Plants Need Water, But Watering Is Time Consuming & Expensive. Here AreThe Best Garden Watering Systems That Save Time, Effort & Dead Plants.
The best garden watering system depends entirely on your garden, what you grow, where you are and how you grow your plants. Some gardens are very small and consist of a window box or a few containers. Some have greenhouses, polytunnels large beds or rolling acres. Each presents its own challenges. This starts with your water source and expands into manual and automatic watering or irrigation systems that can save time and money.
The Simplest Garden Watering System of All Time
It’s called rain! Simple, no expense and natural, but not necessarily reliable. But at the same time not to be ignored. The east of the country is the driest but even there, where it can be drier than Jerusalem, some people rely on rain and nothing else.
Beth Chatto, in her classic book, The Dry Garden, explains how in dry East Anglia she built a garden that thrived without a watering system. She choose species and varieties that naturally coped with a drier climate. She then added organic matter in some areas to improve water retention. There’s a link to Beth’s book below.
The second easiest watering system is probably the watering can.
Put it under a tap or dip it into a dip tank for quick filling and you have 1-2 gallons of water that can be taken to the plants that need it.
But in a sense that is the problem. You have to take water to the plants, they don’t come for it!
That was the problem I encountered every day on my market garden. And watering up to half a million lettuce or 10,000 tomato plants, plus other crops, with a watering can was never going to work. And, unlike Beth Chatto, I couldn’t choose varieties that managed with less water. My crops were all water responsive. On. garden scale we can get away with cutting back on water a bit, but commercially the ability toy water correctly is the difference between success and going bust!
So how did I water commercially? Because that can give us some clues to how to water a much smaller garden.
My Commercial Irrigation System
The first essential for me wears a reliable source of water. Today I harvest rainwater from the roof of my house and store it in a series of IBC containers. They hold 1000 litres each and that goes a long way in a garden. But on my nursery we relied on a borehole and had an abstraction licence to take as much water as we needed. It came from 120 feet below ground level, was so full of iron deposits that it was rusty colour, so had to be treated. There was a cost to this but it was worth every penny we spent on flocculation and filtration.
I then had a 2 inch water main around the whole nursery .
In the greenhouse I had overhead sprinklers that provided high volumes of fine droplets of water that could drench every square foot of soil. Overhead watering of crops such as lettuce and celery is ideal omn a large scale .. despite the myths we read about watering from below and water drops that magnify the sun and burn plants. After decades of watering millions of plants I know that is total rubbish ….. PROVIDED you understand how to water correctly.
The plants that grew up supports, in my case it was always string, such as tomatoes, cucumbers; and the bushier crops such as peppers and chillis were all drip irrigated.
Drip irrigation put water exactly where you need it for every plant and it is possible to measure the exact quantity each plant gets by using a metered flow of water and special watering nozzles for each plant. For example my tomatoes were all given around 4 pints of water and dilute feed every day via a drip system. In very hot weather I would increase the amount to around 5 pints per plant, depending one the stage of growth. Bear in mind I was growing on a very light well drained soil and this amount is too much if on heavier soils!
Give a tomato or cucumber too much or too little water and yields suffer. So being able to measure it exactly is important.
Outside I also used overhead irrigation. But rather than static overhead nozzles in my greenhouses and tunnels outside I used a mobile rain gun. You might have seen farmers use these to spray huge volumes of water on water sensitive crops. My system was a bit smaller than they use but it would irrigate a block of land around 100m metres by around 24 metres wide every night. I used it t night as the wind tends to drop at night and the irrigation is then more precise and there’s less evaporation. Evaporation can be costly as it can lead to water losses of around 30-50% in hot windy weather.
The rain gun worked by using water pressure to drive it across the land as it watered the land via a coarse spray of water thrown into the air. It’s a very efficient system.
All my watering systems were automated to a greater or lesser extent. In somer cases I had to turn the tap on and it would turn off when a metered amount of water had been dispensed. Other systems were fully automated and an electronic chip turned them on at a given time each day for a given amount of time. Just don’t forget when they turn on and be in the greenhouse when the cold water starts spraying!
Commercial Systems Scaled For Gardeners
Gardeners can use drip irrigation and static overhead rain gun type systems if they have a suitable source of water. They can even use lowish cost automated systems that will dispense a flow of water, via a spray nozzle or drip system, at a given time each day.
There’s a video below showing how to set up a garden watering system. This one is from Thompson and Morgan but many other companies produce good affordable systems.
I’ve written elsewhere about how to harvest rainwater and even about the nutrient value of rainwater. So read those articles in addition to this one and feel free to ask questions via the comments box below.
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