Ever forget to turn your sprinklers off before leaving home, only to come home to a flooded garden and an off-the-chart water bill? Ever come home to find areas of your yard totally dried out and dead or stunted plants?
My wife and I have!
After gardening for about 40 years, here are a couple of ideas we have learned that largely eliminates these unfortunate mishaps.
Always water using an automatic watering timer.
Many of us have automatic sprinkler systems for our lawns and foundation plantings, but often do not have the system hooked up to our vegetable garden, relying on hand-watering every day, which often results in “spoiled” plants.
I recommend an automatic mechanical or battery operated electronic timer at the spigot. By using a “splitter” with independent valves, you can use both your timer and your hose at the turnoff; best thing we ever did!
We can simply adjust the timer to the preferred watering time, turn on the watering device (sprinkler, soaker hose, drip system, etc.), and leave home without a worry, knowing the timer will automatically turn off the water.
Don’t spoil your garden by hand-watering, especially during the middle of hot summer days.
Just like spoiling your kids—bad idea! Rather, make your plants “reach” deeper for water by allowing them to droop during the day, watering them only in the evening.
Note: You may still need to hand-water seeds for proper germination.
Covering bare soil with almost any mulch (grain straw, grass clippings, compost, peat moss, bark chips, etc.) will greatly reduce the need to water, as the mulch traps water, reducing evaporation.
Using a drip irrigation systems greatly reduces the need to water, because water can be delivered right to the plants (and not to the adjacent weeds).
For example, a one-fourth inch drip tubing can be extended great distances to water all of your outdoor potted plants.
Add an automatic electronic timer, and you can leave on vacation without worrying about what you will come back to.
And finally, cheat!
The addition of a crosslinked polyacrylamide to soil (brands like Water Hold and Soil Moist come to mind), especially in pots, can greatly extend the time between watering.
These crystals absorb water to expand into what appears to be clear Jell-O, and later releases the water back to the plants, whose roots often grow right into the jelly.