One of the common problems people have with container gardening is watering. The simple truth is container gardens need more water than in-ground gardens. If you think about it the reasons are pretty simple. Sometimes your containers are under an overhang and get little or no rain. Other times, the container is baked by the sun, which, in turn, dries out the soil more rapidly. The main reason for container garden watering problems is simple, containers have less volume of soil and hence plants have less of an ability to draw water to the root system.
Drip irrigation makes it easy to get water directly to your plant.
Photo Credit: ©2007 Frank Tansey
It is easy to work with flexible drip tubing.
There is a great solution to this problem—drip irrigation. Drip systems can put your container garden watering on autopilot. You may think that it is too difficult to install a drip irrigation solution, but for most people a drip irrigation solution is a simple one-time project. Before we get started with this gardening solution, let's talk a bit more about drip irrigation. The original motivation for development of drip irrigation systems was to save water. It was true then and it is true now, drip systems do save water. In a drip system, water is transmitted directly to the plant and then dispensed on the plant at predetermined rates. For example, some drip emitters—the place where the water comes out—are rated at one gallon per hour, others might be rated at ½ gallon per hour and still other at rates higher or lower than these examples.
When you deliver water via a drip irrigation system, the soil and the plant can more efficiently absorb the water and less water is needed to keep the plant healthy. Think about it for a moment. If you dumped a gallon of water on one of your smaller containers, a lot of the water will be lost as it runs through the drain hole. With a properly sized drip system you may use the same gallon or perhaps even less water, but the plant and soil will retain and use more water.
Modern drip systems are available at garden and home centers. You can find complete kits that can handle dozens of containers or, you can buy just the pieces you need for your project. Some of the key components in a drip system are the tubing to move the water from the spigot to the plant, the emitters, that dispense the water to the plant, along with a pressure regulator and filter to connect at the spigot. All of the pieces and parts are easily assembled by hand. Tubing can be cut with scissors to the lengths you need. Many drip irrigation systems simply sit on the ground or barely below ground, and then small runs of ¼-inch tubing moves from the main distribution tube to the individual containers.
One important addition to any drip irrigation system is a timer. With a timer you can set your system to water your containers according to a schedule that you determine. For example you might want to water your containers every other day at 7:00 a.m. for one hour. A timer can take all of the effort out of this activity. You control the amount of water that is delivered to each container with your selection of the emitter. Thus your automated drip irrigation system can deliver 2 gallons per hour to the freshly planted thirsty plant, but only ½ gallon per hour to the drought resistant plant on the sunny side of the house. All of the plants on a single system can receive the amount of water they need on the schedule that is optimized to healthy growth.
So check out drip irrigation systems when you next visit your garden or home center. It will make your watering nearly automatic and your container garden a happier garden.