out continuously. This negative pressure is caused by plants. When plant roots use the water, removing it from the soil, negative pressure is created. The interaction between the plant and the pot is what makes it so efficient.
The Pros and Cons of using the Olla:
- Olla is an ideal irrigation system for hot and dry locations.
- Works great for container gardening and controls soil moisture levels to prevent over-watering.
- Helps preserve water in dry zones by proper water distribution to the root zone only when needed.
- It’s not that cheap compared to other irrigating systems. It is more of a long-term investment.
- You need to check the water level and fill it manually.
- Handle with care during gardening works to avoid breaking it.
Learning how to water your garden efficiently is a must if you want to keep healthy plants and harvest a good yield. There are many options available on the market and you have to pick the one which works best for your garden plot. Think about what you needs are and if you want to upscale in the future or not. The money you spend for an irrigation system is a long-term investment and it will definitely pay off.