In many regions, sufficient rain falls throughout the growing season that you can pretty much forget about watering except to get newly planted transplants established. But even in those places, timely watering often spells the difference between a ho-hum garden and one that is truly exuberant.
Timely watering need not involve setting up your sprinkler and then moving it around each day to ensure that the roots of all your plants get a good soaking.
One way to avoid being a slave to your sprinkler is to grow plants that can get by with natural or little rainfall. In the vegetable garden, plants like tomatoes and melons, once established, can go long periods without rain. (They will yield more fruit with additional water, though.) Among flowers, many familiar plants are drought-tolerant, including such favorites as sedum, yarrow, alyssum, butterfly weed, cerastium, black-eyed Susan, morning glory, moss rose, cornflower, sunflower and zinnia.
Another effective alternative to the hose and sprinkler is drip-irrigation.
Of course, it can be relaxing to stand out in the early morning sun on a Saturday, iced tea in one hand and hose in the other. But unless you have a lot of patience, watering like this does little more than wet plants’ leaves. You don’t believe me? Scratch down into the soil after this watering and see how deep the water penetrated.
Effective watering can be just as easy, but takes some planning.
First of all, you’re more apt to water a plant in need if you don’t have to unroll the hose and drag it across the lawn, or fight through some shrubbery to get to a spigot. Make your garden as convenient as possible to a hose spigot, or vice versa.
Also, some technology makes watering easier, saves water and is better for the plants. “Drip irrigation,” sometimes called “trickle irrigation,” drips water to plant roots at a rate more in sync than a sprinkler does with how water is lost from the soil. The moisture level stays closer to the ideal for plants, never flooded (such as after a thorough sprinkling) or dry. Since the water is emitted at ground level, plants’ leaves stay dry and there is less chance for disease.
Drip irrigation emitters, which drip water at a pre-set rate of anywhere from 1 to 4 gallons per minute, come in two “flavors.” With the first type, you punch holes and plug the emitters into black plastic pipe at intervals. Since the emitters can be spaced far apart, they are useful for plants similarly spaced. By not watering the soil between plants, water is saved and weed problems decrease. The other type of emitter is a tube that drips water along its entire length; it’s useful for wetting whole areas of a garden or rows of closely spaced plants, such as carrots. With this type of emitter, water enters the soil through closely spaced perforations.
So-called soaker hoses — rubber tubes that ooze water — are poor substitutes for drip irrigation. They deliver water too inconsistently along their length and over changes in elevation and time, and they eventually clog.
AUTOMATE, SIT, RELAX
With drip irrigation, the ideal is to turn the water on and off many times each day. Plants, after all, are soaking up water from the soil throughout the day.
You don’t have to be tethered to your hose spigot, though, if you mate your drip irrigation system to a battery-powered timer. Some timers even hook up to a sensor that monitors rainfall and determines whether watering is necessary.
Once all of this is set up, you can sit back in a chair on your terrace and sip your iced tea there.