Irrigation Options for Watering Your Plant Beds Like a Pro

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Welcome back to my series on elevated beds! In this post I am going to discuss different watering and irrigation techniques, and how they stack up.

One of the best things about raised garden beds is their ability to drain well. traditional cultivation practices are more susceptible to soil erosion and loss of natural nutrients in the present if heavy rains are prevalent. How much and often you will need to water your beds will depend on your zone, region and normal patterns of rain. This year has felt like an “el Nino” kind of year.

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irrigation

But it seems like most of it came in the wintertime when my beds were dormant. Now it is spring and the rain we’ve been getting has dropped off quite a bit. As I write this, we’ve gone for about a week without. Spring rain is invigorating and makes the air feel clean and good. Winter rain is -well, icky and makes you feel as such. Anyway, lately we’ve had to begin irrigating our beds on our own when we’re having these dry periods.

Do Sprinklers Work Well?

We’re been using a sprinkler attachment, you may have used these, they oscillate on a cycle so if you have multiple beds they should be well saturated. We have three beds and the arc does reach them all effectively. This sprinkler has 4 different cycle settings, semi circle, quarter-circle, and full circle.. I had to choose the full circle option as the entire length of the beds wasn’t quite getting wet enough.

sprinkling system i use

I let it run for about half an hour and I’m pleased. Of course, I had to get out of the way quickly when I got that full circle setting working, as I was in the path too! This model we have here is the Pro by Orbit – it has a maximum square foot coverage threshold of 4000 square feet (*the whole backyard is roughly about 50 by 50 feet) and operates at a 80 psi.

However, in the case of elevated beds sprinkler systems such as this one are impractical for various reasons. One, water distribution is too all over the place, which means you’ll use more, which could be costly, and two the greatest benefit to plants is when moisture reaches the roots. When the leaves and stems get drenched, it is not always a good outcome…and could make plants more susceptible to fungus spread.

When it comes to good water saturation for plants, it always starts with the roots.Click To Tweet

Sprinklers are mostly associated with wide expanses like lawns, so it pays to use a more efficient water system.I would save them for that purpose…or just to entertain your kids in the summer. A much better option to consider is drip irrigation.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation systems can be great for your beds…they consist of a series of watering apparatuses that can be placed strategically throughout the beds, and the outflow can be adjusted to get the right level of moisture. They could include different connectors, like t-shape, four-way, and elbows.

Some you can insert into the soil with stakes like the ones that come with solar lights. So your crops get all of the water they need, and none of what they don’t. All of them include a pipeline main tubing which connects to your outside faucet line. There are also fittings and end plugs to prevent leakage, and sealing tape.

The nozzle attachments include misting and look like a fan pattern, and some with multiple drip holes.

If you’ve ever momentarily paused through the produce section of a typical grocery store, you may have been startled (at first) to see a misting spray come on at various intervals. The concept is pretty similar.

There are two different types of drip irrigation systems, which I’ll explain below:

Drip Tape

You may have heard some gardeners talk of drip tape what is it, exactly? It is not exactly “tape” per se, but more of a kind of tubing, constructed of a material like polyethelene, that is flat but when the interior comes into contact with water and pressure, it expands just like a typical garden hose.

It reminds me of something we bought last year called a “Magic Hose” which in its coiled state, is contracted until water hits it, and expands as it fills with water, making it easily storable when not in season. Drip tape is carried by the yard and while it’s mainly used in large acreage environments, that are long and linear, it can be used in beds if the length is trimmed to fit them. There are small perforations at different intervals that the water emanates from.

Drip Tubing

The concept is the same but it is an actual three-dimensional tube. Both of these connect to a main pipeline.

It is a good idea to bury the tubing or tape at least 6″ in the ground to protect it from heat and prolonged sunlight, and possibly nuisance animals like gophers or mice that could chew on it.

Their advantages are mainly, over traditional “soaker” methods:

  • The low pressure systems help conserve water by delivering it where it is needed and in “trickles” strategically placed, so you save water AND money by doing so.
  • The water supply goes mainly to the root systems, and less to plant foliage, which is important for nourishment.
  • It can minimize soil erosion.

Using a Soaker Hose

Recently we introduced a different kind of irrigation tool – a soaker hose. The BF spotted it right away at a yard sale (Yes, we’ve found good garden tools at yard sales. It’s definitely doable!) This is better than the sprinkler, for sure. Soaker hoses are excellent for elevated beds as they distribute water at low pressure rates (about 10 psi) at a slow rate, very much in the same manner as the drip tape does.

Update: In May, we finally got around to building our fourth bed…this is it below with our newest seedlings/plants, and the aforementioned soaker hose below. Notice how it’s been arranged:

soaker hose for garden bed

The biggest difference is that it is more manageable (they are about the size/length of a conventional garden hose) and less expensive than drip tape and tubing. Plus, the water is directed where you want it – towards the roots – which means you save money, time, and of course, water.

The spots where there are openings on the hose can disperse water within a 1-3 foot range. You can let it run for about a half-hour or hour to supply adequate moisture. Eventually, we ended up getting a few more soaker hoses from Amazon for our other three beds. I took a snapshot of the packaging below.

soaker hose packaging

I at first thought the name was funny…since they trickle out water, I thought they should be called “trickler” hoses? Lol…Apples to oranges….But in all seriousness, this is an excellent product, and MUCH more efficient than the sprinkler system.

Flat Soaker Hoses

We also ended up getting a flat hose too, which is coiled up neatly, and expands when water flows through it. Because they are more compact, they’re great for people with limited storage space. One thing to keep in mind that we had trouble with at first, is that flat hoses need about 30 psi to function. One tool that can help make this easier to gauge is a pressure regulator (more on that shortly.)

flat soaker hose

Their construction is somewhat different and the outer covering is made out of a fabric like nylon. It is hard to see the drip perforations at first – they look like narrow slits.

Additional Tools and Guidance

You may need to measure the perimeter of your garden to determine the correct amount of tubing you will need for adequate coverage. The irrigation kits most likely will have adequate lengths of the most important parts, like the main tubing. The number of stakes and fittings may vary so please perform due diligence before you shop. Here are a few tools that may be helpful:

Hose Splitters

If you have multiple hoses going, it helps if you have something like this hose splitter to manage them. You can set the metal notch on one of them so that one system “runs” and the other is left alone. It was tricky at first to get the hang of it, but I did manage.

garden hose splitter

Pressure Regulators

A pressure regulator is a device you can connect to the hose outlet to monitor the level of water pressure.  Ever heard a story of (or public review) of someone who had a hose to burst out of nowhere? Yikes….one way that kind of calamity could be prevented is if you make use of a tool like this that you can dial back on the psi, or at least keep an eye on it.

Timers

If you’ve got a busy schedule, or have a tendency to set things and forget them, you’re not alone..  We use timers for things like outdoor lighting, watering the garden should be no different. If you’ve ever had plants to drown (or ended up with an outrageous water bill…) you know what I’m talking about.

Of course you could use your smartphone timer, but something more sophisticated like a proprietary timer could be just what you need. You can set it for certain days and intervals by the hour, and even to postpone when rain is in the forecast. Some gardeners swear by these, especially when they might be out of town.

Wrap-Up

Well if you’ve made it this far…I thank you. This was a lot to cover.

Hopefully you know all you need to regarding what common systems work best, what don’t…and how best to use them. And other tools to make watering less of a chore and more of a joy.  Good luck!

 

 

 

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