Spring Garden Preparation - Drip Irrigation

Spring heralds a time of new growth. Our gardens come to life with the first hyacinths and the serene unfolding of delicate shoots and buds. If you're like most Canadian gardeners, spring also ushers in new garden projects. Have you resolved to make your garden the envy of the neighbourhood this year? The first steps to a beautiful garden are creating a good foundation or framework. All the effort you put into to your garden could be in vain if the final result appears haphazard. Attractive landscaping begins with a piece of paper, a pencil and a plan.

Consider the basic set up of your garden. Decide if certain plants are growing well in shaded or sunny areas. Are they too large? Do some areas need more colour? You might also want to change their placement. You may want to add raised beds or stone walkways. These are some of the major jobs you may want to work on before you begin spring planting.

This series of projects offers tried and true methods to minimize your efforts and maximize enjoyment of your garden for years to come.

Project #1 Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is a great way to save precious summertime hours spent watering. It also reduces water usage and the likelihood of plant diseases. Conventional watering with a sprinkler sends a spray of water into the air. On its earthward descent, a significant amount evaporates on hot days or drifts away on windy days. Much of the remaining water will fall on plant leaves before reaching the soil and ultimately the roots. Wet leaves are prone to fungus growth - a common form is black spot on roses.

Drip irrigation delivers a slow steady supply of water at soil level. Conventional irrigation systems may water at a rate of 4 litres a minute whereas drip irrigation may release only 4 litres every hour. This allows plenty of time for water to be absorbed into the soil without creating runoff.

Aside from conserving water and reducing fungus, drip irrigation reduces soil erosion and allows you to target specific areas. The sprinklers can be arranged so that the water reaches only certain plants and weeds don't get their thirst quenched!

You have two choices for your drip irrigation system:

Soaker hoses
These resemble standard garden hoses but instead of delivering water out one end, the water leaches out through uniform perforations along the length of the hose. Wind a trail of hose through your garden in a pattern that will ensure all your plants get sufficient water. These hoses are available in very long lengths. If you find yours is not long enough, some brands allow you to remove the plug at the end to form a connection to another soaker hose. Typically these hoses are very flexible (you won't get those annoying kinks) so that you can customise them for irregularly shaped beds.

Another great feature of the soaker hose is that it can be lightly covered with mulch so it's invisible. As long as the mulch is loose and there's room for the water to leach out, you'll have a carefree watering system. If you add a timer, the only effort you'll have to make is stopping to smell the flowers!

Emitter hoses
These hoses are good for customising water flow for different parts of your garden. You may not want a steady trail of water that a soaker hose would provide. Emitter hoses are made of soft polyethylene tubing with connections inserted along its length. Emitter connections are inserted in the main hose then smaller pieces of hose are cut to any desired length then fitted to the connections.

The benefits of this system are that with the exception of the emitter connections you can bury the hose. You can even lay the main hose under a walkway. Some types come with adjustable flow mechanisms as well as variations on the emitter type: drip, mist, fog, sprinkler etc.

The drawbacks of this system are that the hose is fairly inflexible and works best in areas where the hose can be laid out in straight lines. Also if you chose to bury the hose it can be a large chore to move the hose if you change your garden layout. (The benefits of having the hose out of sight may outweigh this drawback depending on your preference.)

Whichever system you chose you will need to design your irrigation "strategy":

  • Test the water pressure from your outdoor taps to ensure the water will flow through your drip irrigation hoses

  • Draw a plan for laying tubing keeping in mind the location of your water source

  • Lay a string down on that path then measure the string against the hose to ensure you have an adequate length of hose.

  • Determine the water needs of your plants. Place emitter hoses as needed.

The initial effort of setting up your drip irrigation system will pay off in record time. With all that time you save on hooking up your hose and moving it from one location to the next you might have time to tackle those weeds or maybe read that perfect summer novel…