Goodbye, rainwater! Yesterday I drained the water out of my four rain barrels in preparation for below freezing temperatures. I used it to give all my baby trees a good drink as well as for watering all the containers inside and outside. I also set up several continuous watering spikes in my indoor containers to make watering easier during the coming winter months.
Now that I have my winter watering plan set up, I’ll tell you how my watering system worked in the garden this past summer. First of all, I do not have an automatic watering system. I’m told those are fairly easy and inexpensive to set up, but at this point it’s just not worth it to me. I rarely water the ornamental beds once the plants are established there. Moreover, I don’t want to see, let alone set up, a network of tiny hoses around all the containers on my deck. And as for the kitchen garden, I rather like being able to water it at my own discretion based on how much rain we’ve had and are likely to have. I also like using rainwater from rain barrels as much as possible, but I’ve not invested in a pump to provide the consistent water pressure one would need for an automatic watering system. Furthermore, I’d have to re-set the hoses up every year anyway as I amend and replant the 6 beds of vegetables every year. Instead, I’ve developed my own system to keep my garden a well watered one.
I began by setting up soaker hoses in the 6 vegetable beds. I’ve been using soaker hoses ever since we first built these beds 12 years ago, and I’ve learned several things. Setting them up is always a little tricky because it’s nearly impossible to uncoil them completely. I used to stretch them out and hold them down with U-shaped metal landscaping pins (I made my own from old wire hangers). However, I discovered those can eventually cut into the hose. Now I try to work with rather than against the coiling nature of the soaker hoses, and I arrange them as close to the plants as possible. I believe I did that more successfully this year than ever before. I even ran parts of the soaker hose under the plastic protective bases I put around the tomato plants. Furthermore, my plan this year was to use the soaker hoses to get most of the watering done as easily as possible, but then go back and water more where needed. As it turned out, I often did not have time to go back and do more, so it was a good thing I’d taken the time to arrange the hoses around the plants as best I could. In a few spots where the coils wanted to pop up, I weighed them down with chunks of concrete. (You could use landscape pavers, stepping stones, or even just plain bricks.) I used one 100-ft. soaker hose in each 4’x10′ bed.
To use the soaker hoses, I stretch the garden hose from its spigot on the other side of the house, across the lawn, over the rabbit fence (I prop it up on the raspberry trellis), and into the kitchen garden. I’ve learned it can be difficult to find where to hook that hose up to the end of the soaker hoses now that I don’t have each soaker hose arranged in straight lines. This year I stuck little flags (left over from JULIE’s last visit) by the end of each soaker hose until I learned where they were in each bed. (This would be helpful to do, too, if I had to ask someone else to come over to do the watering.)
Another trick to using soaker hoses is don’t turn the water on full blast. You want the water to seep out all along the length of the hose; otherwise, much more water pushes out at the beginning of the soaker hose length than at the end of it. When the water rushes out too quickly from the soaker hoses, the beds do not get saturated before the paths get drowned. I found that a quarter turn of the faucet works well enough. After I hook up the hose and turn the faucet on, I set a timer to remind myself when I need to return and move the hose to the next bed (usually 1bout 10-15 minutes). That’s as automatic as my watering system gets!
The good old watering wand is the best way to water the garden. I say that even though mine is never old. Those things break fairly easily on me, and I go through about one a year. But I like the watering wand because it allows me to stand up straight and easily direct the water to the roots rather than shower the leaves–a bad thing to do as it risks spreading disease among the plants.
Ordinarily I do not like using sprinklers because they seem to water very unevenly and because overhead watering is not good for many plants. However, whenever I was in the mode of just setting the soaker hoses to go in each vegetable bed for a certain number of minutes, I did not want to leave the beds without soaker hoses high and dry. So I used my little sprinkler many times this summer to water the strawberry bed, the herbs-and-edible-flowers bed, and the raspberry bed.
Rain barrels are the newest addition to my watering arsenal. I have four BLUE rain barrels. Blue is my accent color for the garden, but getting rainbarrels in my accent color was not my original plan as they were just going to sit in the utility area anyway. Nevertheles, I was pleased to find that the place I bought my rain barrels from happened to be selling the blue ones cheaper because they had so many. What serendipity!
This is the second year I have used them. I used them differently this year and am pleased with the results. Last year I stretched a hose from barrels, which were set up in the driveway, over to the apple trees and kitchen garden. Water from a rain barrel comes out slower than from a garden hose. Unless one adds a pump to the rain barrel, gravity is the force that drives the water out. That is why my rain barrels are set up on cinder blocks and why it is a good thing that the yard slopes downward from the house and driveway. The downside to using rain barrel water for watering the garden is that it takes much longer. I used the garden hose whenever the rain barrels were empty or I was in a hurry to get the watering done. I had to use the hose for the container garden on the deck all the time as gravity was not going to help me get the water up there from the rain barrels.
This year instead of attaching a hose to the rain barrels, I used a watering can to transport the water to all my containers–those on the deck, the side of the driveway, and in front of the house. It sounds like that was more work, and it was, but it turned out to be a very efficient use of the the rain barrel water. Therefore, I did not feel guilty about using the garden hose and soaker hoses all the time in my garden. Plus, at our current stage in life we have two school age boys who are on vacation all summer long, so I made watering the containers one of their daily jobs. That was my “automatic watering system,” and it saved me a lot of time!
Plant Nannies and Continuouis Watering Spikes
Even with sons who were helping me water the containers almost daily, there are always some containers that dry out too fast. Here at Chez Rea they are the hanging baskets and multiple tier planters and the window boxes that are situated under the soffit of the house. I do everything I can to retain moisture in these and other containers. I put plastic inside the coir liners of the hanging baskets because I like the look of the coir but not how it wicks the moisture away from the plants. I put plastic pots inside all my clay pots for the same reason. And I add Soil Moist to the potting mix in most of my containers. (TIP: I do not add the Soil Moist in its dry form. I always add water to it and let it expand before mixing it in so I can see how much I am using.)
A few years ago, before I had my boys helping me with the watering, I bought plant nannies for my largest containers. Because I want my containers to look nice, I bought the kind that use a wine bottle rather than a plastic two-liter bottle. Of course, I used pretty BLUE wine bottles as that is my garden accent color. (In fact, all my pots except the clay ones are blue.) Every time I watered my plants, I would refill the wine bottles in the large containers so that they would continue to get some water for the next few days.
Then I discovered the continuous watering spikes which are not limited to the amount of water that can fill a wine bottle. They will keep a bit of water going to the plant for as long as the cord attached to them is submersed in a container of water, and that container could be any size. I use containers that are either easy to hide and camouflage among the foiliage are that look pretty sitting beside the potted plants.
I use the plant nannies and spikes even more when my plants are inside the house than when they are outside as I no longer have the freedom of watering the containers until the water is flowing freely out of their drainage holes. (TIP: If I do over water an indoor container and there is a danger that water may spill over from its saucer onto my floor, I could rescue it with a turkey baster. I have one from the dollar store marked “plants” that I keep handy just for this purpose.)
Self Watering Containers
Self watering containers are also helpful for extending the time between plant waterings. They can be pricey, however. I’ve picked up a few here and there that were cheap, and I have found them especially handy for the potted herbs I stick out in the herb bed during the summer. Those pots are often forgotten when we are watering all the other containers around the gardens, but they do get occasional sprays from the watering wand. Thus it helps to have that little reservoir of water to help them last between those sporadic waterings. I would love to replace all the big containers on my deck with self watering pots, but that is too expensive. One possibility I may consider someday is to convert those pots myself into self watering containers.
And that’s how I keep things watered at Chez Rea!
Ah, rosemary is my winter watering nemesis! No matter what I do, it seems to die during the winter more often than it survives for me. I’ve tried putting it over a saucer filled with water and pebbles. I’ve tried putting a plastic bag over it. Last year I put one in a plastic self-watering style container, and it did survive–barely. The new trick I am trying this year is moving its location to one of the basement windows. I think the climate there comes closer to that where my friend April keeps her rosemary plant, which has flourished through several winters on cold kitchen windowsill. We’ll see. . .