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Choose an irrigation method to keep the garden growing

There are a variety of ways to keep the garden watered during dry weather.
There are a variety of ways to keep the garden watered during dry weather. Tribune News Service

Boy, it is dry out. We have been watering at the Horticulture Research Farm to keep the vegetable, tree and small fruit crops growing. Because rain is free, it would be great if it could be scheduled so that the garden and lawns received an inch to and inch and a half of water per week. It normally doesn’t work that way, and at some point during the summer — like now —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. I like to water the garden in the early morning before it gets too hot. This way you will not lose as much water to evaporation and 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.

The advantages to using drip irrigation is that drip irrigation may require less than half of the water needed for overhead sprinkler irrigation, saving you dollars. Also, 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. A big positive benefit is that diseases may be lessened because foliage remains dry.

Activities such as planting, pruning and harvesting can continue in the garden while you water. You can also use fertigation, or the introduction of soluble fertilizers, efficiently to the roots through the drip irrigation system.

There are several different drip irrigation kits that can be purchased. Remember, water is a precious so use it wisely and thank Mother Nature when we have a gentle soaking rain. Hopefully my column will encourage Mother Nature to drop some rain on the gardens.

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