There are several ways to set up an irrigation system depending on the type of gardening you are doing. When used with a timer this is absolutely the best way to water your plants. No more forgetting to water or forgetting to turn the hose off when you are watering. Just a nice even daily (or every 2 or 3 days) watering. Inconsistent watering is one of the main causes of blossom end rot in tomatoes and causes multiple issues with any plant. If your plant is too dry it will wilt and possibly die. If it is too wet you can drown it. When properly set up an irrigation will yield up to an 75% – 80% water savings. Irrigation systems are usually used with pressure regulators to lower the pressure of the water in a system. A direct water line will usually have too much pressure for these types of systems.
Drip irrigation is used when you are doing container gardening. This is the type of irrigation system that we used to use on our front porch. We had both hanging baskets and pots set around the edge of the porch. There are complete kits available to do this. Typical parts would include distribution tubing, a pressure regulator, a filter screen, an installation tool to make the holes for the emitters and stakes, end plugs to close off the end of the tubing and a few other parts. You are able to adjust these so that you have an emitter in each pot that you need to water. This kit pictured even comes with a timer.
Drip Tape Irrigation
This is what we use in our garden. In fact the picture at the top of the article with red plastic mulch is my personal garden. We have been doing pretty much the same setup for about 20 years now. It works well for us. This can be used in raised garden beds or standard gardens. We garden in 4′ wide raised garden beds. We plant our seeds and seedlings in 1′ from each edge. We have 2 rows of drip tape in the 4′ wide area, spaced at about 1′ 6″ in from the edge. We put our drip irrigation system down and then we cover it with plastic garden mulch. Then we plant our seeds or seedlings. We have ours on a timer set for 15 minutes every other day. With the water savings from the drip irrigation and the moisture retention from the mulch, we really do not use much water. Even in our summer heat of 100 degree days we do not change from the 15 minutes every other day.
There are drip irrigation kits available. They will have the drip tape which has holes predrilled and all of the fittings you need. A pressure regulator should be used with this system as well. Don’t forget the timer! These don’t usually come in the kits. You simply lay your tape out and staple it down with included ground staples, put all of your fittings together and you are ready to water. They even have goof plugs in case you poke a hole in your tape by mistake. Trust me, it happens occasionally. Oops.
DIY Drip Irrigation System
For all of you who like a d-i-y project, this one is simple enough to make. You should use schedule 40 PVC pipe 3/4″ in diameter. Drill 1/16″ holes in the appropriate spacing for your plants. You can place this with the holes up or down depending on your preference. Also, if you have a small area you want to do a heavier watering you can drill holes opposite each other. Lay the pipe so that these are pointing out. You will get quite a bit of coverage from this method. If you are doing smaller plants that are spaced closer together you can drill your holes about every 6″. For larger plants like tomatoes you should have holes where the plants are at and an extra 2 – 3 holes in between. I only plant my tomatoes at 3′ apart. I would just do one hole in the center of the plants and one at each plant. I know other people will space their tomatoes as far as 4′ or 5′ apart. For this you would want the 2 – 3 holes in between. You want to make sure that your garden surface is level so that the water will flow. You can lay these out in pretty much any configuration that you want, but you should have ball valves so you can shut off sections or rows. In addition you will need fittings such as t’s, elbows, end caps, pipe cement etc.
Spray Drip Irrigation System
This is perfect if you have a greenhouse or have your plants spaced closely together. The spray heads are adjustable from a light to a heavier spray. This system even comes with a timer!
I have always had a similar system in my personal greenhouses. The picture above is from my Halls Magnum that I used to own. Unfortunately it got left in a move. I loved that greenhouse! It is tubing hanging from the top of the greenhouse with spray heads at appropriate spacing. You can see it at the top of the sidewall. The blue is a flexible conduit with wiring for the ventilation system. Again, a time and plant saver.
In conclusion, I would not even attempt to garden without an automatic watering system. As busy as we all are it is just too easy to forget, even though we spend hours in our gardens. Plus, the plants seem to really thrive with a consistent watering schedule. And that is really what it is all about – healthy, high yielding plants.