Saturday, April 6, 2013

Simple Watering Systems

One of the biggest concerns I hear from people about gardening here in Arizona is that they do not have the time to maintain their garden. Often the main time concern here in the Southwest is watering the plants. Watering the garden need not be a time-consuming enterprise or require that you know how to connect an elaborate drip system or hook up your watering system to your home’s wiring. All I started with was a garden hose, a timer and a soaker hose. Though some maintenance of the system is required, it is usually pretty simple to determine the cause of the problem because I can quickly replace a gasket or hose, if needed.

Blocks keeping Soaker hoses in place. Water jugs to protect seedlings from slight frost.

The timer: A simple watering timer can be purchased at any hardware store for 30 dollars or more. They can cover from 1-3 zones, which can be watered, each at a different time of day and a different length of time. When compared to hand-watering a garden, the amount of time, energy and maintenance saved by using such a simple timer is enough to make the most frugal gardener want to run out and buy one.

In the Southwest, Heavy Infrequent watering Helps: Here in the southwest I start my summer timer out at watering only 90 minutes, once every 2 days then later in the summer I set it to water for 120 minutes, once every 3 days. The longer delay between watering, as well as the longer duration of watering, forces my summer plants to develop deep roots. If I watered 2-3 times each day during the summer I would grow plants with large shallow root systems that are exposed to the terrible heat (and potentially disease) that is present at the surface of the soil. Dealing with the brutal heat of the summer, it can be tempting to turn the water on wilting plants in the middle of the day. However, if those plants are well established and they are supposed to live through the summer then watering them often is doing more harm then good. It took me a while to believe that this actually works but now that I have tried it, I’m so glad I did!

My old one-outlet water timer.
Drip hoses: Simple drip hoses seem to work alright. They do occasionally break and they should be kept insulated from the elements when not in use. Some of my hoses are buried while others are not. Burying hoses can be a bad idea if you need to dig in the area a lot but a good idea if you are planning on not digging up the area very much. I find that leaving the soaker hoses on the top of the area where I grow sweet potatoes to be very helpful at harvest time because I can just remove the hose from the area and dig around as much as I want without fear of hitting the soaker hoses.

Some timers have more options then others

The hose and spigot: With such a simple system sometimes problems can occur. The fact that I use a spigot for my water source does create a problem because my children could either turn the water all the way up or all the way off. It only took one time of my children turning the water all the way up to determine that I needed a regulator between my main hose and the soaker hose. I currently also have a regulator between the main hose and the timer, to keep too much pressure from destroying any components should children decide to play with the spigot. Then I occasionally deal with a problem on the other side of the spectrum. More than once I have looked at withering plants in my garden only to find that someone had turned the water off.

My very simple spigot - I really need to insulate the pipe!

To sum up: As long as you don’t have some kind of animal that completely destroys your watering system, watering your garden in the desert southwest does not need to be difficult. It can be as simple as a hose, a timer, and few soaker hoses. Just make sure to put a note on your outside water spigot to not turn the water off while you are on vacation.


  1. Wow great ideas for anyone who wants to set up a simple watering system anywhere...I will tell you where I live we get a Mother Nature system watering. Actually water is not a problem here except I have too much right now but that will change usually come summer.

  2. Thanks for the comprehensive post. Watering the garden isn't usually too much of a problem in the UK (we get plenty of rain) but there are some good ideas that I might consider for watering when I'm away on holiday.

    1. Thank you so much for your response to my post, Minigardeners. Where in the UK are you located? I lived for a little while in Bristol as well as all around greater Manchester. I doubt those in Manchester ever needed to water but perhaps plants may become a bit dry down south in mid-summer.

  3. My sweet husband designed and installed our watering system. It is so much better than our beginning years when we watered our garden by digging furrows and irrigated. That required hard work and patience.


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