The Garden Patch: Drip, trickle, flood or sprinkle? How do you water?

Water, water everywhere and nary a drop to drink! -OR- How do we water these garden crops?

There are three main ways of applying water to the root system of garden crops: flood, sprinkle or drip/trickle. (I thought this last one was named after me and the wife was just getting even – oh, well).

Flood: Many garden crops can be watered by “flooding” or applying a flow of water to the surface of the soil. This can be done by a trench or basin near each plant or by running water down a furrow to the side of each row.

This system works best in medium textured soils that are fairly level. Water needs to flow from one end of the garden to another and must not soak into the soil too fast in order for the water to continue to flow along the trench.

Crops are usually planted in a raised bed when using this watering method so that water runs along side of the bed or row and not down the row itself.

Sprinkler: The sprinkler is by far the most extensively used watering method in gardens. A sprinkler is inexpensive and can be used to water a diversity of crops in a small area. The distribution of water applied by the sprinkler should be considered since more water is usually delivered to the center of the sprinkled area. Placing a few cans in the area to check for uniformity or water application will give you an idea of the pattern of your sprinkler.

One of the disadvantages of sprinklers is that they allow water to evaporate into the air during the sprinkling process. Using coarse droplets and lower water pressure can reduce evaporation losses, especially on hot, windy days. Watering in cooler, less windy conditions can also help.

When sprinkling garden crops, be sure to water in such a way that the foliage of garden plants has a chance to dry as soon as possible after watering. Thus, early morning and early evening watering is preferred to late evening watering.

Drip/trickle irrigation: This newer method of watering relies on the principle of keeping a portion of the root zone well supplied with water from a frequent application of water usually on a daily or every other day basis. Drip or trickle tubes are usually laid to the side of the row or between two rows. To wet a continuous strip of soil as is required for most garden crops, you should have a hole or “dripper” in the line every 10 to 12 inches. Many drip tapes come with the holes pre-punched at that interval. Other types of drip tubing are designed to “leak” over the length of the tube.

Drip systems are usually operated at low pressures (5 to 15 PSI) and usually take from one to three hours per day to supply the water lost from the crops during stress periods.

Because of the danger of clogging the small pores in the drip tape, filtration of the water is essential in this type of system. Most garden center dealers have drip irrigation kits with filters, pressure regulators and water distribution lines included. Most of them can offer assistance in design and layout of a drip system.

The emitter should be placed at least 12 inches away from the trunk of fruit trees or vines in order to reduce the development of root and trunk diseases.

At the end of the garden season, the system can be flushed, dried and stored in a protected location for the next year. Thin drip tubing applied along each row might need to be replaced each year. Thicker tubing may last for several seasons. Use care in hoeing near drip tubing or walking on the tubing which may punch holes that interfere with the normal slow dripping of the tape.

Next week I want to get into mulching and irrigation. We’ll discuss water conserving mulches and continue with irrigation and other water related issues.

Till then – keep gardening’ and enjoy the fruits of your labors! It’s well worth it – right?


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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