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What is Garden Irrigation?

For the uninitiated, getting started with garden irrigation can be daunting and confusing. With so much information out there claiming to have all the answers, understanding how to use it to care for your plants can be difficult. So how can we help? Well we have taken some time to put together a comprehensive overview of all the different types of garden irrigation, and how to use it to help your plants flourish. From here, you will be able to do further research on the different methods by utilising our in-depth guides found in our irrigation help & advice centre.

Let's start off with why you need to water your plants and how to water your plants to get the best results.

Effective Watering Tips

Whichever method of garden irrigation you choose to use, the desired outcome is always the same; you want your plants to look their best and to grow healthy. Following is the foundations for effective watering in the garden.

  • Focus on the root zone. It's the roots of the plant that absorbs water and soil nutrients, not the leaves. Wetting the leaves is a waste of water, and can promote the spread of disease.
  • Water only when needed. There are no hard and fast rules to how much water is required. It is entirely dependent on the season, the soil, the type of plant and the weather. Keep an eye on the weather, and reduce the frequency when rainfall is abundant. Too much water can be just as harmful as too little.
  • Water deeply and thoroughly. Lawns and annuals concentrate their roots in the top 6 inches of soil. For perennials, shrubs and trees, it's the top 12 inches of soil. In heavy soil, it could take hours for water to pass through 6-12 inches of soil, so use your finger or a spade to check the progress.
  • Water in the morning. Watering in the morning allows for any moisture that may be left on leaves to dry off and prevent plant diseases from spreading in your garden. The earlier, the better. Ignore myths about foliage getting scorched, the water would evaporate before it could focus the sunlight. The next best time to water is late afternoon/early evening, allowing enough time for foliage to dry out before nightfall.
  • Mulch everything. Using mulch everywhere slows down water evaporation from the soil and reduces surface runoff.
  • Use the right tool. Using the right tool for the job ensures you can easily get the watering done whilst abiding by these rules. For instance, use drip irrigation instead of a sprinkler for efficient watering of the root zone of plants.

What are the different types of garden irrigation and their benefits?

Essentially there are two different types of garden irrigation. One is watering by hand, the other using a garden watering system. Normally watering by hand is carried out with a garden hose and a spray nozzle. A garden watering system involves creating a network of pipes that takes water around the garden and delivers it to the plants through either drip irrigation, micro spray jets, mini sprinklers or pop up sprinklers. Below we have the benefits of each, and a typical set-up a gardener may have.

Watering Plants, Shrubs and Trees by Hand

This is the traditional method of watering that everyone knows. It involves either using a watering can or a garden hose. This method of irrigation can be practical and effective - if done right. We would always recommend using a spray nozzle with a trigger to minimise water wastage. If you were just to use a garden hose with an open end, you would waste so much water unnecessarily because the water just keeps pouring out of the end with no control. The benefit of watering by hand is you can judge whether or not a plant needs water, and how much. You can simply test by touching the soil, or using a moisture meter. As mentioned before, there is no hard and fast rule for how much water is required, so watering by hand allows you to make your own judgement. A few tips for watering by hand:

  • Use a spray nozzle with a shut-off. This will help keep water wastage to a minimum. Otherwise, use a watering can.
  • Use the lift test. A simple way to check if a plant needs water is to lift the container. Over time you will know how heavy a plant should be when it has sufficient water; if it's too light, it needs watering. Obviously this can't be done with plants in the landscape, so checking the soil will have to do.
  • Keep your garden hose tidy. There's nothing more stressful than trying to navigate your garden with a kinked and twisted hose. Keep it tidy, and you'll find watering the garden each day isn't such a chore.
  • Take it slow. Water that doesn't soak the root zone is wasted, and watering too much too quickly will run down the outside of the root ball. Slower, gentler watering is more effective. The key is to ensure water gets to the root zone.

Watering the Lawn

Prolonged dry spells during late spring and summer can leave your grass looking straw-coloured and unsightly, and the need for extra water arises. Lawn grasses are rarely killed by drought in Britain, and recovery takes place once the rain returns, but to keep it looking great you need to water the lawn thoroughly.

To get the best results, you should be looking to get the ground soaked to a depth of at least 4 inches. That's not to say you should be putting down 4 inches of water. Putting down an inch of water a day during hot periods should do the trick, and half an inch during normal conditions. Watering can be done either with a moveable above ground sprinkler or using a pop up sprinkler system installed underground. A pop up sprinkler system is perfect for efficiently watering the garden automatically and requires little effort, but can be costly for large areas. An above ground sprinkler is what gardeners typically use to care for their lawn.

  • Rotating Sprinkler. Rotating arms produce a circle of fine water droplets. Very popular and available in many garden centres. Some are adjustable for fineness of spray and area covered.
  • Oscilating Sprinkler. A horizontal tube bearing a series of water jets slowly turns from one side to another. A rectangular spray pattern is obtained and can be adjusted for area covered.
  • Impact Sprinkler. A single jet produces a narrow arc of fine water droplets. This jet rotates as a series of pulses, spraying an even circle of turf. Great for larger areas. These are usually the choice of professional landscapers.
  • Travelling Sprinkler. A rotary sprinkler which propels itself along a pre-determined path for about 60 metres. The spray pattern can be uneven, but ideal for reducing time spent watering large areas.
  • Sprinkler Hose. A flattened hosepipe with a series of fine jets on the upper part of the length. Can be flipped upside down to provide deep watering for flowers too.
  • Pop Up Sprinkler Systems. Installed underground, pop up sprinklers are only seen when the system is activated. They can be controlled using a computerised timer, provide excellent coverage and are regarded as the most efficient form of lawn irrigation.

 Automatic Garden Irrigation Systems

Garden irrigation systems are fast becoming the must have addition for gardeners. The benefit of having an automatic watering system is that it can take care of the watering for you, freeing up your time for leisure, or even taking care of the garden when you're off on holiday. If installed correctly, they can also be much more efficient than watering by hand or using a garden sprinkler. There are quite a few varieties to choose from, each having their own uses and benefits. Below we will run through the different types and their uses.

  • Drip Irrigation. A highly efficient way of irrigating your garden that saves you time and conserves water. Using a network of pipes to carry water around your garden with small drip emitters positioned for each plant. The drip emitters release water slowly, allowing time for the root zone of the plant to soak through thoroughly without runoff and wastage. Because of the slow nature of providing water for your plants, you can be much more precise with the volume too. You could also use soaker hose, as this is a porous pipe that releases water slowly. Combine it with an automatic water timer, and you have a watering system that can take care of the garden for you. A drip irrigation system is ideal for borders, flowerbeds, vegetable patches, greenhouses, hanging baskets and plants in containers. Compared to using a garden hose, you can reduce water consumption by as much as 80% - that's a huge saving.
  • Micro Jet and Spray Systems. These are a very popular choice for gardens as they take little time to install and are cost effective compared to drip irrigation. Micro jets provide a soaking spray over large areas, and can be used to cover many plants using just one spray. A micro jet system is not as efficient with water as a drip system is, but can still be less wasteful than using a garden hose. Each spray covers an area of up to 2 metres radius, so best used in flower beds, borders and other landscaped areas. They can also be used in the greenhouse spraying from above. This type of system can be used with a water timer for automation.
  • Pop Up Sprinkler Systems. An excellent way to irrigate the garden is to use a pop up sprinkler system. Installed completely underground, the pop up sprinklers are only seen when the system is activated, and retract back down when the watering has finished. The pop up sprinklers provide better coverage than any other type of lawn sprinkler, and are much more efficient, thus reducing water wastage. Using an electronic water timer, you can completely automate the activation of a pop up sprinkler system, meaning that you can keep your lawn looking fresh all year round with little effort.
  • Mini Sprinkler Systems. Similar to the micro jet and spray systems, these sit above ground and are used to cover large areas. Instead of providing a fine soaking spray, they have a rotor jet that delivers heavy droplets of water. Mini sprinklers can cover areas up to 5 metres radius, meaning these are great for large landscaped areas and large vegetable patches. You can also purchase inverted models to enable them to spray overhead in greenhouses. Again, these can be used in conjunction with a water timer to automatically control watering cycles.

We hope this overview of garden irrigation and its benefits has helped you better understand what garden irrigation is and how to use it. If you would like to read more about any of the methods mentioned, head on over to the irrigation help & advice centre where you will find in-depth guides for each topic mentioned. If you think this guide can help anyone else, share it with them, I'm sure they would be thankful.