A Great Way to Water Your Garden{19}

My friend Crystal took this photot

My friend Crystal once dubbed me the “Dahlia Whisperer” after spotting me in my front flower field. And while I basked in the glory of her kindly title and her stealthy skills as island paparazzo, I hated to tell her I was really more of a dahlia waterer.  Every evening and by hand, I would water, and water, and water long rows of plants—definitely a silly option for a one-man, two-dog operation. So I came up with a smarter, easier, more cost-effective way to water my flower fields. Because I’m on a shared water district, I wanted to use the least amount of water possible for optimal cut flower production. Using this method, I cut my water usage by more than half during the summer months.

Bulldog in the garden

While Gracie secured the porch, Boz supervised my farmwork.

Weeding and watering are the two biggest challenges I face in growing cut flowers. This year my solution was simple and relatively inexpensive; I unrolled a greenhouse weed barrier for the pathways and left an 18-inch row for planting crops north to south.

hoe

“Hoe, hoe, hoe your row, gently down the…!”

I then created a furrow, where I would place a drip or soaker hose running the length of the row.

hoses in place

Ruh-row, I think Boz is inspecting my work here.

Because the rows were 45 feet long, and the hoses, 50 feet, I would just loop them back at the row end, and create a loop. There is a stopper cap on each end of the soaker hose, but you can connect the hoses if you wish for longer rows.

soaker

A soaker hose at work…drip, drip, drip.

The real secret to this system (which I will cover in more detail shortly) is using quick connector brass couplers and a shut-off valve at the end of the main hose or water source. Adjusting the shut-off valve allows less water to pass through the drip hose, which reduces pressure, and results in a slow watering and a deep reach—all courtesy of the steady droplets.

slow water

The water drops find the roots not the soil’s surface area.

With quick couplers, I attach or remove the garden hose to the drip hose with a simple click of the coupler, no threading or unthreading necessary. After a half an hour, I detach the garden hose from the drip hose with one push of the thumb and reattach it to the next drip hose one row away.

kjkjk

I plant seedlings (here zinnias) in the furrow, following the soaker hose.

dad

A little mulch in the form of grass clippings hides the hose and locks in the moisture, while keeping the leaves and flowers dry.

hhh

With soaker hoses in place, rows of dahlias receive a top dressing of grass clippings to thwart weed growth.

flower field in bloom

The front field in mid-summer: dahlias, and zinnias, and sunflowers, oh my!

hjj

Dahlias dazzle: Give Mother Nature a little water, and she returns a lot o love.

A better way to water with a soaker hose

Why use a soaker hose?

  • Uses less water than hand-watering and sprinklers
  • Saves time.
  • Promotes deeper root growth and stronger plants
  • Can be used with a timer.
  • Keeps water off of leaves and flowers, lessening mold, mildew and fungus occurrences
  • Easy to manage and use
  • Inexpensive to set up
  • No special equipment, parts easily found at hardware store
  • Disappears into the landscape
  • Long-lasting materials

Important distinction: do not use a “sprinkler” hose. Its larger surface pores allow too much water to pass through in the first ten feet or so, and as a result the water rarely reaches the far end of the hose. And also, for durability and longevity, I prefer brass fittings and couplers to those made of plastic.

What you will need

soaker hose

Anatomy of my soaker hose setup.

  • Soaker or drip garden hose
  • Brass quick-connection couplers
  • Brass shut-off valve

How to use a soaker hose, valve, and couplers

  1. Unroll soaker hose and let it sit in the sun to soften and uncoil.
  2. Place the hose around or near the plants or on the area you wish to water.
  3. The open soaker hose end should be easy to find and reach, visible to the gardener when needed.
  4. Thread and tighten the shut-off valve to the water hose.
  5. Thread and tighten the female couple to the shut-off valve.
  6. Thread and tighten the male coupler to the soaker hose.
  7. Connect the two couplers by pushing back the spring ring on the female coupler.
  8. Turn on water and adjust shut-off valve so pressure is low.
  9. Pressure is low enough when droplets form on the hose and roll off the soaker hose drop by drop.
  10. Usually the valve makes a hissing sound when the low flow has been reached.
  11. It may take a few minutes for the water pressure to equalize and reach the capped end of the soaker hose.
  12. Normal water pressure is too high for soaker hoses and the water escapes too quickly and doesn’t soak in, creating runoff, pooling, and waste. So go slow and low—drip, drip, drip…

How long to water

  1. Length of watering depends on soil structure, size of plants, weather conditions and outside temperature.
  2. Take a small hand shovel or trowel and dig down to see how far the moisture has reached.
  3. As a rule of thumb, five to six inches of wet soil is a good minimal goal.
  4. I usually water each row between 30 minutes to an hour once a week.
  5. Should the days be especially hot I water any time I see wilting leaves in the midday sun.
  6. I water in the evening so the plants have a night of soaking it in and up the stems and leaves before the next day of sunshine.

How to winterize (update)

  1. You can leave the soaker hoses in place, as they have permeable walls and the moisture can escape.
  2. Garden hoses (bringing the water to the soaker hose) are best removed, drained, and stored for the winter, as trapped water can freeze, expand and split the hose structure and outer membrane.
  3. I remove my soaker hoses in the places that will require spring cultivation or tilling.
    1. Simply remove soaker hose and place somewhere out of the way like under the eaves of the house, or by a garage or along a fenceline.
    2. The key is to keep the hose straight and uncoiled if left outside to be stored. I’ve found overwintering the hose as a coil can cause permanent crimps and cracks in the hose.
    3. If the hose goes into a heated area,  coiling should be okay.
zinnias

Zinnias: bold beauties in the garden and vase, and most appreciative of slow drinks of water.