Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
October, 2010
Regional Report

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These colorful containers rely on a combination of drip irrigation and hand watering.

Drip VS Hose

Henry and I have an ongoing argument about the effectiveness of drip irrigation. He loves it and relies on a network of snaking tubes to do all the container watering on the deck and in the front of the house. I, on the other hand, don't trust it. Henry feels that his drip system is adequate to water the multitude of pots and utilizes the argument that the plants look fine. Of course they do! I spend time filling each pot to the rim with a hose every time I come down, which is usually twice a week.

One way to tell if a container is dry is if bubbles come to the surface when you apply water. Bubbles indicate air pockets in the soil. Where there is air, there is a lack of moisture.

Henry uses a variety of drip emitters to apply the water. Some are shrubblers, some are tiny stream sprays, some simply supply a steady drip, drip, drip. The shrubblers cover a wider area of soil while the drip emitters simply allow the water to go straight down into the soil. The key here is the amount of time the water is allowed to flow. If you have a stream spray that runs for the same amount of time as a drip emitter you are not getting the same penetration of water into the soil from both. In other words, a drip emitter will go deeper while a stream spray will cover the surface. Using two or more types of emitters on the same feed line will apply water unevenly. Uneven watering is a recipe for disaster. Roots only grow where the soil is damp. If an emitter only gets a portion of the surface of the soil wet, then the roots are not able to spread and grow to the full volume of the container.

Here is an example of what I found during a recent hot spell. The plants in the containers in the front of the house were not only wilted, but brown and crispy. It was obvious that the drip irrigation had been on, but it only supplied water to the top two inches of the soil. When I pulled the plants out of the pots, the roots were as dry as powder and the soil just below the surface was completely bone dry.

I feel that hand watering is mandatory if you grow plants in containers. If you do use a drip system, make sure to check the pots daily, especially during hot weather, to make sure they are getting ample water. Drip irrigation systems, set up correctly, do work. Commercial nurseries all over the country rely on this type of watering system. However, I feel that for the home gardener, drip alone is not the answer. For one thing, the first indication that the system is not working correctly is that the plant is dead. Besides, watering is one of my favorite garden chores.

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