Watering is one of the most laborious tasks in the garden, but it is also one of the most important. Simple irrigation systems are an easy way for home gardeners to save time while also encouraging their plants to thrive.
“Irrigation systems help home gardeners conserve water and save time in their vegetable gardens,” said Pamela Hargest, horticulture professional at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “They are easy to install and manage and can be customized to the shape of your garden beds.”
Proper garden watering can also be tricky. Irrigation systems allow for more consistent water management in the garden, which is healthier for the plants throughout the season.
“Irrigation systems can provide consistent water to crops which helps reduce physiological stress on plants,” Mark Hutchinson, extension professor of University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “Early water deficients can delay maturity and reduce yields. Lack of water late in the season can cause poor quality fruit and reduce yield. Irrigation systems are beneficial in most years because natural rainfall is inconsistent.”
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Before you purchase supplies to install your irrigation system, it is important to plan it out. Hargest recommended watching Episode 6 of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Victory Garden for ME Series, which discusses all of the components of setting up a home garden irrigation system.
“It’s best to draw a map of your garden to figure out exactly where your irrigation will be located in the garden before purchasing any supplies,” Hargest said.
There are a number of different types of irrigation systems that home gardeners might consider, including drip irrigation, sprinkler systems or soaker hoses. Hutchinson said that, when choosing an irrigation system, home gardeners should first determine what their water source is and the volume of water that is available from it — as well as how much money you want to spend.
“Drip irrigation is the most efficient from a water use perspective, but initial setup can be costly and time consuming,” Hutchinson said. “The advantage of drip irrigation is it provides water directly to the base of the plant at a slow steady pace. If you choose a drip system make sure it has a pressure regulator — drip only needs 10 [to] 12 psi [which stands for pound-force per square inch] — and a good filtration system.”
Hargest said that drip irrigation kits will typically range from $60 to more than $250, depending on the size of your garden.
“These kits are helpful because they typically include everything you need and can help you navigate all of the components in a drip irrigation kit,” Hargest said.
Hutchinson said that home gardeners may also want to use soaker hoses, which are less expensive but come with their own downsides.
“These are easy to install and provide water much like drip irrigation but cover the entire row, so some of the water may not be available to the crop but to weeds,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said that you can also make your own drip irrigation system using a PVC pipe. You can even use simple set-ups with soda bottles or milk jugs.
“Any of these systems work on a small scale and are much more efficient than water by hand with a hose and nozzle,” Hutchinson said. “The key for any system is water deep and consistent.”