Home & Garden

You'll need to water your garden this summer. Here are your options

Drip irrigation is a method of applying small amounts of water, often on a daily basis, to the plant’s root zone.
Drip irrigation is a method of applying small amounts of water, often on a daily basis, to the plant’s root zone. TNS photo

I just returned from visiting our younger son in Colorado, and touring around the state, I saw several types of irrigation systems being utilized in the farming systems. As we drove along the highway observing the crops and the lawns, I noticed the lawns that were green were receiving some sprinkler irrigation or else they would be brown like most of the landscape, although this year the state was greener than normal.

Even if we have been getting rain, at some point you will need to be irrigating your garden. Rain is free and is great if it could be scheduled so that the garden and lawns received an inch to and inch and half of water per week. But it normally doesn’t work that way and at some point during the summer the garden is going to need to be irrigated.

There are two ways that one can irrigate the garden. One is overhead irrigation and the other is drip irrigation. If you are on a city/municipal water source it is important to remember that when you water your garden you are also being charged for sewage processing even though your water is not going into the sewage system. This means that it is a good idea to be as efficient as possible in watering the garden.

Overhead irrigation can be accomplished using a wide variety of irrigation sprinklers. They come in all shapes and sizes. The important thing is to put a container/can out in the wetting pattern so as to measure when you have applied an inch of water, or if you are watering three times a week, then 1/3 of an inch for each application. Otherwise you will not know how much water you are putting on the garden and may be wasting water. It is best if you water the garden in the early morning before it gets too hot. This way you will not lose as much water to evaporation and also it will give the plants a chance to dry off. It is not a good idea to water at night because the plants will go into the night with wet foliage, which can encourage the development of diseases. Irrigation systems can be placed on timers, which is handy once you figure how long it takes to apply an inch of water to the garden.

Drip irrigation is a method of applying small amounts of water, often on a daily basis, to the plant’s root zone. I am not referring to soaker hose technology, which is made from recycled tires and from which the water oozes out of the many pores in the hose. I am referring to drip tube or tape in which openings are spaced usually for the home garden at 12 inches apart and the water literally drips out.

There are several advantages to using drip irrigation:

  • Drip irrigation may require less than half of the water needed for overhead sprinkler irrigation, saving dollars.

  • High levels of water management are achieved because plants can be supplied with precise amounts of water and no applications are made between the rows or other non-productive areas. No use watering the weeds in the row middles.

  • Diseases may be lessened because foliage remains dry.

  • Activities such as planting, pruning and harvesting can continue in the garden while you water.

  • Fertigation can be used as a means of introducing soluble fertilizers efficiently to the roots through the drip irrigation system.

  • Soil erosion and nutrient leaching can be reduced.

  • There are drip irrigation kits that can be purchased. If you Google “drip irrigation kits” you will find several different kits.

Remember water is a precious commodity so use it wisely and thank Mother Nature when we have a gentle soaking rain.

Bill Lamont is a professor emeritus in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at wlamont@psu.edu.