In the previous article on watering to the core, we looked at the importance of maintaining moisture at the center of a plant’s root ball.
The soaker hose provided one method to efficiently water plants by concentrating water over the root system. This is essentially what drip irrigation does.
Drip irrigation is typically installed on the surface or slightly below. The water is delivered by pipe and/or tubing and then dispersed through various types of emitters. Often, drip irrigation zones are part of automatic systems with programmable controllers.
The basic, store-bought soaker hose we talked about in the last article can be installed as a simple and inexpensive drip-system.
The following pictures will help you visualize the process. Click on any of them to get a larger version.
Picture 1 shows a group of “Emerald Green” Arborvitae that were recently installed. The sandy soil and nearby maple tree has made it difficult to keep these new plants moist. A basic soaker hose will do a great job of watering very efficiently. Here’s how it’s done.
In picture 2 the mulch has been pulled back a comfortable distance of 2′ or so from the plants using a steel garden rake. The soaker hose will be installed on top of the bare soil directly over the root balls.
This particular soaker hose is 50′ long with a threaded coupling at each end (1 male, 1 female). This allows you to connect them for longer lengths if needed, but stay below 100′ for good operation.
For the 3 arborvitae the 50′ length is plenty. In picture 3 the hose is measured and divided into 3 equal lengths…one section per plant. Tape is used to mark the 2 points on the hose length to distinguish the 3 sections. Now you have visual indicators for how much hose you can dedicate to each plant.
Start with the plant furthest from the water faucet. Take the end of the soaker hose with the “male” threaded end and stake it to the ground just under the plant using a sod staple. (This male end should have a cap on it.) You’re really pushing the sod staple into the top of the root ball.
Now, as seen in picture 4, begin to circle the first plant with the soaker hose. Be conscious of the tape marking the first of the 3 sections. Remember, you want to dedicate a section per plant. 2 to 3 turns around each plant seemed to work well. Stay relatively close to the plant to ensure you’re right over the root ball.
Picture 5 shows the sod staples holding down the hose. Use your judgement with where you position them. Wherever the hose is loose and won’t stay in position, that’s where you need a staple.
If you’ve divided the hose evenly between the 3 plants, the last one will have a few turns around it before you come to the end with the female coupling (picture 6). Double check to make sure you have enough staples securing the soaker hose down.
Go ahead and connect a garden hose to the coupling so you can turn the water on and test the soaker hose. Many come with a disc-like washer with a small (1/8″) hole in the center. This is designed to reduce the house water pressure so the soaker hose operates correctly.
I find these disc washer pressure reducers (that’s a mouthful) annoying and prefer to remove them. You could purchase a pressure regulator that attaches to the faucet, but if you just turn the faucet on a quarter to one-half turn, that works fine too.
You want the water to “sweat” from the hose’s pores something like in picture 7. Adjust the faucet until you see it “sweating” adequately.
The mulch hides the hose and insulates the ground so it stays moist longer. If you need to test and see how the hose is performing, it’s easy to expose.
How much and how long to water?
The answer to this question is always “it depends”. There are numerous variables such as soil type, size of plant, time of year, etc. that will determine the watering amount and schedule. And, of course, the schedule will change with time.
These arborvitae were initially watered every other day for one hour each time. Arborvitae, by their nature, prefer moist conditions. The sandy soil and root competition from the maple tree also influenced a “generous” watering schedule to start.
After 10 days or so we changed the schedule to once every 3rd day. That’s where we’re at now and I’ll continue with that until this heat spell breaks.
Testing the soil moisture below ground is and always will be the best indicator for a plant’s water needs. I use a moisture meter all the time because it’s critical for me to know what’s going on down there.
Most people don’t have a moisture meter, so try pushing a metal rod or long screwdriver into the ground near the plant. When you pull the rod out look to see if the metal is moist or there’s moist soil on it – that’s a good sign. If the rod is wet and muddy, the soil is probably too wet. If the rod comes out dry, increase the watering amount and/or schedule. At the very least, pull the mulch back near the plant and check the soil beneath. See if it looks and feels moist.
Watering and irrigation is a huge topic and I’ll continue to present aspects that should be considered for healthy plants.
What experiences have you had with keeping plants properly watered? Have you lost plants from over-watering?