Using some form of watering system in your garden will save you time, will irrigate your plants more effectively and more efficiently than hand-watering and knowing when to water will also avoid loss through evaporation, saving you money. Learn all you need to know.

Top tips for watering

There’s more to watering a garden than splashing the hose around.The trick is to provide enough water so that the soil not only looks damp, but also feels wet below the surface.

  • Check whether your watering system is penetrating the ground at root level. Run the system for about 20 minutes (longer for weeping, drip or micro-irrigation systems), then probe the soil to see if it’s moist. If it is, turn the water off. If it’s still dry, leave the system to run longer.
  • To avoid evaporation, water only in the early morning or late in the afternoon when it’s cool. However, if it’s especially hot in the middle of the day, break this rule and give your plants some extra relief. Water stress can lead to other problems, such as pest and disease attack.
  • If watering by hand, water the soil, not the foliage, so the water reaches the roots. On hot days, be very careful not to splash the leaves—the magnifying power of water droplets can concentrate the sunlight and burn them.
  • Allow the soil to dry out between waterings, but don’t leave it for so long that plants become water stressed. Remember to adjust your watering patterns to reflect changes in season and local weather conditions and also check to see if any water restrictions apply.
  • Give plants extra help during periods of drought and heat. In addition, water more often in windy weather and when plants are actively growing or blooming.
  • If you have an automatic system, run it during the night, when the water pressure is stronger due to lower demands on the water supply.
  • Don’t leave a hose in the sun.The water that collects in it heats up and can burn foliage. Store hoses in the shade, cover irrigation pipes with mulch or set them just below ground level, or allow water to run cold before hosing plants.
  • Regularly check and clean all irrigation heads and filters to ensure the water is flowing correctly. A tap filter will catch dirt before it enters the system.To flush out the system, remove the end cap and let the water run for several minutes.
  • In cold winter areas, the water in hoses and irrigation systems can freeze overnight.This is a problem if water systems are set to automatically come on early in the morning. On cold nights, adjust the watering times to avoid early mornings.
  • Where water is being used to avoid frost damage on plants, set the timer so the system comes on several times during the night.

Read more: Get your garden blooming with these superboosters

 

Which kind of watering system?

Watering cans

Watering can watering flowers

Perhaps the most common method of watering plants. Watering cans come in a variety of sizes and shapes with varying nozzles so you can water depending on need.

Pros

Useful for watering individual plants (especially hanging baskets and indoor plants), applying liquid fertiliser or tonics for watering in new plantings

Cons

When full of water, large metal watering cans are very heavy to lift. If you have a lot of ground to cover, a plastic can may be a better choice.

 

Hand-held hoses

hose watering leaves in the garden

Hoses are a very convenient method of watering the garden. Unlike the watering cans, they are not weighty—but be careful not to knock any of the heads off your flowers.

Pros

Ideal for watering potted and individual plants. Can be adjusted to a hard squirt setting for washing off aphids or to a gentle shower for watering newly planted seedlings.

Cons

In times of water shortages, their use is restricted. Also, most of us don't have enough time or patience to water a garden thoroughly with a hand-held hose.

 

Soaker (weeping) hoses

Porous soaker hose

Soaker hoses are an efficient way to water plants as it delivers water directly to the roots through it porous surface, and only as quickly as the earth can absorb it.

Pros

Often made from recycled materials, such as old tyres. Cheap to buy and easy to install. Place underneath mulch in order to direct water to root level—where it's needed 

Cons

Several hoses may be needed to deliver sufficient water to plants in a large garden bed. Slow rate of delivery means the water may need to run for a long time.

 

Sprinklers 

Sprinkler watering the garden

Sprinklers usually oscillate, mimicking rain, across the garden. 

Pros

One of the best ways of thoroughly watering lawns or large garden areas. Cheap and easy to install, sprinklers mimic natural rainfall and distribute water evenly.

Cons

Not available in during hot periods and hose bans—this system uses a lot of water, and a lot of it can be wasteful.

 

Micro-irrigation

Micro-irrigation system

While not as efficient as soaker and drip hoses, they are more cost-effective and a popular choice among gardeners.

Pros

An efficient irrigation method. The small spray heads give a good range of coverage, from 90 to 360 degrees, and can be tailored to the needs of individual areas. 

Cons

Spray heads can get blocked with dirt or insect nests. If you don't remember where the concealed supply hose is, it's easy to put a fork through it.

 

Drip systems

Drip system irrigation watering strawberries

Drip systems use a network of pipes to carry water through your garden with small drip emitters for each plant. This method can reduce water wastage by as much as 80%

Pros

Water isn't wasted because it can be directed to the roots of individual plants and there is little loss through evaporation. Effective where water pressure is low.

Cons

Difficult to fit into established gardens with many different types of plants. Can be expensive and labour intensive to install. May need to run for many hours.

 

Read more: Collecting rain water for your garden

 

Buy wisely

A DIY irrigation system will save you money and allow you to develop a system that suits your garden layout, soil and plants. You may need to combine several different methods, such as those mentioned above.

  • Draw a diagram of your garden and take it to an irrigation specialist for advice. Over-the-counter advice is usually free and you won’t waste money buying the wrong fittings.
  • Install a double-tap fitting at taps so you can operate a fixed watering system and still have a tap available for filling a bucket or attaching a hose.
  • Keep on hand some ‘goof plugs’—devices that block unwanted holes if you make a mistake when installing your irrigation system.

 

Best time of day to water your garden

The absolute best time of day to water your garden is in the morning. This is the coolest time of day, allowing the water to trickle down to the roots without water loss through evaporation. It will also make water available to the plants all day, helping them cope beneath the heat of the sun.

If the morning isn't possible then wait until after four in the evening. If you do water in the evening, make sure that the there is enough sun left for leafs to dry out before dark. Damp leafs can lead to problems with fungus. 

Using an irrigation system such as a soaker or drip system, you can water right up until the evening as the water is delivered directly to the roots.

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